Sports | Football
Harvard 41, Rhode Island 10
Live long enough and you’re bound to see something new. And so it was that the Harvard football team alighted this past Saturday for its season opener in Kingston, Rhode Island, a place where it had not played in its previous 141 seasons. Making itself at home immediately, the Crimson took an early 14-0 lead over a gritty but overmatched Rhode Island squad, withstood a Rams riposte, and poured it on with four unanswered touchdowns. The resulting 41-10 victory was Harvard’s fifteenth in a row, the longest in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision and second-longest in Division I, trailing only the 16 straight wins of Football Bowl Subdivision defending champion Ohio State. Harvard is now 117-23-2 in season openers. (Rhode Island, a member of the Colonial Athletic Conference, drops to 0-3, having previously been drubbed by Syracuse and Albany.)
Harvard coach Tim Murphy, who is beginning his twenty-second season on the Crimson sideline, proclaimed the triumph “a very solid victory” keyed by “defense, special teams, and offense in that order.” The score, he added, “ was not indicative of how hard [the game] was.”
An envious Rhode Island coach Jim Fleming tipped his helmet to Murphy’s team. “They execute, they protect, they don’t do things to hurt themselves,” he said. “That’s a pretty good model.”
As defending Ivy League champions, Harvard entered the season with what Murphy termed “a target on our back.” The Crimson had many of its important players back from last year’s 10-0 squad, and in the Ivy preseason writers poll was tabbed to repeat, edging out Dartmouth. Voters figured that the Crimson could withstand the departures of class of ’15 defensive stalwarts Zack Hodges, Obum Obukwelu, and Norman Hayes, most notably because it retained its class of ’16 linebacker nucleus of Jake Lindsey, Eric Medes, and captain Matt Koran. But there was one man who seemed indispensable: nimble quarterback Conner Hempel, a big-game player whose last-minute touchdown pass to standout wide receiver Anthony Fischer ’16 had vanquished Yale.
Photograph by Kit Wu
In the offseason, the battle to take over from Hempel came down to last year’s nominal backup, Scott Hosch ’16, who had coolly steered the Crimson to six victories when Hempel was injured, and talented, 6-foot-5 Joe Viviano ’17. In the preseason Viviano seemed to have the edge—until he broke his foot on a non-contact play in practice. With Viviano out for the season, the job goes to Hosch, whom Murphy continually lauds for his “high football IQ.”
Hosch is gradually becoming the Bart Starr of Harvard football. As old-timers recall, the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Famer was never flashy or a gunslinger; he just won. Togged out in new helmets (a decidedly lighter shade of crimson) emblazoned with “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard” in both English and Latin (to confuse opponents), the Crimson took the field at sunny and hot Meade Stadium, and Hosch set about showing his mettle. On the opening drive, which began at the Crimson 22, Hosch spread the ball on short passes to four receivers: in order, Seitu Smith ’16, Fischer, running back Paul Stanton Jr. ’16, and tight end Ryan Halvorson ’17. Then, from the Rams’ 45, he fired a bomb to Halvorson, who beat single coverage and scored the first touchdown of the season. Three minutes and 26 seconds had elapsed. Kenny Smart ’18 kicked the point after touchdown. Harvard 7, Rhode Island 0. Hmm…that didn’t take long.
Photograph by Kit Wu
Late in the first period, the Crimson took over on its 28. This time Hosch found tight end Ben Braunecker ’16 for 25 yards, and followed with a completion to Fischer for 16. Eventually reaching the Rhode Island 24, Harvard faced third down and one. Hosch took it himself, running for a first down. On the next play he dropped back and tossed a beautiful touch pass to Smith in the end zone. Smart again booted the conversion. Harvard 14, Rhode Island 0. Easy game, this football.
It looked for all the world like the rout was on, especially because Rhode Island’s pass rush wasn’t coming any closer to Hosch than Woonsocket, while the Rams’ doughty quarterback, Paul Mroz, and their workhorse back, sophomore Harold Cooper, were finding yards hard-earned against captain Koran (a team-leading nine tackles) and the Crimson D. But early in the second quarter, on a third-and-four from the Rhode Island 38, Mroz hit freshman receiver Khayri Denny in stride on a beautiful crossing pattern. Denny strode the rest of the way into the end zone. Another freshman, Justin Rohrwasser, kicked the point. Harvard 14, Rhode Island 7. We had ourselves a ballgame.
And we had even more of one when Rhode Island kept moving the ball. Only a timely sack by Harvard defensive tackle Dan Moody ’16 blunted one drive. Then came Hosch’s one big mistake. From the Harvard 36, he tried to force the ball into traffic to yet another tight end, Anthony Firkser ’17. (Harvard produces tight ends the way England produces actors.) It bounced off Firkser’s hands and was plucked by Rams sophomore defensive back Isaiah Hill. Though the Crimson halted the ensuing drive (helped by a big Medes tackle of Cooper for a loss of two yards), Rohrwasser nailed a 33-yard field goal. Harvard 14, Rhode Island 10. The Rams had put the ram in the ram-a-lama-ding-dong.
Photograph by Kit Wu
A little less than five minutes remained in the half. Here came, as the announcers say, the turning point of the game. Harvard took over on its 23 and worked the ball down to the Rhode Island 34. On third-and-one, Stanton was stacked up. Fourth down. This time Hosch tried a quarterback sneak. First down! Given another series, he lofted a beautiful pass to Smith (just over the hands of the linebacker) to the Rams 6. Two plays later, from the 4, Stanton barreled to the goal line, stretched the ball, and placed it over the plane. The touchdown was Stanton’s thirtieth career score, placing him second all-time in the Harvard annals, behind Clifton Dawson ’07 (66 TDs). Smart again kicked the point. Harvard 21, Rhode Island 10 at the half—a margin that, as Murphy suggested, was a tad deceptive.
Toward the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, the Crimson provided the knockout punch. Starting at midfield, Hosch directed a six-play drive that culminated in a lovely finger-tip grab by Braunecker in the back of the end zone. The 19-yard scoring pass was followed by Smart’s PAT. Harvard 28, Rhode Island 10.
Then came the killer. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Rhode Island’s senior punter Connor McHugh dropped back to his 25. In charged Harvard defensive back Scott Peters ’16 (the same man who made the clinching interception against Yale) and blocked it. Cornerback Kolbi Brown ’17 scooped it up and ran 25 yards into the end zone. The Smart conversion made it 35-10. “We just had a great scheme that [Crimson special-teams] coach [Ryan] Crawford drew up,” said Peters afterward.
There was left one bit of magic. Having gone an efficient 18 for 27 and thrown for a career-high 336 yards, Hosch was done for the day. In mop-up duty entered fellow Georgian Jimmy Meyer ’16. Meyer took the snap at the Rams 37, dropped back and let it fly. The ball sizzled like a howitzer shell and whistled into the hands of Justice Shelton-Mosley ’19 in the end zone. It was Meyer’s first pass in varsity play, and the first catch for Shelton-Mosley, who was named the College Sports Madness Preseason Freshman of the Year. That Smart’s attempted conversion hit the left upright and bounced away mattered little.
Which might also be the verdict on this ’15 opener. A truer test should come on Saturday night against Brown, a more familiar Rhode Island foe.
Yale 29, Colgate 28
Bryant 20, Brown 16
Lehigh 42, Penn 21
Dartmouth 31, Georgetown 10
Fordham 44, Columbia 24
Bucknell 19, Cornell 14
Princeton 40, Lafayette 7
COMING UP: Next Saturday, Harvard plays its home and Ivy opener against Brown. Kickoff: 7 p.m. (The game will be televised on Fox College Sports.) Harvard leads the series 82-30-2. Since the formation of the Ivy League in 1956, the Crimson is 40-19. Harvard has won the last four, including a 22-14 victory last year in Providence.
Friday Night Lights: This will be the first of three night games at the Stadium this season, the most in Harvard history. The others will be on Fridays: October 2 against Georgetown and October 30 against Dartmouth. The game against the Big Green is the possible Ivy game of the year.
The Score By Quarters