Football 2019: Harvard 42, Brown 7
To paraphrase Ric Ocasek, the late, great frontman of the rock group The Cars, the Harvard football team’s 42-7 victory over Brown on Friday night at Harvard Stadium was just what we needed.
In bouncing back following a rather dispiriting 31-23 opening-game loss to the University of San Diego, the Crimson not only won its Ivy League opener (albeit against the conference’s weakest team), but also demonstrated snap and cohesiveness. Junior quarterback Jake Smith was the catalyst, tossing a career-high four touchdown passes (after setting a personal best in passing yards the week before) and spreading the ball to seven receivers. A new rushing star may have emerged in freshman Aidan Borguet. On the other side of the ball, sophomore defensive lineman Jacob Sykes led the charge with five tackles (tied for team-high), a sack, and two tackles for loss, helping to mostly bottle up Brown’s heralded quarterback, EJ Perry, a transfer from Boston College.
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“I thought our execution for the second, third, and fourth quarters was pretty good,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, who’s in his twenty-sixth season on the Crimson sideline. (This qualifies as high praise from Murphy.) “We did a great job continuing drives.” When it comes to Ivy season openers, Murphy is well-nigh unimpeachable: this was his nineteenth straight victory in the category.
As with last week’s game at San Diego, when the Toreros scored on the first play from scrimmage, this one began ominously. From the Brown 25, Perry handed the ball to running back Allen Smith, who blasted through a huge hole and rambled 53 yards before he was corralled by Harvard senior defensive back Cole Thompson. The interruption was temporary. Two plays later, Smith ran right up the gut into the end zone. Dawson Goepferich kicked the extra point. With only 34 seconds gone, it was Brown 7, Harvard 0.
Brown’s first-year coach, James Perry, is a onetime Ivy Player of the Year for the Bears and also EJ Perry’s uncle. Clearly, he wants to establish an aggressive approach. (Or perhaps he was influenced by the all-in style of “Jeopardy” champion James Holzhauer.) He did so here by ordering an onside kick that almost worked. Brown recovered, but upon review the officials determined that the ball had not gone the requisite 10 yards before being touched. On the ensuing Harvard series, though, Brown got the ball anyway, when defensive end Ryan Putman tipped a Smith pass, niftily grabbed it, and returned it to the Brown 49. Perry then drove the Bears to the Crimson five.
Here came one of the two plays that decided the game. On first and goal, Perry dropped back to pass. The ball squirted out of his hands and rolled backward, all the way to the 23. Harvard junior defensive lineman Nasir Darnell fell on it. The Bears had squandered a chance to take a 14-point (or at least a 10-point) lead.
Later in the period, Harvard began to assert itself. Sykes stuffed the Bears twice during a three-and-out. A poor Brown punt gave the Crimson the ball at the Bears’ 35. On second-and-three, Borguet scurried for 14 yards. At a stocky five-foot-10 and 200 pounds, he is a quick-footed back reminiscent of Southern Cal’s 1965 Heisman Trophy winner, Mike Garrett. Then, from the 12, Smith dropped back. With some nimble footwork, he evaded the rush by moving left, then threw across his body. Despite the difficulty, the toss had plenty of zip. It found senior wideout Cody Chrest in the back left corner of the end zone. Senior Jake McIntyre kicked the point. Harvard 7, Brown 7.
From here on in, it was all Crimson. In the second period, Harvard used almost six minutes to drive to the Brown 23. There, McIntyre missed a 41-yard field-goal attempt. (This distance seems just out of his range.) Harvard began its next drive on its eight. Mixing passes and runs by workhorse junior back Devin Darrington, Smith used 10 plays to drive the Crimson to the Brown eight. On the eleventh play, he dropped back and heaved one high into the end zone. Waiting for it was six-foot-seven junior tight end Adam West, covered by a smaller Brown defender who could not jump nearly as high. West leaped and snared the ball. Really, it was a modified alley-oop play. McIntyre kicked the extra point. Harvard 14, Brown 7.
On Brown’s next series occurred the other play—a decision, actually—that determined the outcome. (It came after Harvard junior linebacker Jack McGowan leveled EJ Perry with a forearm near the sideline, a hit that could have, and maybe should have, been called a targeting penalty.) On fourth and one at the Brown 34, the Bears chose to go for it in hopes of keeping the ball away from the Crimson for the rest of the half. But Bears runner Andrew Bolton was smeared for a two-yard loss by Harvard junior linebacker Jordan Hill and sophomore defensive lineman Chris Smith. This decision was highly questionable—and it ended up deepening the Bears’ hole. With 13 seconds left, senior wideout Jack Cook ran a post pattern from right to left. Smith lofted it to him in the end zone. Cook nabbed it in stride. McIntyre kicked. Harvard 21, Brown 7.
The onslaught continued in the second half. On the first series, the Crimson rammed its way down the field on an 11-play drive that culminated in one of the prettiest touchdowns you’ll ever see. From the Brown 34 Smith flipped one over the middle to B.J. Watson. The junior wideout ran toward the left sideline—then took kind of the polar route into the end zone, looping back across the field and weaving his way through the defense. Harvard 28, Brown 7.
Brown did not give up. EJ Perry got them to the Crimson seven, but on fourth and three Allen Smith was tackled for a loss of seven by Harvard senior linebacker Cameron Kline. Jake Smith immediately ignited another Crimson drive with a 37-yard completion to junior wide receiver James Batch. At the culmination, early in the fourth quarter, on third-and-19 from the Brown 24, Darrington picked his way through a hole, then accelerated all the way into the end zone. McIntyre time. Harvard 35, Brown 7.
There was one more Crimson scoring drive. Borguet ran four straight times, and Smith connected with junior tight end Ryan Reagan for 23 yards. In the end, Borguet reaped the fruits of his labor, barging five yards up the middle for his first career touchdown. Harvard 42, Brown 7.
Testament to the offensive line’s beginning to knit, Harvard held the ball for 38:51 to Brown’s 21:09. Jake Smith was an efficient 22-of-29 passing.
Given that Brown is a work-in-progress, it’s hard to tell what this win bodes for the Crimson in the Ivy League race. But given the result in San Diego, the sigh of relief at the Stadium was audible.
Tidbits: Defensive lineman Brogan McPartland ’20, of Stephens City, Virginia and Leverett House, has been named one of 185 semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy. The honor, presented by the National Football Foundation, recognizes academic success, on-field performance and exemplary leadership. An applied mathematics concentrator, McPartland led the Crimson in 2018 with 4.0 sacks….Massachusetts has contributed the most members—13—to the 2019 Harvard football roster. California is next with 11, followed by Georgia (eight), Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania (seven each), and Texas (six)….A new children’s book, Follow Chester! A College Football Team Fights Racism and Makes History (Charlesbridge), celebrates the Crimson’s 1947 game against Virginia in Charlottesville, when Chester Pierce ’48, M.D. ’52, became the first black college football player in an integrated game south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Pierce, who went on to a distinguished career in medicine, died in 2016 at age 89….A nugget from my predecessor, Cleat I: Though James Perry was making his Ivy head coaching debut, he's actually faced Harvard on 19 previous occasions—four as a Bears quarterback and 15 on the coaching staffs of Dartmouth, Brown, and Princeton. So all told, his overall record against the Crimson is now 7-13….Harvard’s overall record against Brown moves to 87-30-2.
Yale 27, Cornell 16
Georgetown 24, Columbia 10
Penn 28, Lafayette 24
Princeton 56, Bucknell 23
Dartmouth 38, Colgate 3
Coming up: On Saturday, the Crimson welcomes to the Stadium Howard of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Kickoff: 1 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM and 92.9 FM-HD2, and on WHRB 95.3 FM. In 2019 the Bison is 1-4. This is the first meeting in football between the schools.
A CENTURY AGO: THE ROAD TO PASADENA
On September 27, 1919, Harvard, coached by Robert T. Fisher, A.B. 1912, kicked off its season—one that would end in a national championship and a Rose Bowl victory over Oregon—by trampling Bates 53-0. Seven thousand spectators at the Stadium cheered Crimson back Eddie Casey, A.B. 1919, as he rambled for two long touchdown jaunts against the Bobcats. For the mighty Crimson, this was the time-honored season opener with an overmatched opponent who would provide a tune-up for the more competitive games to come.
Just as significant, with most schools having suspended football during the World War I years of 1917 and ’18, this was the first game back on a “pre-war basis.” Many members of the Harvard team (including Casey, who served in the Navy) were veterans of the armed forces and had seen their educations and football careers interrupted by the war.
During preseason workouts, the 107 football candidates, like most Harvard students and faculty, had to fend off recruitment efforts by those attempting to break the Boston police strike.
THE SCORE BY QUARTERS