Football 2019: Harvard 35, Cornell 22
No matter what happens during the remainder of this season, the 2019 Harvard football team has accomplished something neither of its two immediate predecessors did: beating Cornell. On Saturday at the Stadium, with junior quarterback Jake Smith throwing three touchdown passes, his classmate Devin Darrington rushing for 106 yards, and a pair of punters putting on an old-fashioned kicking exhibition, the Crimson completed its sweep of a three-game homestand with a workmanlike 35-22 victory over the Big Red. The order-restoring triumph avenges the disheartening defeats to its Ivy League rival in 2017 (17-14) and ’18 (28-24). The win also brings Harvard to 3-1 overall in 2019 and 2-0 in Ivy play; Cornell drops to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the league.
The Crimson’s performance had its sloppy aspects, including two grievous errors. But the offense displayed bursts of firepower and the defense made plays: six sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and the first interception of 2019. There also was the weekly blocked punt. “It certainly was not a masterpiece,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy of the day’s work. “It all starts with the defense. We’ve managed to shut down the run against the last couple of teams we’ve played. It makes teams play a little left-handed, [making them] sometimes uncomfortable.” Indeed, figuring in sacks, Cornell was limited to a net of 36 yards on the ground, and its star runner, Harold Coles, who had helped wreck the Crimson the previous two years, netted only 34 yards on 15 carries.
Sign up for Harvard Magazine’s football e-mail and follow the Crimson all season long! Dick Friedman will provide the latest news, game summaries, and insights.
As so often happens these days, the opponent scored first. On Cornell’s first series, Harvard forced a punt. But that good work would be null and void when senior captain and defensive back Wesley Ogsbury dropped back to receive. Ogsbury let Nickolas Null’s boot hit the ground. While it was bouncing, it grazed Harvard freshman defensive back Alex Washington, who was blocking for Ogsbury. (Grievous error number one.) The Big Red pounced on it at the Crimson 17-yard line. Seven plays later, Cornell quarterback Richie Kenney rifled a 10-yard pass to wideout Eric Gallman II in the end zone. Null kicked the extra point. Cornell 7, Harvard 0.
Then commenced an exchange of punts. Harvard, unusually, employs two punters: friendly rivals sophomore Jon Sot and junior Sean McKeogh. On this day, both would excel, with Sot, last season’s All-Ivy punter, averaging an eye-popping 56.3 yards on three punts and McKeogh an excellent 41.2 on four. (Only two were returned, for a total of 13 yards.) Late in the first period the Crimson got in gear, ignited by a 26-yard completion from Smith to Cody Chrest. Cornell defensive back David Jones was covering Chrest snugly, but the Harvard senior wideout leaped and the pulled the ball in along the sidelines at the Cornell 35. Four plays later, from the Big Red 16, Smith faked a handoff, dropped back, and fired down the middle to another senior wideout, Jack Cook, in the end zone. Senior Jake McIntyre booted the extra point. Harvard 7, Cornell 7.
But at the start of the second quarter, on the next Crimson possession, Smith was sacked and coughed up the ball. Cornell’s Lance Blass recovered on the Harvard 28. Thanks to a sack of Kenney by Harvard senior linebacker Cameron Kline, the Crimson was able to force a 49-yard field-goal try by Null—which had just enough leg to make it over the crossbar. Cornell 10, Harvard 7.
Thereafter occurred 12 minutes of hell—for Cornell. On its next drive Harvard needed only four plays to go 75 yards: a 21-yard pass from Smith to junior wideout B.J. Watson (who got the ball despite being blanketed by the Big Red’s safety Eric Stoxstill-Diggs), a seven-yard run by Darrington, a 25-yard completion from Smith to senior tight end John Stivers, and a dash by Darrington, who bounced off Cornell’s Cyrus Nolan and ran the remainder of the 22 yards into the end zone. McIntyre kicked. Harvard 14, Cornell 10.
On the ensuing possession, Kenney tried to pass over the middle. But Harvard junior linebacker Jack McGowan, waiting at the Cornell 43, snagged it for the Crimson’s first interception of 2019. McGowan returned it 10 yards. On Harvard’s third play following the pick, Smith took the snap and moved right, buying time against the Cornell rush. Spying Chrest near the goal line, wide open thanks to a total breakdown of the Big Red coverage, Smith lobbed it his way. Chrest could have written a senior thesis in the time it took the ball to come down, but eventually it did descend into his arms for a touchdown. McIntyre added the point. Harvard 21, Cornell 10.
In contrast to these lightning-like thrusts, the Crimson used a four-minute, 11-play, 75-yard drive to close out the half. On the culminating play from the Cornell three, with Darrington providing interference, Watson ran a jet sweep to the right and into the end zone. McIntyre again kicked. Harvard 28, Cornell 10. In the second quarter, the Big Red had been limited to 18 yards of total offense. (The Crimson had 166.)
To start the second half, Harvard gave every indication that it was going to salt the game away, driving to the Cornell 27 before the Big Red’s Jelani Taylor picked off a Smith pass. Yet the third period was scoreless, the highlight being a 55-yard Sot punt that flipped the field from the Harvard 27 to the Cornell 18, a boot reminiscent of the howitzers of yesteryear by Patrick John McInally ’75 and Percy Duncan Haughton, A.B. 1899.
The next team to score was Cornell, thanks to grievous error number two. Early in the fourth quarter the Harvard defense had stopped the Big Red on a fourth-and-21, but McGowan was called for roughing the passer. Given life, Kenney tossed a 33-yard touchdown pass to wideout Phazione McClurge, who outwrestled Crimson junior defensive back Isaiah Wingfield for the ball in the end zone. But Ethan Agritelley missed the point-after kick. Harvard 28, Cornell 16.
A few moments later came three plays that essentially clinched the game. From the Cornell 44, McKeogh skied a punt that Jones of the Big Red fair-caught on its eight-yard line. Four plays later, from the Cornell 30, Harvard senior defensive lineman Brogan McPartland broke through and sacked Kenney for a seven-yard loss. It was the second sack of the day for McPartland, who was making his first appearance of the season following an injury. On the next play, the Crimson’s sophomore defensive back James Herring crashed in and blocked Null’s punt. The ball skittered nine yards from the line of scrimmage, to the Cornell 32. (It was Harvard’s fourth punt block in two weeks.) Four plays later Smith administered what was essentially the coup de grâce, a 12-yard pass to junior tight end Ryan Reagan, who was running a quick slant pattern into the end zone. McIntyre punctuated. Harvard 35, Cornell 16. The Big Red responded with a six-yard Coles touchdown run to account for the final score.
Smith finished with 18-for-28 passing for 217 yards. There was an element of revenge: It was against Cornell last year that Smith lost his starting job in favor of Tom Stewart ’19.
This was a good win. But the next three weeks will be very testing: at Holy Cross and Princeton, and then home against Dartmouth, which gives every appearance of being the scourge of the Ivy League. Against such teams, grievous errors become unforgivable.
Tidbits: During the three-game homestand, Harvard outscored its opponents 69-3 in the second quarter….The Crimson now leads the series against Cornell 48-34-2….Harvard has 29 straight wins when scoring 30 or more points. The Crimson’s all-time mark when reaching 30 is 320-6-1.
Dartmouth 42, Yale 10
Princeton 28, Lafayette 3
Holy Cross 47, Brown 31
Central Connecticut 24, Columbia 14
Penn 38, Sacred Heart 24
Coming up: On Saturday, the Crimson ventures outside the Ivy League for the final time in 2019, journeying to Worcester to face Holy Cross. Kickoff: 1 p.m. The game will be telecast on the Patriot League Network and broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM, and 92.9 FM-HD2, and on WHRB 95.3 FM. In 2019 the Crusaders are 3-3 overall and 1-0 in Patriot League play. The Crimson leads the overall series 43-25-2, including last year’s 33-31 thriller in Cambridge when Harvard’s Jake McIntyre booted a game-winning, 25-yard field goal on the final play. Comparative scores favor the Crimson: Harvard beat Brown 42-7 and Holy Cross defeated the Bears 47-31.
A CENTURY AGO: THE ROAD TO PASADENA, GAME 3
On October 11, 1919, Colby journeyed south from Waterville, Maine, to receive a 35-0 thrashing from Harvard. (Rather eerily, the Crimson scored the same number of points on Saturday against Cornell.) This game was shrewdly arranged as a breather between the more rugged contests against Boston College and Brown. With the Crimson comfortably ahead, the crowd of around 10,000 at the Stadium witnessed coach Robert T. Fisher, A.B. 1912, feed in his subs so they could get in some work. The fans also witnessed what was a splendiferous aerial show for the era as Harvard completed every forward pass it attempted: five.
The record so far:
September 24 Harvard 53, Bates 0
October 4 Harvard 17, Boston College 0
October 11 Harvard 35, Colby 0
Next up: October 18, Brown
THE SCORE BY QUARTERS