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Football 2017: Harvard 10, Rhode Island 17

9.17.17

Crimson tide: Senior defensive back Tobe Eziokoli (26), senior quarterback Joe Viviano (4), junior defensive tackle Scott Garrison (74), senior offensive lineman DJ Mott (71) and junior running back Noah Reimers (24) got a running start on Harvard's 144th football season.
Photograph by Gil Talbot/Harvard Athletic Communications


Crimson tide: Senior defensive back Tobe Eziokoli (26), senior quarterback Joe Viviano (4), junior defensive tackle Scott Garrison (74), senior offensive lineman DJ Mott (71) and junior running back Noah Reimers (24) got a running start on Harvard's 144th football season.
Photograph by Gil Talbot/Harvard Athletic Communications

On 50- and 57-yard rumbles, junior Charlie Booker III demonstrated his combination of power and speed.
Photograph by Gil Talbot/Harvard Athletic Communications


On 50- and 57-yard rumbles, junior Charlie Booker III demonstrated his combination of power and speed.
Photograph by Gil Talbot/Harvard Athletic Communications

With a team-high eight tackles and a pass breakup, junior linebacker Anthony Camargo (40) keyed a defense that kept Rhode Island off the board in the second half. 
Photograph by Gil Talbot/Harvard Athletic Communications


With a team-high eight tackles and a pass breakup, junior linebacker Anthony Camargo (40) keyed a defense that kept Rhode Island off the board in the second half. 
Photograph by Gil Talbot/Harvard Athletic Communications

Freshman Aaron Shampklin showed tantalizing talent, gaining 45 yards on seven carries and scoring the Crimson's only touchdown on an eight-yard second-quarter run.
Photograph by Gil Talbot/Harvard Athletic Communications

 


Freshman Aaron Shampklin showed tantalizing talent, gaining 45 yards on seven carries and scoring the Crimson's only touchdown on an eight-yard second-quarter run.
Photograph by Gil Talbot/Harvard Athletic Communications

 

On Saturday, two things were established at Meade Stadium in Kingston, Rhode Island, concerning the 144th edition of Harvard football: 1.) The Crimson would not go undefeated. 2.) There would be no Ocean State sweep, as there had been in the previous two years. Rhode Island beat Harvard 17-10, avenging the thrashings of 2015 (41-19) and ’16 (51-21). The much-improved Rams, who play in the Colonial Athletic Association, raised their record to 1-2. The Crimson lost its season opener for the first time since 2011 (30-22 to Holy Cross); don’t look now, but following season-ending defeats to Penn and Yale in 2016, Harvard is now riding a three-game losing streak. More sobering, the game was marred by what appeared to be a serious spinal injury to Harvard defensive back Ben Abercrombie ’21. (Update, September 18, 4:30 p.m.: Confirming the apparent seriousness of the injury Ben Abercrombie sustained on Saturday, athletic director Bob Scalise and football coach Tim Murphy disseminated a note this afternoon; they reported, “Ben was admitted immediately to a Rhode Island hospital and underwent surgery. His family and many university officials have been with him in the hospital since Saturday afternoon. Our hearts go out to Ben and his family right now, and they have our full support. We are doing all that we can in aiding in his recovery, and he has received tremendous care from the doctors at the hospital.” They asked recipients to keep Abercrombie and his family “in your thoughts and prayers as he begins his recovery process,” and encouraged fellow athletes to “talk it through with your teammates, resident dean, coaches, or a counselor in Counseling and Mental Health Services.” Read a Boston Globe update here.)

Besides inducing schadenfreude throughout the rest of the Ivy League, the upset no doubt puzzled most voters in the conference’s preseason media poll, who tabbed the Crimson a co-favorite with defending co-champion Princeton. Harvard coach Tim Murphy, however, viewed the prognostication with a jaundiced eye. “We are absolutely not deserving of that accolade or prediction,” he told The Boston Globe last week. Off of Saturday’s game, this does not appear to be a typical case of a coachly poor-mouthing. Now in his 24th season on the Crimson sideline, Murphy and his staff have some issues to address—most notably, in the defensive secondary and on a green offensive line—if Harvard wants to make a run at the Ivy title.

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Make no mistake, the Crimson has weapons that must be respected. The most powerful was on display in the first offensive series of the season: running back Charlie Booker III. Taking a handoff from quarterback Joe Viviano ’17 (’18) at the Harvard 46-yard-line, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound junior from Houston found a hole on the Rams’ left side and barreled 50 yards to the Rhode Island four. But then the pattern set in that would bedevil the Crimson the rest of the game: a holding penalty and a sack of Viviano eventually helped move the ball back to the Rams’ 21. In came Jake McIntyre ’20 to try a 38-yard field goal from the right hash mark. It was up…it was good! Harvard 3, Rhode Island 0. The first points of the season were on the board, and the Crimson had extended to 189 games its Ivy record of not having been shut out.

 

In the second period came a frightening event that provided fodder for anti-football forces. On third-and-15 from the Rams’ 31, Rhode Island quarterback Tyler Harris connected with receiver Marven Beauvais for an 18-yard gain. Beauvais was knocked down by Abercrombie. Both men initially stayed on the ground; Abercrombie eventually was taken off on a stretcher. The freshman from Hoover, Alabama, was diagnosed with a cervical spine injury and at this writing was under care at Rhode Island Hospital.

On the first play following the delay, Harris found receiver Aaron Parker all alone behind the Harvard defense for a 51-yard touchdown. C.J. Carrick booted the extra point. Rhode Island 7, Harvard 3.

On its next possession, Rhode Island drove from its 45 to the Harvard four. There the Crimson stiffened, whereupon Carrick drilled a 21-yard field goal. Rhode Island 10, Harvard 3.

Then it was again Booker time. On first and 10 from the Harvard 35, Booker barreled 57 yards to the Rams’ 8.  He would finish the game with a game-high and career-high 139 yards. Booker emerged in the Crimson backfield last year after recovering from early-season hamstring woes. His specialty is shedding tacklers and heading to the outside and upfield. Call it the Booker Bounce. “Sometimes when I get stuck in a pile at the line of scrimmage,” he says, “I know that a lot of defenders will converge on the inside, so that will leave the outside open.”  

On the play after Booker’s long run, wispy freshman Aaron Shampklin—kind of a lightning to Booker’s thunder—glided into the end zone. McIntyre booted the extra point. Harvard 10, Rhode Island 10.

The draw was short-lived. On the Rams’ next possession, Harris, avoiding Crimson defenders with aplomb, again connected with Parker, this time for 39 yards. Five plays later, Harris slid off left tackle for a one-yard touchdown run. Rhode Island 17, Harvard 10.

 

That’s the way it ended. In the second half, the Crimson had its chances to knot things up, most notably at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Viviano took Harvard on a 12-play, 76-yard drive that at its farthest reached the Rhode Island seven. During the series, Viviano was finally able to connect with his most lethal weapon, All-Ivy receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley ’19, for two completions, one of 10 yards, another of 20. Shelton-Mosley made the second grab with a Rams defender hanging all over him (and, in fact, pass interference was called on the play). But the drive’s final play was a botched handoff from Viviano to Booker, which resulted in a five-yard loss and the ball going over to Rhode Island on downs. A shame.

With 2:51 remaining, Rhode Island was trying to run out the clock when Crimson linebacker Chase Guillory ’18 forced a fumble; defensive back Tanner Lee ’18 pounced on the ball. Harvard had life. Starting at its 27, the Crimson reached the Rhode Island 25, the key play being a 15-yard pass from Viviano to H-back Ryan Antonellis ’18 on a fourth down that allowed Harvard to keep possession. The final play, however, was a desperation incompletion intended for Antonellis in the back corner of the end zone. (Somewhat puzzlingly, the Crimson had waited until there were seven seconds left to use its final timeout, after Viviano had already stopped the clock with a spike.)

Viviano finished a respectable-sounding 17-for-32 passing for 192 yards. But he was sacked five times for 33 yards in losses, and otherwise spent much of his day trying to evade aggressive Rams defenders. (His rushing totals for the day, which include the sacks: minus-19 yards, on nine carries.) The Crimson incurred three offensive-holding calls and 10 penalties in all for a loss of 80 yards. For the past several seasons Harvard has been blessed with some of the greatest offensive linemen and blocking backs in Ivy League annals. Several are now playing in the NFL, and another, two-time All-Ivy left tackle Larry Allen Jr. ’18, is taking a year off from school. Perhaps Saturday’s travails are merely a break-in period. We shall see.

And we shall see quickly, because next Saturday’s meeting with Brown, besides having the import of being a league contest, now will be watched closely all over the conference to see if the Crimson, after 16 straight seasons of seven wins or more, is suddenly a-crumble.

 

Tidbits: Of the home states of players on the Crimson’s opening-day roster, California was most represented, with 17, followed by Texas (14), Georgia and Massachusetts (eight each) and Alabama (seven)….Nine former Harvard players were on NFL active rosters or practice squads. One of them, tight end/H-back Kyle Juszczyk ’13, signed a free-agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers for a reported five years and $21 million—once again, proving the value of a Harvard education.

 

weekend roundup

Brown 28, Bryant 23
Columbia 17, Wagner 14
Delaware 41, Cornell 14
Dartmouth 38, Stetson 7
Penn 42, Ohio Dominican 24
Princeton 27, San Diego 17
Yale 56, Lehigh 28

 

Coming up: Next Saturday, the home opener. Harvard hosts Brown (1-0) at the Stadium in the first 2017 Ivy game for each team. Kickoff: noon. The game will be shown live on NESN and the Ivy League Network, and it will be broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM and 94.5 FM-HD2, and on WHRB FM 95.3. Harvard leads the overall series 84-30-2 and has won the last six, including a 32-22 victory last season in Providence.

 

The score by quarters

Harvard3700  10
Rhode Island01700  17

Attendance: 3,812

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