Football: Harvard 28, San Diego 13

The football team, in its opening game, outplays an opponent from the West.

A not-quite-irresistible force meets an immovable object: Crimson linebacker Brian Reilly stopping San Diego tailback Kenn James in Saturday's Stadium opener. The visitors'  running backs netted just 35 yards rushing against a staunch Harvard defense.

Harvard won its twelfth straight home opener on Saturday, scoring 21 points in the final quarter to repel a scrappy team from the University of San Diego, 28-13.

The contest was gripping, and in its way historic. The Crimson hadn’t engaged a West Coast school since an ill-fated trip to Stanford in 1949, and no team from the western half of the country had ever set foot in Harvard Stadium.

The Crimson offense needed three quarters to get going, but then gave the visiting Toreros a taste of the weaponry commanded by last season’s Ivy League championship team, which scored 37.4 points per game.

San Diego scored first, drilling a 20-yard field goal after an extended drive that took almost 10 minutes off the clock in the opening period. Harvard struck back at the start of the second period, when quarterback Colton Chapple ’13 lofted a 29-yard scoring pass to tight end Cameron Brate ’14, who was wide open. Harvard led at the half, 7-3.

Banking heavily on the strong passing arm of junior quarterback Mason Mills, San Diego took a short-lived third period lead after a 48-yard field goal and a 25-yard touchdown pass from a scrambling Mills to receiver Logan Smith. Then the tide turned.

Harvard’s fleet-footed Seitu Smith ’15 returned the ensuing kickoff for a spectacular 99-yard touchdown, only to have his run nullified because of an illegal block. But the offense then mounted a nine-play, 94-yard scoring drive—topped off by an eight-yard pass from Chapple to tight end Kyle Juszczyk ’13—to take a 14-13 lead.

As the Crimson’s swarming defense shut down Mills and his receivers, the offense added more points on a pair of touchdowns by its top running back, Treavor Scales ’13.

Scales’s first score came on a one-yard slant, completing an 82-yard drive. His second was a 66-yard breakaway that caught the USD defenders off guard with a minute and a half left to play. “Colton came into the huddle,” Scales recalled afterward, “and said, ‘Guys, one first down and we got the game.’ I said, ‘No, we’re scoring a touchdown.’ And sure enough, the offensive line did a great job—[a hole] opened up like the Red Sea, and I had no choice. I was obligated to get to that end zone.”

Scales had a bravura day, running for a career-high 173 yards on 19 carries. Chapple completed 16 of 29 pass attempts for 209 yards, with one interception. Juszczyk, who had five catches for 54 yards and a touchdown, was his leading receiver.

San Diego’s Mills had a hot hand, setting school records for pass attempts (63) and completions (38) while throwing for 354 yards and one touchdown. Not since 2003 had an opposing quarterback enjoyed a 350-yard game against Harvard, but Mills’s day was made less enjoyable by a Crimson defense that registered 14 pass breakups and seven quarterback sacks.

Ends John Lyon ’12 (’13) and Zach Hodges ’15 each had two sacks, while linebackers Josh Boyd ’13 and Bobby Schneider ’13, the team captain, led the defensive unit with 10 tackles apiece. Sophomore Norman Hayes, subbing for injured cornerback Brian Owusu ’13, accounted for five of the pass breakups.

Harvard now has a 10-game winning streak going back to the second weekend of the 2011 season. Last year’s team went unbeaten in Ivy League play, finishing with a record of 9-1. Preseason polls made the Crimson a heavy favorite to win this year’s Ivy race.

San Diego was playing its third game of the season, after taking a 41-14 loss to Cal Poly and pulling out a 34-27 decision over Western New Mexico. The Toreros are the defending co-champions of the Pioneer Football League, a 10-team conference with constituents in the East, Midwest, and Far West. The PFL and the Ivy League are the only NCAA Division I conferences whose members do not grant athletic scholarships.

Harvard is slated to open the 2013 season at San Diego’s Torero Stadium, but USD then goes off the schedule.

Topic A: At Saturday’s postgame press conference, much of the questioning concerned the College’s current academic misconduct investigation and its implications for the football program. Head coach Tim Murphy responded guardedly, citing privacy regulations, but confirmed that one returning letterman, a junior receiver, had not dressed for the opener. All the team’s starters, he said, were in good academic standing.

“Harvard kids aren’t good kids, they’re great kids,” Murphy added, “but they don’t walk on water. And I think it’s important as parents and educators that we have to reinforce that crucial life lesson, that inappropriate behavior won’t be tolerated. Because down the road, later in life, those consequences can be terminal. They can cost you a marriage. They can cost you a career. But I’ve never seen greater character kids than we have here.”

Weekend roundup: Two other Ivy teams hosted visiting PFL squads in opening games. Columbia edged Marist, 10-9, and Dartmouth downed Butler, 28-7. In Patriot League matchups, Yale defeated Georgetown, 24-21, and Brown beat Holy Cross, 24-21. Cornell lost to Fordham, 34-27; Pennsylvania lost to Lafayette, 28-21; and Princeton lost to Lehigh, 17-14.  

Ivy League play kicks off next weekend, when Yale travels to Cornell and Harvard meets Brown in a 4:30 twilight game in Providence. Harvard’s last win at Brown Stadium came in 2006.

In case you missed it: Beset by a series of unsettling events, Yale’s football program has been in a state of flux. A month after last November’s 45-7 blowout at Yale Bowl—the Crimson’s tenth victory in 11 meetings with the Blue—third-year coach Tom Williams resigned, admitting to misstatements in his résumé. Yale then raided the enemy camp and hired Tony Reno, Harvard’s special teams coordinator, to succeed Williams, whereupon Reno lured three more assistant coaches to New Haven. Another bêtise occurred before preseason practice, when the Bulldog captain-elect vacated his post after allegedly punching another student. Yale is thus captainless in its 140th season of football—“and maybe that is fitting,” opined a Yale Daily News editorial, since “each and every player shares the burden of reminding Yale what a noble thing football can be.”

The Harvard-San Diego score by quarters:

San Diego   3   0   10   0   —   13
Harvard       0   7    0   21  —   28

Attendance: 5,272

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