Princeton 39, Harvard 34
With 13 minutes to play at Princeton Stadium on Saturday, Harvard’s high-riding football team held a 34-10 lead and was on its way to another big win. Then the heavens fell.
The Tiger offense scored 29 unanswered points—the last seven with 13 seconds remaining—to pull out an astonishing 39-34 victory.
The loss was the first of the season for Harvard (5-1, 2-1 Ivy League), and the Crimson’s first Ivy defeat since the 2010 season. It snapped a 14-game winning streak, the nation’s longest, and positioned Princeton (4-2, 3-0) as the presumptive Ivy champion. After finishing in last place for the past two seasons, the Tigers are now the league’s only unbeaten team.
Harvard had dominated the first half, piling up 451 yards of total offense to Princeton’s 51, holding the Tiger ground game to a net five yards, and building a 20-0 halftime lead.
Princeton broke the shutout with an 86-yard scoring drive at the start of the third quarter, and added a field goal after recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. But touchdowns on Harvard’s next two possessions stretched the Crimson lead to 34-10 at the start of the final period.
Then came the Tiger turnaround. It began with a 59-yard kickoff return by freshman defensive back Anthony Gaffney, putting Princeton in prime field position. The Tigers would score on four consecutive possessions, passing for two-point conversions after two of those touchdowns.
Making effective use of a no-huddle, hurry-up offense, the Tigers broke down Harvard’s pass defense and scored on passes of 7, 29, 20, and 36 yards. The last one was thrown by Quinn Epperly, Princeton’s backup quarterback, with 13 seconds left on the clock and an Alumni Reunion Weekend crowd of 10,823 in a frenzy.
Missed tackles, costly Harvard penalties, and a dropped interception with 38 seconds to play all worked to keep the Tiger drives alive. Princeton’s 39 points were the most that any Crimson team had ever allowed in a single half.
Harvard incurred 12 penalties for 99 yards, as against five for 42 yards for Princeton. The Crimson was also outplayed by Princeton's special teams, which blocked a point-after, a field-goal try, and a late-game punt.
In what would otherwise have been celebrated as a brilliant passing day, Harvard’s senior quarterback, Colton Chapple, had five scoring passes, matching a single-game record he’d tied in last year’s Bucknell game. Completing 31 of 45 throws, with one interception, he passed for 448 yards, breaking the Harvard record of 443 set by Neil Rose ’03 in 2002.
Tight end Kyle Juszczyk ’13 caught three of Chapple’s touchdown passes, tying another single-game record. He wound up with 15 catches for 192 yards, the second best receiving day in Harvard annals.
Chapple’s other touchdown passes were a 52-yard heave to receiver Ricky Zorn ’14, which opened the scoring, and a 14-yarder to tight end Cameron Brate ’14 for the Crimson’s final tally. Zorn and Brate each finished with more than 100 receiving yards.
With 104 yards rushing, tailback Treavor Scales had his fourth 100-yard day of the season, while Chapple had 82 yards as a rusher.
Harvard had defeated Princeton in 14 of the last 16 meetings, including a 56-39 shootout at the Stadium a year ago.
The Tigers had lost close nonleague games to Lehigh and Georgetown, but had drubbed Columbia (33-6) and shut out Brown (19-0) in the team’s previous Ivy encounters. Princeton can win its first league championship since 2006 by defeating Cornell, Pennsylvania, Yale, and Dartmouth in the last four games of the season.
Saturday’s surreal loss was a jarring setback for a Harvard squad that had been heavily favored to win the Ivy title, and was thought by some to be the all-around best team in head coach Tim Murphy’s 19 seasons at Harvard.
With a points-per-game average of 39.8, the offense is still on track to break the Harvard scoring record of 374 points, set in 2011. The 2012 team, however, will also go into the record book under the rubric most points allowed.
Yet the Crimson still wins respect. “They’re the best team in the league, by far,” said Tiger coach Bob Surace after Saturday’s game. “We got some breaks and were fortunate to win. I’m just glad we don’t play them in a seven-game series.”
Not in this sport. It’s those other Tigers—pantherus tigris Detroit—who’ll be playing a seven-game series, beginning Wednesday night. But either way, this has been a good week to be a Tiger.
In other Ivy action: Yale (2-4, 1-2) gained its first Ivy win with a 27-13 victory over Pennsylvania (2-4, 2-1). Brown (4-2, 1-2) downed Cornell (3-3, 1-2), 21-14. Dartmouth (4-2, 2-1) came from behind to defeat Columbia (1-5, 0-3), 21-16.
Next Saturday: Harvard travels to Hanover for an evening matchup with Dartmouth, kicking off at 5 p.m.
The Harvard-Princeton score by quarters:
Harvard 14 6 7 7 — 34
Princeton 0 0 10 29 — 39
The season so far:
Harvard 28, San Diego 13
Harvard 45, Brown 31
Harvard 52, Holy Cross 3
Harvard 45, Cornell 13
Harvard 35, Bucknell 7
Princeton 39, Harvard 34