Football: Harvard 42, San Diego 20

Crimson football finds redemption in the West

<strong>On the road:</strong> Crimson team members huddled before taking the field at Torero Stadium for Harvard’s first West Coast game since 1949. The University of San Diego’s small but picturesque facility has a seating capacity of 6,000.
In his debut as Harvard’s starting quarterback, junior Conner Hempel (14) threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns. The pursuing San Diego defender is end Blake Oliaro.
Hempel’s first touchdown pass went to sophomore wide receiver Andrew Fischer (32), who beat USD safety Robbie Beathard (37) to the ball. As a two-way player at Diamond Ranch High School, in Pomona, Fischer won California’s High School Heisman Award as the state’s top scholar-athlete.
Eluding would-be tacklers Troy McClelland (25), Robbie Beathard (37), and Steve Gargiulo (90), Fischer streaked 30 yards down the sideline for a late-game score that gave Harvard a three-touchdown lead.

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Until this week, no Harvard football team had ventured to the West Coast since September 24, 1949, when Stanford treated the visiting Crimson to a 44-0 shellacking. That traumatic defeat was a prelude to the worst season (1-8) in Harvard history, and took years to live down.

“What little prestige Harvard football may have enjoyed in these western precincts evaporated in the blast furnace of the Stanford performance,” reported The Boston Globe. “The Crimson’s West Coast alumni cringed in the South stands as the rout developed.…Otherwise it was a nice, sunny day, with 38,000 on hand.”

“We played football like we had been chloroformed,” one Harvard player told the Globe.

With 4,256 on hand at the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium on a sun-soaked Saturday, the Crimson’s West Coast alumni had nothing to cringe about. Balancing a strong offensive showing with heads-up defensive play, Harvard routed San Diego, 42-20. 

The game was the first of the season for Harvard. San Diego (1-2) was taking the field for the third time, after a loss to Cal Poly and a victory over Western New Mexico. The Toreros are the defending co-champions of the Pioneer Football League, a 12-team conference with member teams in the East, Midwest, and California. The PFL and the Ivy League are the only NCAA Division I conferences whose members do not grant athletic scholarships.

The two teams first met at Harvard Stadium a year ago, when Harvard scored 21 fourth-quarter points to overtake the Toreros, 28-13. No team from the western half of the country had previously set foot on Stadium turf.

This year’s Crimson offense again scored 21 fourth-quarter points against San Diego, after nursing a one-touchdown lead for most of the third period. 

Making his first start at quarterback was Conner Hempel, a 6-3, 210-pound junior from Union, Kentucky. Hempel had spent the 2012 season as the backup to Colton Chapple, who set a Harvard record for passing touchdowns and was last year’s Ivy Player of the Year.

Picking up where Chapple left off, Hempel threw four touchdown passes and ran the offense with poise and resourcefulness. He completed 25 of 34 passes for 345 yards, was not intercepted, and showed an ability to make plays with his feet.

Two of Hempel’s touchdown passes were caught by Andrew Fischer, a sophomore receiver from Diamond Bar, California. He finished the game with six catches for 71 yards. The other scoring passes went to senior receiver Ricky Zorn, who made six catches for 70 yards, and to Ben Braunecker, a sophomore tight end.

Sophomore running back Paul Stanton Jr. was Harvard’s leading rusher, with 64 yards on six carries and a second-period touchdown run of 11 yards.

Kicking specialist David Mothander, a senior from San Juan Capistrano, California, was six-for-six on points-after-touchdown and boomed four of his kickoffs into the end zone.

Junior defensive end Zack Hodges opened the scoring with a 53-yard fumble return in the first quarter. Hodges turned in another big play in the third period, when Torero back Joe Ferguson tried to go up-and-over at the Harvard goal line. Linebacker and team captain Joshua Boyd swiped the ball out of Ferguson’s hands, and Hodges fell on it.

Junior cornerback Norman Hayes led the defense with 12 tackles and a late-game interception. Eight starters are back from last year’s defensive unit, which led the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in quarterback sacks and ranked second in rushing defense.

Torero quarterback Mason Mills, an able passer, completed 27 of 46 pass attempts for 293 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once. Mills had given the Crimson secondary a stiff test a year ago, setting school records for pass attempts (63) and completions (38) while throwing for 354 yards. No opposing quarterback had recorded a 350-yard game against Harvard since 2003.

Going into Saturday’s game, San Diego had won 13 straight games at Torero Stadium.

Harvard is now 3-1 against the West. Three decades before the Stanford debacle, the Crimson defeated Oregon, 7-6, in the 1920 Rose Bowl game.  This weekend’s contest completed a two-game home-and-home series with San Diego, initially scheduled in 2009.

Adding a West Coast team to the schedule was in part a response to new demographic realities. More Harvard alumni now live in California than in Massachusetts, and Southern California has become an important catchment area for recruits in many varsity sports, including football.

The Department of Athletics, the Alumni Association, the Varsity Club, and the Friends of Harvard Football joined forces to host pregame and postgame receptions and a game-day tailgate for regional alumni and friends. A pickup “Harvard University Band” composed of a dozen or so California alumni played lustily before, during, and after the game.

Weekend roundup: All eight Ivy League teams opened their seasons against nonleague foes on Saturday. Brown downed Georgetown, 45-7. Columbia lost to Fordham, 52-7. Cornell defeated Bucknell, 45-13. Yale outpointed Colgate, 39-22. In night games, Dartmouth beat Butler, 30-23, Pennsylvania bested Lafayette, 27-21, and Princeton was edged by Lehigh, 29-28. 

Coming up: Ivy action gets under way next Saturday, as Yale hosts Cornell and Brown visits Harvard Stadium for a night game, starting at 7:30. Preseason surveys picked Pennsylvania to repeat as league champion, with Harvard and Brown as runners-up.

Preseason polls, of course, aren’t always prescient. Last year’s Harvard squad was heavily favored to retain the Ivy championship, but a late-game defensive collapse at Princeton and a subpar performance at Penn scuttled the Crimson’s title hopes.

The Harvard-San Diego score by quarters:

Harvard         7    7    7   21 — 42
San Diego     0   13    0    7 — 20

Attendance: 4,256

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