Harvard 34, Cornell 24
It was David v. Goliath at Ithaca’s Schoellkopf Field on Saturday, as Harvard sent a reserve quarterback, Michael Pruneau, to do battle against a Cornell team led by the Ivy League’s all-time, all-everything passer, Jeff Mathews.
Mathews was Goliathlike, completing 39 of 56 passes for 472 yards—more yardage than any Harvard team had ever given up to an opposing quarterback—and a pair of touchdowns.
But he was outplayed by Pruneau and a stalwart Crimson defense, and the upshot was a 34-24 victory, Harvard’s fourth straight win of the season.
Pruneau, a senior from Plano, Texas, was making his first varsity start, allowing incumbent Conner Hempel to rest a hyperextended knee. He completed 23 of 29 pass attempts for 340 yards, matching Mathews with two aerial touchdowns and also scoring on foot. He was intercepted once.
The Harvard defense played a stellar role in the win, sacking Mathews six times and intercepting him twice. The Big Red’s almost nonexistent running attack netted minus-15 yards on 18 carries.
An interception by sophomore linebacker Eric Medes set up the game’s first touchdown midway through the opening period, with Pruneau running the ball on a keeper from three yards out.
Score one for David.
Adding a pair of field goals by kicker David Mothander, Harvard led 13-3 at halftime.
Mothander’s second field goal completed a drive that began when cornerback Brian Owusu blocked a 36-yard field goal attempt. Linebacker and captain Joshua Boyd recovered the bouncing ball at midfield.
Cornell’s first touchdown came on the opening drive of the second half. After heaving a 50-yard pass to receiver Grant Gellatly, Mathews took a helmet-to-helmet hit delivered by cornerback Norman Hayes. Apparently shaking it off, Mathews drilled a nine-yard scoring pass to Gellatly three plays later.
Hayes, a mainstay of the Crimson secondary, was ejected from the game.
Harvard’s lead was now reduced to three points, but the offense struck back on its next possession, capped by a 36-yard scoring pass from Pruneau to reserve tight end Tyler Hamblin.
Trailing 20-10, Cornell narrowed the Crimson lead to 20-17 with a pinpoint pass from Mathews to towering receiver Lucas Shapiro, covering nine yards.
Harvard scored again at the start of the final period, mounting a drive that tailback Paul Stanton Jr. finished off with a two-yard touchdown run. Stanton, who had scored the decisive touchdown in the previous weekend’s triple-overtime victory at Holy Cross, would end up as the game’s leading rusher, with 72 yards on 16 carries.
Once again Mathews rallied the Big Red offense, this time with a 30-yard pass to receiver Ben Rogers that took Cornell to the Harvard five-yard line. Mathews then ran the ball in himself.
Holding a 27-24 lead with more than six minutes left to play, the Crimson put the game away with an 81-yard scoring drive. The drive was culminated by a 22-yard pass from Pruneau to tight end Cameron Brate, who made an acrobatic catch before tumbling out of the end zone.
This time Mathews was unable to answer. In the game’s final minutes he was sacked twice, deep in Cornell territory, and the Big Red relinquished the ball on downs.
Harvard has won eight straight against Cornell, and has managed to keep Mathews at bay since his freshman season four years ago.
Mathews has now thrown for 9,775 passing yards in his college career, obliterating the former record of 9,294 set in 1999 by Brown quarterback James Perry. He sets a new Ivy League record with every completion, and is expected to be an early pick in next year’s NFL draft. Harvard and the rest of the league will wish him luck and be glad to see less of him.
This was the second Ivy League game for both Harvard (4-0, 2-0 Ivy) and Cornell (1-3, 0-2). In their league openers, Cornell lost to Yale, 38-23, and Harvard defeated Brown, 41-23.
Weekend roundup: In Saturday’s only other Ivy contest, Dartmouth dealt Yale its first loss, 20-13. In nonleague games, Brown bested Bryant, 41-14, Columbia lost to Lehigh, 24-10, Penn lost to William & Mary, 27-14, and Princeton topped Lafayette, 42-26.
Next week: Lafayette (1-4, 1-0 Patriot League) comes to the Stadium for a 1 p.m. game. The Leopards’ sole win of the season has been a 31-7 defeat of Bucknell in week five. Harvard has won 10 of the last 11 games against Lafayette.
The Harvard-Cornell scoring:
Harvard 10 3 7 14 — 34
Cornell 0 3 14 7 — 24
The season so far:
Harvard 42, San Diego 20
Harvard 41, Brown 23
Harvard 41, Holy Cross 35
Harvard 34, Cornell 24