Harvard 24, Dartmouth 21
Under the Stadium lights on Saturday night, reserve place-kicker Andrew Flesher got another chance to shine.
And shine he did, kicking a 23-yard field goal that gave Harvard a 24-21 victory over Dartmouth with just 48 seconds to play.
A tall, bespectacled, studious-looking junior from Little Rock, Arkansas, Flesher made the team’s roster as a walk-on last year. His first chance to shine arrived a fortnight ago, after all-Ivy kicker David Mothander suffered a strained quadriceps in a practice drill. Flesher subbed for him in Harvard’s 35-16 victory over Lafayette, missing a 34-yard field goal, but succeeding on five out of five point-after tries and booming three of his kickoffs out of the end zone.
After making field goals of 38 and 23 yards and kicking six PATs in the following weekend’s triple-overtime loss to Princeton, Flesher was named the Ivy League’s Special Teams Player of the Week.
With seven seconds of regulation time left in the Princeton game, Flesher had come on to attempt a game-winning 50-yard field goal. He had the wind at his back, but his kick went wide.
The Dartmouth game brought another opportunity to make a tie-breaking field goal, this time from 36 yards out, and with six and a half minutes to play. Once again the kick went wide.
But with the clock winding down, Flesher’s second-chance kick soared straight over the crossbar. “I felt the kick leave my foot, and it just felt good,” he said afterward.
Harvard partisans in the crowd of 13,470 had to feel good as well. Two overtime showdowns in successive games would have been too much of a muchness.
In the game’s first half, Flesher had made field goals of 34 and 32 yards.
Depleted by injuries and hampered by a rash of false-start and offside penalties, Harvard’s offense could score just two touchdowns, the fewest for a Crimson team since a 34-14 loss to Pennsylvania three seasons ago.
The first touchdown came on Harvard’s second series of the game, with quarterback Conner Hempel directing a 56-yard drive that was finished off when Hempel scored on a nine-yard keeper.
Flesher’s early field goals helped Harvard to a 13-0 lead as the second period opened, but Dartmouth cut the margin to 13-7 after a 10-yard burst by Dominick Pierre, the Ivy League’s leading rusher, four minutes into the period. The score was still 13-7 at the half.
The Green’s defensive unit put Dartmouth ahead midway through the third period, after Hempel attempted a screen pass to Bo Ellis, a freshman tailback. When Ellis dropped the ball, Dartmouth safety Stephen Dazzo corralled it and ran it in for a 33-yard touchdown.
Trailing 14-13, Harvard scored on its next possession, using a trick play that had wide receiver Ricky Zorn taking the ball on a reverse, rolling to his right, and throwing a 32-yard pass to receiver Andrew Berg at the back of the end zone.
Hempel then passed to tight end Tyler Hamblin for a two-point conversion that staked Harvard to a 21-14 lead.
Dartmouth got the equalizer on its next series, mounting a 78-yard drive capped by a seven-yard rush by reserve tailback Kyle Bramble.
With the game deadlocked at 21-21, the Harvard defense kept the Green at bay in the final period. The visitors got one last possession after Flesher’s decisive field goal, but a midfield interception by safety Jaron Wilson sealed the win for the Crimson.
“You can see why I love coaching this team,” said head coach Tim Murphy after the game. “It’s as tough, courageous, and resilient a team as I’ve ever been around.”
He added, “It’s a really good team we beat. We just made one more play than they did.”
With wins over Yale and Columbia and a four-overtime loss to Pennsylvania, Dartmouth had come into the game with an Ivy League record of 2-1. The Green had crushed Columbia, 56-0, a week earlier, holding the Lions to five first downs and 95 yards in total offense.
Harvard tailback Paul Stanton Jr. was the game’s leading rusher, with 146 yards on 26 carries. His most notable carry was a 63-yard breakaway late in the opening period, setting up Flesher’s second field goal of the game.
The Crimson defense held Dartmouth’s hard-running Dominick Pierre to 67 yards rushing and one touchdown on 17 carries.
Hempel completed 18 of 27 passes for 135 yards, and was not intercepted. Dartmouth’s quarterback, sophomore Dalyn Williams, completed 11 of 24 passes for 156 yards, with one interception.
David Mothander, Harvard’s all-time top scoring kicker, is one of more than a half dozen starters who have been sidelined by injuries. The list includes tailback Zach Boden, offensive tackles Parker Sebastian and Anthony Fabiano, center David Leopard, all-Ivy tight end Cameron Brate, and linebacker Connor Sheehan.
Harvard (6-1, 3-1 Ivy) now has an 11-game winning streak against Dartmouth (3-4, 2-2), and has won 16 of the last 17 encounters with the Green.
In other Ivy contests: Brown delivered the upset of the day with a 27-0 shutout of a Penn team that was previously unbeaten in league play. Princeton hammered Cornell, 53-20, and Yale broke a three-game losing streak with a 53-12 rout of Columbia.
Princeton (6-1, 4-0) now has sole possession of first place in the league standings, with Harvard and Penn (4-3, 3-1) tied for second place. Princeton could win the Ivy title outright by defeating Penn, Yale, and Dartmouth in its remaining games.
Next Saturday: Harvard travels to Columbia’s Wien Stadium to engage a Lion squad that has been outscored, 296-57, in what is so far a winless season. The game kicks off at 12:30. The Crimson shut out the Lions, 69-0, at Harvard Stadium a year ago, and has prevailed in 12 of the teams’ last 13 meetings.
The Harvard-Dartmouth scoring:
Dartmouth 0 7 14 0 — 21
Harvard 10 3 8 3 — 24
The season so far:
Harvard 42, San Diego 20
Harvard 41, Brown 23
Harvard 41, Holy Cross 35
Harvard 34, Cornell 24
Harvard 35, Lafayette 16
Princeton 51, Harvard 48
Harvard 24, Dartmouth 21