John Harvard's Journal
Over the Moon
Seven straight wins against Yale, and a shared Ivy title
It took a victory in The Game, coupled with a Dartmouth upset of Princeton, to cut Harvard in for a share of the Ivy League championship, but that’s how the 2013 football season shook out. With the Princeton-Dartmouth game still in progress, head coach Tim Murphy was asked at a post-Yale news conference about his team’s chances of sharing the title. “At this point that’s almost superfluous,” he replied. He wanted only to discuss the toughness and character of a Crimson team that had just dispatched Yale, 34-7, extending Harvard’s winning streak in the venerable series to seven games. Said Murphy, “I don’t know if there’s ever been a team that we got more out of.”
An hour later, in a Hanover snowstorm, Dartmouth finished off Princeton, 28-24, consigning the Tigers to their only league loss and depriving them of their first outright Ivy title since 1995. Harvard followers, queuing up to get out of Yale Bowl’s parking lots, were over the moon.
With identical records (6-1 Ivy, 9-1 overall), Harvard and Princeton finished at the top of the Ivy standings. Dartmouth took third place, Yale, Brown, and Pennsylvania tied for fourth, and Cornell and Columbia brought up the rear.
Harvard’s only defeat of the season was a tense, triple-overtime loss to Princeton, in a late-October contest that looked in retrospect like a playoff for the league championship. The game went into overtime after Harvard had tied the score, 35-35, with three minutes to play. The teams matched points in two overtime periods, but the Crimson offense faltered in the third session and could manage only a field goal. The three-pointer was then trumped by a six-yard touchdown pass from Quinn Epperly, Princeton’s superhero quarterback, to receiver Roman Wilson, who made a leaping catch in the end zone with just one foot in bounds. The catch was legal, and it gave the Tigers a 51-48 win. Epperly had thrown five touchdown passes in regulation.
“Our kids played so hard that they willed the thing into overtime,” Murphy said afterward. “In the end, [Princeton] just made one more play than we did.”
Three other games were also decided in the final minute of action. The earliest was a triple-overtime win over Holy Cross, with sophomore tailback Paul Stanton Jr. bolting 17 yards to pull out a 41-35 decision. In week seven, reserve placekicker Andrew Flesher’s 23-yard field goal gave Harvard a 24-21 victory over Dartmouth with 48 seconds remaining. Two weeks later, the defensive unit held off a late Pennsylvania drive, preserving a 38-30 win with 16 seconds to play.
Harvard had shut out Penn in the opening half, building a stunning 38-0 lead in the game’s first 35 minutes. Crimson teams hadn’t scored so many points on the Quakers for more than three decades. With the game apparently in hand, Murphy rested a number of his starters, some of them nursing injuries. Penn’s offense then came to life, mounting four scoring drives in a 19-minute interval and cutting a seemingly insuperable Harvard lead to just eight points. “Obviously, we pulled the starters too soon,” Murphy would say later. In the final minute, alert defensive play halted a fifth Penn drive 20 yards from the Harvard goal line.
At Yale Bowl a week later, the starters got a full 60 minutes of playing time. The Game was a showpiece for the Crimson defense, which blunted all but two of Yale’s drives at midfield. One vital defensive play came on Yale’s second drive of the game, after a 15-yard pass reception that would have given the Blue a first down at the 50-yard line. Harvard cornerback Norman Hayes knocked the ball from the receiver’s hands, and fellow corner D.J. Monroe fell on it. “That was the biggest play of the game,” Yale coach Tony Reno said later. “We had a key third down converted, ball at midfield, the momentum was going our way.”
On the other side of the ball, the game was a showpiece for back Paul Stanton. He scored four first-half touchdowns, tying a Harvard-Yale record set in 1915 by Eddie Mahan ’16. Mahan scored his touchdowns on short-yardage runs. Stanton’s first and last scores came on a 25-yard breakaway and a two-yard rush. He scored the other two touchdowns on passes of 21 and 18 yards from junior quarterback Conner Hempel.
With both teams employing no-huddle offenses, the tempo was brisk. Harvard led at the half, 28-0, prompting thousands of Yale partisans to head for the parking lots. The Crimson added six points on second-half field goals of 19 and 48 yards from senior David Mothander. The second was the longest of his career—and the longest in Harvard-Yale annals.
Stanton finished the game with 118 yards rushing on 27 carries, along with four pass receptions for 40 yards. His single-season total of 17 touchdowns has been surpassed only by the redoubtable Clifton Dawson ’07, who scored 18 touchdowns in 2004 and 22 in 2006.
Hempel directed the offense with authority, completing 19 of 26 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. A resourceful scrambler, he picked up 57 yards rushing on 10 carries. His longest passes of the day went to senior tight end Cam Brate, a first team all-Ivy selection in 2012, who had missed the Dartmouth and Columbia games because of a leg injury. A 36-yard catch-and-run set up a Stanton score at the start of the second quarter, and a 25-yard pass play ignited the Crimson’s next scoring drive.
In 20 seasons at Harvard, coach Murphy has now beaten Yale 15 times. Since 2001, only one of his teams has placed lower than second in the Ivy standings. Seven have won or shared Ivy titles, two have gone undefeated, and six have posted records of 9-1 or better. With an overall record of 137-62, Murphy has the most wins of any coach in Harvard history.
Tidbits: The 2013 H-Y game was the 600th to be played in the 99-year-old Yale Bowl. Harvard hasn’t lost there since 1999.…Since the formalization of Ivy League play in 1956, the Crimson leads the Blue, 32-24-1. Harvard has come out on top in 12 of the teams’ last 13 engagements.…More than 50 local and regional Harvard Clubs, as far afield as London and Johannesburg, hosted viewings of NBC Sports Network’s telecast of The Game.
Big numbers: In the Princeton game, the Ivy League’s top-scoring teams generated almost 1,000 yards in total offense and combined for a total of 99 points—the most scored in any Harvard game since 1891, when the Crimson crushed Wesleyan, 124-0.
Penn’s comeback: Had the Quakers’ 30-point rally produced one more touchdown, it would have been historic. The biggest comeback on record came in 2006, when Michigan State rallied for 35 consecutive points in what ended as a 41-38 loss to Northwestern.
Well-armed: Junior Conner Hempel won the quarterbacking assignment in September and made an auspicious debut, throwing four touchdown passes in the season’s opener at the University of San Diego. He also threw four touchdown passes against Princeton. Hempel sat out three games with a knee injury, but in the seven he started, he accounted for 20 touchdowns (15 passing, five on foot).
Versatility: Senior Ricky Zorn was the team’s top receiver, with 50 catches for the season. A former quarterback, Zorn got the ball on a reverse in the Dartmouth game and threw a 32-yard scoring pass to senior receiver Andrew Berg.
Banged up: Injuries sidelined six offensive starters, four defensive starters, and all-Ivy placekicker David Mothander for part or all of the season.…Mothander missed four midseason games after straining a leg muscle in practice. He completed a stellar career with 27 field goals and 158 points-after for a total of 239 points, a new Harvard kicking record.
All-Ivies: Linebacker and captain Josh Boyd, tight end Cam Brate, and defensive end Zach Hodges were unanimous selections for the all-Ivy first team. Brate was also a unanimous first-team choice in 2012. Also named to the first team were offensive lineman Nick Easton, defensive tackle Nnamdi Obukwelu, and defensive backs Norman Hayes and Brian Owusu.…Hodges, who led the league in quarterback sacks (6.5) and ranked second in tackles for loss (11.5), won the Crocker Award as the team’s most valuable player and was short-listed for the Ivy League’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy, to be awarded in December.…Six Harvard players were named to the all-Ivy second team, and two received honorable mentions.
Captain-elect: Norman Hayes, of Tucker, Georgia, and Eliot House, will captain the 2014 Crimson team. Hayes was credited with 56 tackles, three forced fumbles, and two interceptions in the season just past.
Sustainability: Harvard’s seven-game winning streak eclipses what had been the longest streak in the H-Y series, a string of six shutouts posted by Yale from 1902 to 1907. How long will the current streak last? “Statistically, this is unsustainable,” said coach Murphy at his postgame news conference. “Yale is coming back.” Time will tell.