Sports | Football
Football: Penn 35, Harvard 25
Gone, gone with the wind.
At gale-swept Harvard Stadium last Saturday, the Crimson’s 22-game victory streak was blown away by a Penn team that used big plays on offense and an opportunistic defense to win 35-25. The defeat—Harvard’s first since a 51-48, triple-overtime loss to Princeton on October 26, 2013—dropped the Crimson to 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Ivy League, tied for first place with Dartmouth and Penn. Heading into the season’s final week, there is a strong possibility of a tie for the title.
The Quakers emerged with a 6-3 overall record. This was a victory well earned. Penn put 21 points on the board in the first period (the most points scored on Harvard in a quarter since the Quakers scored 23 in the fourth quarter of the Crimson’s 38-30 win in 2013), then rallied from a halftime deficit. After the game, Penn coach Ray Priore lauded his team’s “overall resiliency” and “great resolve.” Coupled with last week’s 26-23 overtime victory over Princeton, the first-year Quaker coach now has two signature wins in as many weeks.
For Harvard, there was much to lament. The Crimson squandered a lovely touchdown pass thrown by star wideout Justice Shelton-Mosley ’19, the heartening return of two injured players, wide receiver Andrew Fischer ’16 and running back Semar Smith ’18, and a magnificent effort by tight end Ben Braunecker ’16 (game-high eight catches for 134 yards). Harvard suffered two terrible turnovers, a missed extra point, and a blocked field goal. “We made too many mistakes and/or just a few less plays than they did,” said Crimson coach Tim Murphy. (He really did say “and/or.”)
When it counted, Harvard also could not stop Penn quarterback Alek Torgersen. In the first quarter, Torgersen played with the wind at his back and used his arm and his legs to approximate a combination of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Steve Young, shredding the Harvard pass defense for 192 yards. (Previously, the Crimson had surrendered an average of 218.8 yards through the air per game). On Penn’s first drive, Torgersen hit running back Justin Watson for a 30-yard completion, then charged into the end zone from nine yards out. On the second drive, which began at the Penn 34, Torgersen was aided by a pass-interference call on defensive back Sean Ahern ’16. Eventually Torgersen ran it in again, from two yards out. After both touchdowns, Jimmy Gammill kicked the extra point. The game was not 10 minutes old and Penn led 14-0.
Shelton-Mosley got the Crimson back into play immediately, returning Aron Morgan’s kickoff to the left side of the field. Shelton-Mosley bolted 81 yards to the Penn 17 before Morgan hauled him down. It took only two plays from scrimmage for Harvard to get into the end zone. Quarterback Scott Hosch ’16 completed a 14-yard pass to Fischer—welcome back, Andrew!—then a three-yarder to tight end Anthony Firkser ’17 for the score. Then came a play that would haunt the Crimson. The extra point try of Kenny Smart ’18 caromed off the right upright, dropped down—and in front of the crossbar. No good. Penn 14, Harvard 6. After two of its later touchdowns, the Crimson would feel compelled to try two-point conversions; in football, this is known as “chasing points” and is viewed as a sign of desperation.
It got worse before it got better. Penn took the kickoff and, on its third play from scrimmage, Watson beat defensive back Scott Peters ’16 on a crossing pattern, got a perfect toss from Torgersen, and ran the remainder of the 68 yards to the end zone. Gammill again converted. Penn 21, Harvard 6.
The second quarter was Harvard’s. The Crimson had the wind and took advantage of it. From its 48 Harvard ran a reverse by Shelton-Mosley to the Penn 27. Then, from the Quakers’ 14, Hosch flipped a pass to Seitu Smith ’15 (’16) for a score. This time Smart’s kick was good. Penn 21, Harvard 13.
After Penn went three-and-out, Hosch used two passes to Braunecker to set up a 15-yard scoring dash by Semar Smith to the right pylon. Harvard now trailed only 21-19. But on the two-point conversion attempt, Hosch’s pass was intercepted.
That seemed as if it would be a footnote when, on Penn’s next series, Harvard blocked Hunter Kelley’s punt. The Crimson had the ball on the Quakers’ 28. On the first play, Hosch handed to Shelton-Mosley running right. The nominal receiver stopped and fired a pass in the end zone to a tightly covered Firkser, who snared it. “That was quite an amazing throw from a kid who’s not a quarterback,” said Murphy afterward. The score made it Harvard 25, Penn 21. Again the Crimson decided to go for two, but Hosch’s pass fell incomplete.
Harvard had scored 19 points in seven minutes to take the lead. A few minutes later the Crimson was bidding for command. Braunecker made a catch in which he cradled the ball at the Penn 21. On the next play, running back Paul Stanton Jr. ’16 (who had wrecked the Quakers last year) burst to the 11. Hit by linebacker Brandon Mills, Stanton fumbled and Penn recovered. Opportunity lost.
The Quakers started the third period the way they began the first. Lonnie Tuff returned Smart’s short kick to the Harvard 39. Again working with the wind, Torgersen engineered a first down. Then, on the next play, he tossed one to Ryan Kelly, who had gotten behind the Harvard defense. The 28-yard touchdown and Gammill’s kick made it 28-25.
Harvard’s best shot to at least tie the game came in the middle of the period. From the Crimson 45, Hosch worked the ball to the Penn 13. On third and four, though, some dithering caused center Adam Redmond ’16 to make a false start. On the next play, Hosch ran for eight yards. The Crimson faced a fourth-and-one. Smart was brought in in hopes of forging a tie. But his field-goal attempt from the 27 was blocked by Penn’s Jyron Walker.
The Quakers did not let the miscue go unpunished. On the next series, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Penn faced second and 21 at their 21. Torgersen handed to Watson, who circled to the right and ran upfield—79 yards for a touchdown. Gammill added the final point. Penn 35, Harvard 25. A subsequent Crimson drive reached the Penn 18 but was snuffed by a Semar Smith fumble that was recovered by Penn’s Ian Dobbins.
The end of the game saw not only the end of the Crimson’s streak, but also of Hosch’s victory streak as a starter (he’s now 14-1). Next week would be a good time to start another one.
Dartmouth 34, Brown 18
Cornell 3, Columbia 0
Yale 35, Princeton 28
Coming up: The 132nd edition of The Game! Harvard at Yale. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. The Game will be telecast on NBC Sports Network and streamed on its website, NBC Sports Live Extra. Play-by-play can be heard on WKXS 1200AM and 94.5 FM-HD2 (Boston) and WBBR 1130 AM (New York), and on WHRB FM 95.3. Yale is 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the Ivy League. The Bulldogs lead the series 65-58-8 but the Crimson has put a considerable dent in that margin by winning 13 of the last 14, including last year’s 31-24 victory in Cambridge.
Concerns? The Elis are on a bit of a roll. After an up-and-down season, they have thumped Brown and outlasted Princeton. As for Harvard: the Crimson need to get Paul Stanton Jr. going again. With defenses keying on him, he has averaged a mere 64 yards in his last three games. And the defense needs to create some turnovers. Harvard had one against Dartmouth, two against Columbia—and none against Penn.
And, oh, yeah: Make those extra points.
Tidbits: Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 is the new leader in NFL touchdown passes among Ivy-trained quarterbacks. Now playing for the New York Jets (his sixth team), Fitzpatrick tossed his 138th career touchdown pass (a 31-yarder to Eric Decker) in last Thursday’s 22-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills, surpassing Columbia and Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Sid Luckman….With their touchdowns on Saturday, brothers Seitu and Semar Smith scored in the same game for the second time. The first was in 2014’s 45-0 win over Columbia….In the Penn game, Harvard was shut out in the second half for the first time since its 22-13 loss at Penn in 2006.
The score by quarters