Football 2018: Harvard 16, Rhode Island 23
THERE are two ways to regard the Harvard football team’s 23-16 loss to Rhode Island at Harvard Stadium on Friday evening. On the one hand: If you’re going to have an off night, the time to have it is during the early season in a game against a non-Ivy League opponent. On the other hand: What if this was not an off night?
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The Crimson’s defeat was its first of the 2018 season and dropped Harvard’s record to 2-1. (The squad is 1-0 in Ivy League play.) The foe is a very good team. The Rams, members of the Colonial Athletic Association, came to Cambridge ranked Number 20 in the Football Championship Subdivision. They now are 3-1. Rhode Island is fast, athletic, and aggressive, and especially in the first half, the Rams made the Crimson look sluggish. At the end of 30 minutes of play, Harvard, which came in averaging 251.5 yards on the ground, had rushed 12 times for a total of one yard. The Crimson had 50 yards of total offense and was 0-for-8 on third-down conversions. In building a 16-3 lead, Rhode Island had held the ball for 19 minutes, 17 seconds. Things balanced out in the second half, somewhat. Kudos to the stalwart Crimson defense (aided by an injury to JaJuan Lawson, the Rams’ heady starting quarterback) for keeping Harvard in the game, which went down to the last play.
The contest began ominously for the Crimson when the Rams’ Ahmere Dorsey returned the opening kickoff 51 yards. Harvard’s defense held, but here, in Chekhov’s-gun fashion, we introduce Dorsey; he will play a fatal role later on. Rhode Island punted to Harvard’s 11. The Crimson went backward six yards, and on the ensuing punt effort, freshman Jon Sot, standing in the end zone, bumbled the snap, then kicked the ball off one of his blockers. The ball bounced out of the end zone for a safety. Rhode Island 2, Harvard 0.
Later in the first period, feisty Harvard junior defensive back Emmanuel Kelly picked off a Lawson pass at the Harvard 32. Kelly made a nifty 29-yard runback to the Rhode Island 39. Two completions from sophomore quarterback Jake Smith to senior wideout Justice Shelton-Mosley brought the ball to the 17, but the Crimson stalled there. (A theme of the evening.) Left-footed junior kicker Jake McIntyre thereupon drilled a 37-yard field goal. Harvard 3, Rhode Island 2.
Thus ended the Crimson’s time in the lead. At the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second, the Rams mounted a 74-yard drive that culminated in a 37-yard scoring pass from Lawson to tight end Joey Kenny. Running a post pattern to the left corner, Kenny beat two Crimson defenders. C.J. Carrick kicked the extra point. Rhode Island 9, Harvard 3.
Could the Crimson riposte? No. On its next series, Harvard went three-and-out. After a good punt by Sot, the Rams took over on their 11 and, sparked by a 45-yard completion from Lawson to wideout Isaiah Coulter, reached the end zone in nine plays. The finale, a nine-yard run by Lawson, was a pyrrhic touchdown; Lawson was injured on the play and would not return. Carrick converted. Then, on the first play after Rhode Island’s kickoff, Harvard’s starting quarterback, Smith, also was knocked out of the game following a 14-yard run. He was replaced by senior Tom Stewart, who threw four passes, completing one. Smith returned for the next drive. The half would end Rhode Island 16, Harvard 3.
After the intermission the Crimson attempted to rally. After a 37-yard kickoff return by Shelton-Mosley, the offense showed some life. Sophomore running back Aaron Shampklin, hero of the early season, ripped off a nine-yard gain. (Shampklin finished with 65 yards on 14 carries.) Smith connected with senior tight end Jack Stansell and junior wideout Jack Cook. The ball reached the Rhode Island 15. But once again the Crimson was not able to capitalize for a touchdown. (Harvard’s record of red-zone touchdown conversions in 2018: a sorry 2-for-10.) Again called upon, McIntyre kicked a 34-yard field goal. Rhode Island 16, Harvard 6.
Even without a touchdown, was this the long-sought change in momentum? That notion was disabused in Chekhovian fashion on the next kickoff. The aforementioned Dorsey grabbed the boot from freshman Jonah Lipel on the Rhode Island 3. He started out in the middle, found an opening on his left and dashed pretty much untouched all the way to the end zone. Carrick again converted. Rhode Island 23, Harvard 6.
There were 25 minutes left—plenty of time for a comeback. Smith got the Crimson back in scoring range, completing short passes to Shelton-Mosley, Stansell, and senior wideout Adam Scott. But again the drive bogged down, this time at the Rhode Island 17. McIntyre time—and again he was successful from 34 yards. Rhode Island 23, Harvard 9.
Facing the Rams’ backup quarterback, Vito Priore, the Crimson defense put the clamps on. Early in the fourth quarter, it gave the offense excellent post-punt field position at the Harvard 49. Two plays brought the ball to the Rhode Island 36. On the third play, Smith handed the ball to Devin Darrington. The sophomore running back delayed slightly, then blasted up the middle through a huge hole—all the way to the end zone. McIntyre kicked the extra point. Rhode Island 23, Harvard 16.
There were almost 14 minutes left to play but the Crimson could not get across midfield. Rhode Island had the best scoring chance but it was snuffed by an end-zone interception by senior defensive back Wesley Ogsbury. That pick, however, was sandwiched between two interceptions of tosses by Smith. (Otherwise Smith ended a respectable-looking 21 for 37 passing.) At the end, Harvard tried its own version of “The Play,” the immortal lateral-filled thriller that Cal used to beat Stanford in 1982, but it died in the hands of Shampklin on the Harvard 42.
You can’t fault the defense. Led by senior lineman Richie Ryan and sophomore linebacker Jordan Hill (each a team-high seven tackles), it held Rhode Island to 14 points and limited the Rams to a miserable 25 yards on the ground—on 32 carries. On offense (and I doubt I’m revealing a military secret here), one difference between the last two seasons and the juggernauts directly preceding them is the lack of an elite tight end. (Five former Crimsonians at the position made it to the NFL.) During its glory years, Harvard’s tight ends were not only superb blockers and short-yardage receivers, but also deep threats who had to be accounted for by the defense. That opened up the passing game for the backs and other receivers, who often feasted on single coverage.
Then again, maybe this was just an off night.
Tidbits: The defeat dropped the Crimson’s record in Harvard Stadium night games to 14-2….When Tampa Bay quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 tossed a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cameron Brate ’14 in the Buccaneers’ 30-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on September 24, it was the second time the two had hooked up for a Harvard-to-Harvard NFL scoring connection. The first came on October 15, 2017 in the Bucs’ 38-33 loss to the Arizona Cardinals….Senior Justice Shelton-Mosley’s 10 catches against Rhode Island gave him 147 for his career and moved him into third place on Harvard’s all-time receptions list, past Terence Patterson ’00 (146).
Princeton 45, Columbia 10
Brown 35, Georgetown 7
Yale 35, Maine 14
Cornell 43, Sacred Heart 24
Dartmouth 37, Penn 14
Coming up: Next Saturday Harvard travels to Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, New York, to play Ivy League rival Cornell. Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and broadcast on the radio on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM, 94.5 FM-HD2 and WHRB FM 95.3. The Big Red is 1-2 overall and 0-1 in league play. Harvard leads in the all-time series 47-33–2, but lost last year at Ithaca 17-14.
The score by quarters