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Sports

Harvard Football Great Performances: Colton Chapple ’13

10.23.20

Harvard's Colton Chapple throws a football to an out-of-frame receiver.

In 2012, Colton Chapple ’13 threw five touchdowns in Harvard's 39-34 loss to Princeton. Photograph courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications


In 2012, Colton Chapple ’13 threw five touchdowns in Harvard's 39-34 loss to Princeton. Photograph courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Had the coronavirus not scrambled the Harvard gridiron season along with so much else in our lives, we would be embarking on Ivy League football in earnest, with the final five games of the 2020 campaign against rivals from the Ancient Eight. The first of those opponents, in a contest at the Stadium this Saturday, would have been Big Three foe Princeton. In a series dating back to 1877, the Tigers hold an overall advantage of 57-48-7 and have won the last three, including a hard-fought 30-24 victory last year in New Jersey. But rather than seeing if the Crimson could snap that streak, we are relegated to another gambol through the past, to yet another loss to Princeton, one so ignominious that it has eclipsed a Crimson achievement for the ages.

Great (Gridiron) Performances
Missing touchdowns? In a season without games, football correspondent Dick Friedman reprises past Crimson glories: epic plays, players, and records. Online weekly at www.harvardmagazine.com/topic/Sports

 

It happened on October 20, 2012, at Princeton Stadium. With 13:02 remaining in the game, Harvard had taken a 34-10 lead on a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colton Chapple ’13 to massive tight end/H-back Cam Brate ’14. The Crimson seemed on the way to cruising to their fifteenth straight win and going to 6-0 on the season. Chapple was putting on a quarterbacking clinic. In the sun-splashed visitors’ side of the stadium, a wizened and wise-guy Crimson fan (who also happened to be a resident of nearby Princeton Junction) had just exclaimed to all within earshot, “It’s gonna be a long winter around Old Nassau!”

An hour later that fan and every other Harvard partisan walked out of the stadium into the shadows, stunned. The Tigers had scored 29 unanswered fourth-quarter points to overhaul the Crimson 39-34. The collapse is in the discussion for the most godforsaken Harvard loss in the program’s 146-year history, along with last season’s debacles against Dartmouth (9-6, on a last-play, Hail Mary heave) and Yale (50-43, in double overtime).

The result wasted an epic afternoon for Chapple, during which he rewrote the Harvard record book, setting Crimson single-game marks for passing yardage (448) and total offense (530), and tying the record for touchdown passes (five). There is a YouTube of the Crimson offense in action that day. Above all, it demonstrates how crisp, confident, and commanding Chapple was—for three quarters, anyway. His instincts and decisions as a passer (31 completions in 45 attempts, with several drops) and as an option runner (16 carries for 82 net yards,  22 fewer than top rusher Treavor Scales ’13) were invariably unerring.

The YouTube show also spotlights Chapple’s supporting actors: power-running Scales, slithery wideout Ricky Zorn ’14 and bullyboy tight ends/H-backs Brate and Kyle Juszczyk ’13. This was among the most talented Harvard offenses ever. Against Princeton, Juszczyk reeled in 15 receptions, second most for a game in Harvard history, behind only the 21 that Carl Morris ’03 nabbed against Dartmouth in 2002. Three of Juszczyk’s catches went for touchdowns, tying a Crimson single-game record. We arguably could have chosen “Juice” (as he is known) as our Great Performer instead of Chapple. The YouTube replay vividly displays the physical talents that have allowed Juszczyk and Brate (seven catches, 109 yards, one touchdown) to go on to long and meritorious NFL careers.

In the first half the Harvard offensive stars had their way with the befuddled and seemingly overmatched Tiger defenders. To compound the Princeton troubles, Chapple repeatedly put the ball right on the money, where the receiver could reach it and the defender couldn’t.

The Crimson scored first on a 52-yard bomb from Chapple to Zorn. The next touchdown, two minutes later, was a 16-yarder from Chapple to Juszczyk. Early in the second period the same duo hooked up again for a 21-yard score. The extra point was blocked, but that seemed inconsequential. At the half, it was Harvard 20, Princeton 0. The Crimson had outgained the Tigers 451 yards to 51.

And yet for all that, Harvard’s lead could have—probably should have—been larger. A Scales fumble halted one drive. Penalties crippled another. To show that he was human, Chapple threw an end-zone interception on an alley-oop intended for the 6-foot-5 Brate.

But even when Princeton scored the first 10 points of the second half, Chapple and his mates riposted with 14. Chapple threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Juszczyk, then hooked up on that 14-yard catch-and-run score with Brate to open the fourth quarter. 

 

And then…as had been uttered at another event in New Jersey 75 years earlier: “Oh, the humanity!” Do you really want to know what happened in this football version of the Hindenburg? Very well: The Tigers never quit. The avalanche began with a 59-yard kickoff return by Princeton’s Anthony Gaffney, after Harvard was offside on the previous kickoff. Two Tiger quarterbacks, Conn Michelsen and Quinn Epperly, began to find the range. There was an 11-yard Harvard punt and the Crimson had a field goal blocked. Harvard could not sustain drives to kill the clock. A completely bogus penalty for premature celebration negated a Crimson sack of Michelsen. A Crimson defensive back dropped an interception that probably would have snuffed out Princeton’s last hope. And maybe, just maybe, the force of destiny led to Epperly throwing the game-winning 36-yard touchdown pass to wideout Roman Wilson.

Far from being crushed by this defeat, Colton Chapple played on, setting the Harvard single-season marks for touchdown passes (24) and total offense (3,235 yards). His 39 career touchdown passes rank second to the 41 of Neil Rose ’03. At the end of the 2012 season, Chapple was named first-team All-Ivy (as were Scales, Juszczyk, and Brate) and the league’s offensive player of the year. Today he is a scout for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, working under the franchise’s executive vice president, football operations, and general manager Andrew Berry ’99.

And that bigmouthed fan from Princeton Junction? He has never recovered from this defeat. The ridicule it engendered around Old Nassau drove him to move 3,000 miles away, where he lives today in disguise and disgrace.

 

TITANIC. Last Sunday’s NFL action was marked by a career day for the Tennessee Titans’ Anthony Firkser ’17. The third-year tight end grabbed a game-high eight passes (including a 45-yarder) for 113 yards and a touchdown in the Titans’ 42-36 win over the Houston Texans. For the season, Firkser has 17 catches and is averaging 10.7 yards per reception.

ALAS, POOR FITZ! Life Is Unfair Department: Despite playing some of the best football of his 16-year career, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 has been demoted from starter to backup in favor of heralded rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Fitzpatrick, who last Sunday threw three touchdown passes in Miami’s 24-0 victory over the New York Jets, said that he was “heartbroken” over the decision.

 

THE SCORE BY QUARTERS

Harvard14677  34
Princeton001029  39

Attendance: 10,823

Missed any of contributing editor Dick Friedman’s previous Great Performances stories? Read about ace wide-recivers Terence Patterson ’00 or Carl Morris ’03legendary quarterback Barry Wood ’32hard-hitting All-America Endicott Peabody ’42, or all-time back Charlie Brickley ’15.

For more Harvard football content, check out Bloomberg News Radio. They will be rebroadcasting classic Harvard games of the Coach Tim Murphy Era through the fall. (Read “Murphy Time,” Friedman’s profile of the coach, here.) We hope you’re enjoying and the series, and we’ll see you next week!

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