Football 2021: Harvard 49, Brown 17
Photograph by Angela Dela Cruz/The Harvard Crimson
Photograph by Angela Dela Cruz/The Harvard Crimson
Photograph by Josie W. Chen/The Harvard Crimson
Friday in Cambridge was grey, with rain ever-threatening. But at 6:30 p.m.—30 minutes before the scheduled kickoff of the Harvard football team’s home opener against Ivy League rival Brown—the sun glinted through the clouds. It was a perfect harbinger for the return of football to ancient Harvard Stadium after a pandemic-enforced hiatus of 678 days. Before a surprisingly large crowd of 20,748—the biggest for a non-Yale game since 2010, when 21,704 attended the home opener against Holy Cross—the Crimson thrashed the Bears 49-17. In the first conference game for both teams, Harvard pushed its overall record to 2-0, while Brown dropped to 0-2. Moreover, Crimson coach Tim Murphy achieved his 180th victory at Harvard, becoming the winningest coach in Ivy annals, edging ahead of Yale’s Carmen Cozza, who won 179 from 1965 to ’96.
Through 28 years on the Crimson sideline that have included nine Ivy titles, Murphy had become expert at dodging the ritual Gatorade showers that follow a victory. No escape this time: offensive linemen Spencer Rolland and Hunt Sparks doused him. When he had toweled off, Murphy spread the praise. “This is a milestone for our program,” Murphy said. “It’s a milestone for our team, but the reality is the people who really accomplished that are every single Harvard football player who entered the field with me, every single assistant coach—which is probably 60 different coaches over the 27 years. It’s ours together. It’s not a coaching record the way I look at it. It’s a team record.”
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Fair enough, especially on this night. This was certainly a team victory. The Crimson had its way with the Bears in every phase of the game: offense, defense, kicking. Most notable was the speed of the Harvard attack, with the Crimson backs (including sophomore quarterback Charlie Dean) continually beating the Bears to the outside to set up big gains, and the way the Harvard front lines manhandled Brown on both sides of the ball. Led by senior middle linebacker and captain Jordan Hill (a game-high nine tackles), who ranged from sideline to sideline, the defensive front seven, which goes two-deep, swallowed up the Bears’ heralded quarterback, E.J. Perry, rushing him like a herd of enraged mastodons. Perry ended up completing 34 of 45 passes for 346 yards, but many of those came late in the affair when the issue had long been decided—garbage time, in basketball parlance. Brown’s rushing attack, if you can call it that, netted 14 yards—which means that Harvard has surrendered an infinitesimal 20 yards in two games.
One question concerning the pandemic (which still is all too much with us) is whether people will still care as much about sports when it wanes as they did before, or whether they will have moved on—to Zoom, to Netflix, to (gulp!) studying. It’s early, of course, but Friday’s large and enthusiastic crowd seemed to indicate that people were hungry for the return of football. One thing that everyone noticed was how many students from both schools were on hand. Even Murphy and his players took note, and were appreciative. “It was unbelievable!” said the coach. “It so far exceeded our expectations!…To see so many students there, it was awesome.”
Said Hill: “The whole week it just felt like football is back. The fans helped. The whole environment helped. It all came together. It was amazing.”
In any event, a night like this is one step toward normalcy. Harvard defeating Brown is normal: This was the Crimson’s tenth straight victory over the Bears. The beatdown started innocuously enough. On Harvard’s first series, the Crimson moved from its 22 to the Brown 44, where it was forced to punt. In trotted Harvard’s two-time All-Ivy punter Jon Sot, and never was the value of the kicking game proven more than by the junior’s beautifully lofted boot that took a bounce at the Brown five and was downed by the Crimson at the three. In the shadow of its own goal, the Bears fumbled on second down and Harvard’s senior linebacker Andrew Irwin pounced on the ball at the four. On the next play, Dean made a couple of blinding fakes, then handed the ball off to junior running back Aaron Shampklin, who ran right up the gut for a touchdown. Junior Jonah Lipel converted. Harvard 7, Brown 0.
Then came a second-quarter fusillade that buried the Bears. Starting at its own 34, the Crimson moved in four plays to the Brown 44. There Dean artfully faked an end-around, dropped back—and saw wideout junior Kym Wimberly running behind the Bears defenders, all by his lonesome. Dean dropped the ball right into Wimberly’s breadbasket and Wimberly cantered over the goal. Lipel kicked. Harvard 14, Brown 0.
On the next drive the Crimson defense forced the Bears to go three-and-out. Harvard took over at its 32. In three plays it was at the Brown two, courtesy of a 40-yard bomb from Dean to sophomore wideout Haven Montefalco. The Bears stiffened, but on fourth and two Dean faked a handoff into the line and gave the ball to Shampklin, who scooted around left end into the end zone. Lipel booted. Harvard 21, Brown 0.
The Bears and Perry made a valiant attempt to get back into the game. A sweet flea flicker run by Perry and receiver Graham Walker brought the ball to the Harvard 33. Then Harvard sophomore defensive back Khalil Dawsey was charged with interference on Walker. From the 18, Brown’s Allen Smith rushed for nine. Then came the coup de grace. Perry dropped back and threw into the right flat. In a case of poetic justice (in basketball, it’s known as “ball don’t lie”), the football flew into the hands of the allegedly guilty Dawsey. Interception!! Dawsey headed back the other way and traveled 77 yards to the Brown 18, where Perry made a touchdown-saving tackle. Saved for the moment, that is: In four plays sophomore scoring machine Aidan Borguet ran three yards up the middle for six points. Lipel added a seventh. Harvard 28, Brown 0.
Ah, but there were still 3:09 to go. Brown started from its 25. On fourth-and-three, even though in its own territory, the Bears decided to go for a first down—but guard Tucker Barnes jumped offside. Now it was fourth and eight, so coach James Perry now chose to punt it away. Punter Declan Boyle got the snap—then fumbled the ball. Harvard took over at the Brown 18. On second and goal from the eight, bruising Crimson sophomore running back Sone Ntoh barreled in. Lipel slammed the kick through the uprights. Harvard 35, Brown 0.
You say it’s over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? After a touchback, Brown started on its 25. On first down, Perry scrambled but Harvard freshman tackle Thor Griffith forced a fumble. The ball bounced around—and right into the hands of delighted Crimson senior defensive lineman Justin Mitchell, who gamboled into the end zone, brandishing the pigskin aloft like a conqueror. This one was special: One of the team’s most respected leaders, Mitchell is a fifth-year senior who has undergone two major surgeries in his efforts to keep playing. Once again Lipel was called upon. Once again he delivered. Harvard 42, Brown 0. (For good measure the Bears shanked a field goal to conclude the half). With more research pending, the 35 points in a quarter appear to be the most by a Harvard team in the modern era, matching the 35 tallied in the second quarter in a 69-0 victory over Columbia on November 3, 2012.
In the third quarter Brown got on the scoreboard when Christopher Maron booted a 35-yard field goal: Harvard 42, Brown 3. The real drama came a little later, when Dean was knocked out of the game on a hit by Brown’s Jarred Daul. (Dean’s status for this week’s Holy Cross game is unknown.) Dean was replaced by the erstwhile starter, senior Jake Smith, who directed a six-play, 47-yard drive highlighted by a 27-yard Shampklin dash and culminating in a one-yard Sone scoring run. The stalwart Lipel swung his leg one more time. Harvard 49, Brown 3. With pride on the line, the Bears scored twice in the fourth period, including on the last play of the game, to account for the final score.
There were kudos all around. Dean was smart and effective, completing 14 of 24 passes for 156 yards, one touchdown—and no interceptions. His ball handling might be even better than his passing. Seven Crimson receivers caught passes. Among the seven rushers, Shampklin netted 121 yards on 13 carries. There was just too much firepower for the beleaguered Bears.
It’s early yet. The first two foes have not been strong tests. Holy Cross, next week’s opponent, will be sterner. Nevertheless, the tom-tom almost certainly is beating around the league about these fleet Crimson runners and agile, mobile and hostile defenders. This season could be fun.
Football is back.
TIDBITS: Harvard’s record under the lights is now 16-2…. The Crimson ran its winning streak in home openers to 20, third longest in the Football Championship Subdivision, behind North Dakota State (23) and Central Arkansas (21)….Two former Crimson stars who have taken advantage of graduate transfer rules to extend their eligibility also played on Friday night when Wake Forest beat Virginia 37-17. Devin Darrington, now a running back for the Cavaliers, carried the ball three times for 19 yards and caught two passes, while Isaiah Wingfield, a defensive back for the Demon Deacons, made two tackles.
Yale 23, Cornell 17
Dartmouth 41, Sacred Heart 3
Princeton 63, Stetson 0
Columbia 35, Georgetown 24
Lafayette 24, Penn 14
Coming up: On Saturday Harvard travels to Fitton Field in Worcester, Mass. to face Patriot League rival Holy Cross. Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. The game will be telecast on ESPN+ and broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM, 92.9 FM-HD2, and on WHRB 95.3 FM. Holy Cross (3-1 in 2021) is an ancient and honorable rival. In a series that began in 1904, Harvard leads 44-25-2 and has won the last two, including a 31-21 victory at Fitton Field in 2019.
The score by quarters
The season so far: follow Dick Friedman’s dispatches.
Week one: Harvard 44, Georgetown 9