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Football 2021: Harvard 38, Holy Cross 13

10.3.21

The Harvard punter kicks the football

Field of dreams: On Saturday at Fitton Field (where he had unloaded a 76-yard punt in 2019), Harvard junior punter Jon Sot unleashed 64- and 67-yard boomers.

Photograph by Gil Talbot/Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications


Field of dreams: On Saturday at Fitton Field (where he had unloaded a 76-yard punt in 2019), Harvard junior punter Jon Sot unleashed 64- and 67-yard boomers.

Photograph by Gil Talbot/Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

A Harvard lineman holds back two Holy Cross defenders

Doubling up: Harvard offensive lineman Spencer Rolland occupies two Holy Cross defenders. Earlier in the week Rolland was named a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation's prestigious William V. Campbell Award.

Photograph by Gil Talbot/Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications


Doubling up: Harvard offensive lineman Spencer Rolland occupies two Holy Cross defenders. Earlier in the week Rolland was named a semifinalist for the National Football Foundation's prestigious William V. Campbell Award.

Photograph by Gil Talbot/Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Khalil Dawsey runs downfield with the football.

Pick six: Harvard sophomore defensive back Khalil Dawsey streaks toward the end zone with his 55-yard interception return that put the Crimson ahead 20-0.

Photograph by Gil Talbot/Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications


Pick six: Harvard sophomore defensive back Khalil Dawsey streaks toward the end zone with his 55-yard interception return that put the Crimson ahead 20-0.

Photograph by Gil Talbot/Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Kym Wimberly runs down the sideline with ball in hand.

Sideline strider: Giving the Crimson an early lead, Harvard junior wideout Kym Wimberly finishes off a 41-yard touchdown pass-and-run.

Photograph by Gil Talbot/Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications


Sideline strider: Giving the Crimson an early lead, Harvard junior wideout Kym Wimberly finishes off a 41-yard touchdown pass-and-run.

Photograph by Gil Talbot/Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

On Saturday, in a football game that had more reversals of fortune than a James Bond movie, Harvard staked itself to a large halftime lead, allowed Holy Cross to creep back in, then finally put away the doughty Crusaders to win 38-13. The victory on Homecoming Day at Worcester’s Fitton Field ran the Crimson’s record to 3-0 (1-0 in Ivy play); Holy Cross, which entered the game ranked 24th in the Football Championship Subdivision, dropped to 3-2 overall. It’s possible that Harvard now will be the ranked team.

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If you had told Crusaders coach Bob Chesney before the game that his defense would hold the Crimson’s two stellar running backs, junior Aaron Shampklin and sophomore Aidan Borguet, to 72 and 59 yards respectively, he almost certainly would have taken it. But bottling up the runners, usually by the technique known as “stacking the box”—employing extra defenders at the line of scrimmage—had a price: the passing lanes were open for senior quarterback Jake Smith and his receivers. Smith, who was starting in place of sophomore Charlie Dean (who had been injured near the end of the previous week’s victory over Brown), spread the ball to nine receivers and completed 20 of 31 pass attempts for 229 yards and three touchdowns (albeit with one grotesque interception).

On the other side of the ball, the Crimson muzzled the Crusaders’ aerial attack, limiting Holy Cross to 125 yards through the air and filching three passes. Senior defensive back Khalid Thomas made two of the interceptions, and sophomore defensive back Khalil Dawsey took the other one back 55 yards for a touchdown. Meantime, Harvard’s All-Ivy punter, junior Jon Sot, who had wowed the Fitton Field faithful two years ago with a 76-yard boot, picked up where he had left off by unloading kicks of 64 and 67 yards.

It was a poor punt of 26 yards by Holy Cross’s Patrick Haughney that set up Harvard’s first score, on its initial drive. The Crimson took over on its 37-yard-line. On the fifth play of the series, from the Crusaders’ 41, Smith flipped a pass to the left to junior Kym Wimberly on a wide receiver screen. With efficient blocking, Wimberly took off down the sideline and outsprinted the Holy Cross defenders to the end zone. Junior Jonah Lipel kicked the extra point. With 4:46 gone, it was Harvard 7, Holy Cross 0.

Near the end of the first quarter Sot unleashed his 64-yard punt, which the Crimson downed at the Crusaders’ two-yard-line. (The best of both booting worlds.) Four plays later Thomas made his first interception, picking off a badly underthrown pass by Holy Cross quarterback Marco Siderman at the Harvard 42. Seven plays afterward and now in the second quarter, from the Holy Cross 17, Smith found freshman wideout Kaedyn Odermann, who stayed focused during the jostling with a Holy Cross defender for the ball in the end zone. (The 6’3”, sure-handed Odermann, who hails from Gretna, Nebraska, runs his routes with the confidence of a veteran.) Lipel booted the conversion. Harvard 14, Holy Cross 0.

 

Next came the kind of reversal of fortune that characterized this contest. On Lipel’s ensuing kickoff, Holy Cross’s Justin Shorter made a brilliant return, taking the ball 46 yards to the Harvard 48. The crowd was roaring as the Crusaders seemed poised to get back in the game. On first down the Crusaders’ other quarterback, Mathew Sluka, threw to wideout Ayir Asante. The ball bounced off Asante’s hands and into those of Dawsey. The speedster headed the other way, 55 yards—all the way to the house. Lipel again converted. So instead of the Crusaders narrowing the margin, the Crimson had increased it by scoring 14 points in 20 seconds. Harvard 21, Holy Cross 0.

The Crimson would tally once more in the second quarter, at the conclusion of an 11-play drive that stalled at the Crusaders’ five. From the right hashmark Lipel attempted a 22-yard field goal. The ball struck the left upright—doink!—and caromed over the crossbar just behind the right upright. Style points: zero. Scoreboard points: three. At the half, it was Harvard 24, Holy Cross 0.

But the third quarter was horrible with a capital H. The Crusaders got onto the scoreboard with a beautiful misdirection play, a jet sweep to the left on which Asante streaked 58 yards to the end zone. The two-point conversion attempt failed. Harvard 24, Holy Cross 6. Then the Crusaders surprised the Crimson by recovering an onside kick. (We had an acid flashback to the onside kick Yale pulled off in 2019 that was a key to the Bulldogs’ victory.) Though the Harvard defense forced a three-and-out, the Crusaders’ punt was muffed by Harvard sophomore return man Gavin Sharkey at the Crimson 10. Two plays later Sluka slithered seven yards off left tackle into the end zone. Derek Ng kicked the point. Just like that—Harvard 24, Holy Cross 13.

The quarter yielded one more reversal of fortune. After Crimson sophomore linebacker Nate Leskovec recovered a Crusader fumble at the Holy Cross 19, an unsportsmanlike conduct on Holy Cross brought the ball down to the nine. On second down from the six, Smith threw an ill-advised pass into the end zone, intended for freshman tight end Tyler Neville, that was picked off by Grant Holloman. Thereupon the Crusaders went on a drive that took them to the Harvard 36. On the first play of the fourth quarter, facing fourth and nine, Siderman tried a pass to receiver Jalen Coker that was slightly tipped by Harvard junior linebacker Daniel Abraham and fell to the turf, incomplete.

 

That was the literal tipping point. From there on in, it was all Harvard. Taking over, Smith used a 15-yard Shampklin run, a 15-yard hookup with Odermann and, finally, a 29-yard toss over the top of the Crusaders secondary to junior tight end Adam Shepherd, who made a beautiful, lunging over-the-head snag for a touchdown. Lipel kicked. Harvard 31, Holy Cross 13. The wind was out of the Crusaders’ sails. After Crimson junior defensive tackles Chris Smith and Jacob Sykes stuffed Crusader running back Peter Oliver on a fourth-and-two, Harvard ground out a 33-yard drive that culminated in Borguet skittering around right end for a seven-yard touchdown. Lipel punctuated. Harvard 38, Holy Cross 13. It was all over except for Sot’s 67-yard boomer that was downed at the Crusaders’ four.

Three games, three wins. Holy Cross certainly came in with pedigree, but the Crimson handled the Crusaders. Still, there’s a long way to go, and Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale look very strong. Fasten your seatbelts—it’s going to be a bumpy season.

 

TIDBITS: Offensive tackle Spencer Rolland ’22, of Burnsville, Minnesota, has been named one of 176 semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is awarded by the National Football Foundation and recognizes academic success, athletic performance and exemplary leadership. Rolland’s field of concentration is mechanical engineering. The finalists will be named on October 27.…The victory over Holy Cross was Harvard’s first over a ranked team since the Crimson defeated No. 22 Dartmouth 14-13 in 2016.  

 

Weekly Roundup

Bryant 36, Brown 29

Dartmouth 31, Penn 7

Bucknell 21, Cornell 10

Princeton 24, Columbia 7

Yale 34, Lehigh 0 

 

Coming up:  On Saturday Harvard returns to the Stadium to meet Ivy rival Cornell. Kickoff: 1 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM, 92.9 FM-HD2, and WHRB 95.3 FM. The Big Red is 0-3 overall and 0-1 in Ivy play. In the overall series, which began in 1890, the Crimson leads 48-34-2 and won the most recent game two years ago in Cambridge 35-22.

 

The score by quarters

Harvard717014  38
Holy Cross00130  13

 

THE SEASON SO FAR: follow Dick Friedman’s dispatches.

Week one: Harvard 44, Georgetown 9

Week two: Harvard 49, Brown 17

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