Football 2022: Harvard 35-Cornell 28
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Playing on the road last weekend against an Ivy bottom-feeder, the Harvard football team bolted to a seemingly insurmountable lead, then frittered most of it away. In a result that hung in the balance until the final minute, the Crimson prevailed 35-28.
Yes, there was difference in the details, but the conquest of lightly regarded Cornell last Friday night at nearly empty Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, New York, was by the same score as the triumph at Brown two weeks earlier. The victory lifted Harvard to a 3-1 overall record and 2-0 in the Ivy League, putting the Crimson in a first-place tie with Yale. The Big Red fell to 2-2 overall and 0-2 in the conference.
There was much to admire in Harvard’s performance: the refuse-to-lose brilliance of senior running back Aidan Borguet and senior wide receiver Kym Wimberly; clutch receiving by sophomore wideout Ledger Hatch and junior tight end Tyler Neville; a ferocious effort by senior defensive lineman and captain Truman Jones; and a punt-block that was returned for a touchdown by junior special-teamer Jelani Machen But there also were chippy and costly penalties, as well as the propensity to permit a lesser foe to make a gallant if ultimately futile charge.
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In the end, though, the Crimson got out of town with a win. “The kids really responded to all the little bits of adversity that kept coming our way,” said Tim Murphy, the Stephenson Family head coach for Harvard football. “I think we really became a team today.” Murphy termed the victory “all-around as good of a win as we have had in a while dating back to [last November’s] Harvard-Yale game,” which the Crimson pulled out 34-31.
“It feels really good,” said senior linebacker Jack McGowan, who finished with six tackles, tied for team-high with senior defensive back Alex Washington. “I was just saying to the linebackers that a win is a win. We’ll take them all. In this league with all the parity, it’s becoming harder and harder to get wins. Especially on the road in a hostile environment, we’re happy to walk away with a win.” (How hostile that environment was, with fewer than 5,000 spectators on hand, may be open to debate.)
The adversity came early. After Harvard was forced to punt after its first series, Cornell fashioned a 17-play, 89-yard drive that consumed 10:01. Quarterback Jameson Wong nimbly evaded the Crimson rush, making like an Ivy version of Patrick Mahomes and eating up yardage with quick tosses to the flanks. Wang got some help—from Harvard. On third and goal from the Crimson nine, Wang aimed for receiver Nicholas Laboy but threw incomplete. But hold the phone—flag on the play! Harvard senior defensive lineman Nate Leskovec was called for roughing the passer. Cornell had a new set of downs. Three plays later Wang ran a quarterback sneak for a touchdown. Jackson Kennedy kicked the extra point. Cornell 7, Harvard 0.
In the second quarter the Crimson mounted a charge. Giving Borguet a rest, sophomore running back Shane McLaughlin entered the lineup and gained 16 yards on three carries, which were interspersed with two completions from senior quarterback Charlie Dean to Hatch, one for 13 yards, the other for 20, Ultimately Harvard reached the Cornell one-yard-line—and promptly shot itself in the foot. Dean tried a quarterback sneak but did not quite get over the goal. As the players were unpiling, senior receiver Jack Bill grabbed a Big Red player and pushed him—a personal foul. The ball was moved back 15 yards. Instead of getting seven points, the Crimson had to settle for three: a 32-yard field goal by senior Jonah Lipel. Cornell 7, Harvard 3.
On its next series the Big Red tried three rushes on which it gained a grand total of three yards against the impregnable Crimson defense. By gum, Cornell was going to keep testing those Harvard linemen and linebackers come hell or high Cayuga’s waters! Now came a Crimson trademark. On fourth down Ayden McCarter dropped back to punt. The ball was snapped. Right behind it came senior Crimson special teamer Kobe Joseph. Bonk! Joseph smothered the punt and sent it bouncing backward. Right behind him was Jelani Machen, who scooped it up and ran the remaining 17 yards for a touchdown. Lipel kicked the point. Harvard 10, Cornell 7.
Just before the half the Crimson looked to widen its lead. From its 45, Harvard drove to the Big Red 27. There Dean fired down the middle to Hatch at the Cornell eight. First and goal! But the next three passes fell incomplete. Again, the Crimson had to settle for a Lipel field goal. From 32 yards, he drilled it. At the half it was Harvard 13, Cornell 7.
The most remarkable statistic to emerge from the first 30 minutes: the Big Red tried 20 rushes and netted…five yards. Still, there was a queasy feeling that the Crimson’s failures to cash in and establish a wider working margin would come back to bite.
Sure enough, the punt giveth and the punt taketh away. At the end of its first series of the second half, Cornell had to punt. The Harvard return man, sophomore Scott Woods, muffed the ball. The Big Red recovered on the Crimson 12. Three plays later Wang ran six yards for a touchdown. Kennedy kicked the point. Cornell 14, Harvard 13.
The lead did not last long. On Harvard’s next series Dean threw a deep ball to Wimberly, who made a tumbling catch at the Cornell 35. Then came five straight rushes by Borguet that took the ball to the three. On the next play, with everyone expecting Borguet to carry it in, Dean faked to the running back, then flipped to Neville—touchdown! Lipel kicked the point. Harvard 20, Cornell 14.
At this point let us now praise Truman Jones. The captain, nominally a defensive tackle, was ranging all over the field. In the game he had four tackles—all for losses. But he also dropped off the line to cover runners coming out of the backfield in hopes of receiving a pass from Wang; in addition, Jones had a pass breakup. This was a tour de force—a force of nature.
Late in the period the Crimson took over at its 33. Dean employed Borguet, who ran seven times for 34 yards, and Wimberly, who (typically) made a tough catch on a slant pass for 32 yards. On the first play of the fourth quarter Dean found Woods for a 10-yard touchdown. Here the Crimson decided to try a two-point conversion. On the play—a rush by Woods—Harvard was called for holding. The ball was brought back 10 yards, essentially taking the two-pointer off the table. So Lipel kicked the point. Harvard 27, Cornell 14.
This being Harvard football, no game is over. The Big Red promptly went 75 yards in 10 plays, on one of which the Crimson was flagged for holding. The final play, on fourth-and-goal from the eight, was a toss from Wang to Thomas Glover for a touchdown. Kennedy kicked the point. Harvard 27, Cornell 21.
There were 9:03 remaining. To chew up the clock, the Crimson essentially decided to Hand It to Aidan. Amazingly energetic given all his exertions, the All-Ivy back obliged, using his tree-trunk thighs to churn out 57 yards on eight carries. The niftiest was a 26-yard bolt to the Cornell two, after which he barged up the middle for a touchdown. Again the Crimson tried a two-point conversion. This time it succeeded, thanks to some trickeration: Harvard ran a double reverse, in which Dean flipped to Wimberly going left, who handed to senior wideout Joe Young going right. Young tossed to Neville in the end zone. Harvard 35, Cornell 21.
So, now it was over…right? With 3:01 left, a gimpy Wang showed grit and resourcefulness, converting a fourth down by running up the middle for 36 yards to the Crimson two. Three plays later he leaped over the top for a touchdown. Kennedy converted. Harvard 35, Cornell 28.
Fifty-seven seconds remained. Time for an onside kick. Kennedy kicked the ball. It took a big, high bounce—into the hands of a leaping Neville, who snared it and held on despite contact. Game over.
Borguet, who had seemed quiet for a while, gained 163 yards on 28 carries. Wimberly had five catches, many in traffic, for 82 yards. Hatch matched him with five receptions for 71. Neville ended with three catches for 35 yards, plus a two-point conversion—and a recovery of that onside kick. Dean was 15 of 29 passing for 208 yards with two touchdowns—and no interceptions. On the other side of the ball, the Crimson held the Big Red to 65 yards rushing on 37 attempts: 1.8 yards per carry.
Less salubrious numbers: 12 penalties for Harvard, for 125 yards. If these are repeated when Princeton comes to the Stadium on October 21, the recap almost certainly won’t be so happy.
TIDBITS Harvard has won five consecutive Ivy League games dating back to last season….The Crimson now leads the series with Cornell 50-34-2….Jonah Lipel’s first field goal in the second quarter extended Harvard’s streak of not having been shut out to an Ivy record 232 games….Happy birthday to Coach Tim Murphy, who turned 66 on Sunday.
Yale 24, Dartmouth 21
Princeton 23, Lafayette 2
Penn 59, Georgetown 28
Brown 27, Central Connecticut 20
Columbia 28, Wagner 7
Coming up: Next Saturday Harvard visits Washington, D.C., to play Howard at Audi Field in the Truth and Service Classic. Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET. The game will be telecast on ESPN3 and broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM, 92.9 FM-HD2 and WHRB-FM 95.3. This will be the second meeting between the Crimson and the Bison, an HBCU and member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. In the first, in Cambridge in 2019, Harvard won 62-17.
The score by quarters