Football 2022: Harvard 41-Howard 25
Last week in Washington, D.C. there emerged shocking video of a band of insurgents attacking one of the nation’s most venerable institutions. Eventually the established body reasserted control, but not before enduring a scare.
We are talking in this case not about the activities revealed by Congress’s January 6 committee but about the football game—dubbed the Truth and Service Classic—at Audi Field between Harvard (in its 148th season) and Howard, in which the upstart Bison from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference hung with the Crimson for a half. Then Harvard scored 24 unanswered points and went on to win 41-25. The victory in the Crimson’s final non-Ivy League game brought its record to 4-1 overall. (Harvard is 2-0 in league play.) Howard is now 1-5.
On offense, defense, and special teams, the Crimson had too many weapons for the Bison. Tim Murphy, the Stephenson Family head coach for Harvard football, pronounced himself very happy with the Crimson’s effort. “We did exactly the things we talked about [beforehand],” he said. “We made some huge plays on special teams. The defense played great in the second half, and the offense made very few mistakes. We are getting better every week.”
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But as evidenced by the 17-17 score at halftime, this was no cakewalk, as the schools’ first meeting was in 2019, a 62-17 Harvard victory. “Howard has improved dramatically since we played them in 2019,” said Murphy. “I cannot believe it is even the same program. Their kids played extremely hard and extremely well. They were extremely well-coached. Nothing came easy today.”
In the early going it did have the look of a rout. Midway through the first quarter Harvard senior quarterback Charlie Dean led a swift 61-yard drive highlighted by completions of 14 and 20 yards to senior wideout Kym Wimberly. Though Howard stiffened, the Crimson came out of it with a 28-yard field goal by senior Jonah Lipel. Harvard 3, Howard 0. Then, a 14-yard Bison punt gave the Crimson the ball at the Howard 46. Six plays later Lipel tried another field goal, this one a 47-yarder. It had the legs but…doink! The kick caromed off the left upright and fell harmlessly to the turf.
No matter. Howard took over but on the third play Bison freshman quarterback Jaylon Tolbert, harassed by the Crimson rushers, tried to throw the ball away. Harvard sophomore defensive lineman Dominic Young-Smith dove and snatched it before it hit the turf at the Howard 34. Crimson ball! Now Dean handed off to star senior running back Aidan Borguet, who in four plays brought Harvard to the Bison one. On the next play, sophomore running back Shane McLaughlin skirted the right end and went into the end zone for his first career touchdown. Lipel kicked the extra point. Harvard 10, Howard 0.
Tolbert then showed some moxie, driving the Bison 75 yards in nine plays. The big one was a 41-yard pass-and-run by Jarett Hunter; the capper was a 12-yard pitch to Ian Wheeler. Aaron Bickerton kicked the extra point. Harvard 10, Howard 7.
In six plays the Crimson again was in the end zone. Dean hooked up with Wimberly for 20 yards, then found sophomore wideout Ledger Hatch running on the left all by himself. Dean threw—Hatch, blond tresses flying in the breeze, caught and galloped into the end zone. Lipel booted the point. Harvard 17, Howard 7.
Did anyone say blowout? Not Tolbert. Showing admirable poise, he completed three tosses, the finale a sensational juggling grab by Brennan Brown in the Crimson end zone. The 14-yard score punctuated by Bickerton’s extra point made it Harvard 17, Howard 14.
The next time the Bison got the ball it was aided by the two types of penalties that have been a bugaboo for the Crimson all season. Taking over at the Howard eight-yard line with 57 seconds left, Tolbert got the ball lickety-split to the Crimson 29. On one play, Harvard defensive lineman Nate Leskovec was called for roughing the passer; on another, linebacker Jack McGowan was flagged for targeting a Howard pass receiver. These are two seniors whose aggressiveness is their stock-in-trade but continually gets the Crimson in trouble. With four seconds left, Bickerton booted a 45-yard field goal. At the half, it was knotted at 17.
Was Harvard looking ahead to Princeton? Was the Crimson about to suffer an embarrassing defeat? The beginning of the second half provided an emphatic answer. McLaughlin returned the opening kickoff 19 yards to the Harvard 38. Four plays later, from the Howard 44, Dean dropped back and saw Hatch streaking left to right on a post pattern. Dean laid the ball in perfectly and Hatch took it into the end zone. Lipel kicked the point. Harvard 24, Howard 17. (Dean hails from Odessa, Fla.; Hatch is from Orlando. Dare we call them the Sunshine State Connection?)
Howard made a first down, but then senior defensive tackle North Peters stuffed two plays and forced a punt. The ball was snapped from the Howard 43. In rushed Crimson senior defensive back and special-team ace James Herring. The Bison’s Philip Richards kicked. Bonk! Herring got his hands on the ball and knocked it all the way out of bounds at the 12. Borguet then rushed four times; on the last he plowed into the end zone. Lipel kicked. Harvard 31, Howard 17. In just over five minutes, the Crimson had regained control. For good measure, at the end of the Bison’s next drive, Crimson senior defensive tackle and captain Truman Jones blocked Bickerton’s 42-yard field-goal attempt.
At the end of the third period and beginning of the fourth, Dean used a time-consuming, ball-control offense to bring the ball 63 yards to the Howard 18. Lipel kicked a 35-yard field goal to make the score Harvard 34, Howard 17. Now it was a fabled “three-score game,” one in which the Bison would need to score three times to overhaul the Crimson.
The next score, though, was Harvard’s. On the first play after the kickoff, Crimson junior defensive tackle Thor Griffith hurried Tolbert, who threw what was essentially a pass in the air he knew not where. Harvard sophomore defensive back Gavin Shipman grabbed it and returned it nine yards to the Howard 32. Six plays later McLaughlin ran the ball into the end zone. Lipel kicked. Harvard 41, Howard 17.
Near the end of the game two plays occurred that illustrate the pitfalls of wagering on an Ivy League game (or, really, any football game). Harvard had been favored by 17 points. Howard scored a touchdown to make it 41-23, then got a two-point conversion to make it 41-25. With the 17 points added to the Bison total, for betting purposes the final score would be Howard 42, Harvard 41. So, if you had bet on the Crimson, you were out of luck. Except…Bickerton’s ensuing kickoff was returned by Harvard junior tight end Tyler Neville to the Howard four. But instead of trying to score a touchdown (needless except to those who had bet on Harvard!), Murphy (who no doubt doesn’t give a whit about the betting line) showed sportsmanship, electing to have his quarterback take the snap and kneel down. Game over. The Crimson wins. Those who bet on the Crimson lose!
Those few nervous moments near the end of the first half and the personal fouls aside, Harvard played solidly. Dean was 16-for-26 passing for 232 yards and two touchdowns, both to Sunshine State Connection pal Hatch, who had four grabs overall. Wimberly led the receivers with five catches. It was good to see sophomore Kaedyn Odermann snare two passes; he might figure in during the season’s second half. Borguet gained 119 yards on 22 carries; it was his fourth game exceeding 100 this season. Besides his punt block, Herring led the defense with eight tackles. One nit: the Crimson entered the game having surrendered 73.8 yards per game on the ground, sixth lowest total in the Football Championship Subdivision, but Howard rushed for 95. Princeton, Harvard’s opponent on Friday night, no doubt took note.
We are at the midway point of the season with the meat of the schedule (as Murphy likes to call it) looming. What have we got? It’s still hard to tell. The 4-1 mark has been achieved against mostly lesser competition. Harvard could lose all five remaining games (as it did in 2019); it also could win all five remaining games. Both scenarios are unlikely. Opposing defenses will try to ensure that Borguet doesn’t beat them; if so, it might open the passing attack, which continues to improve. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy five weeks.
TIDBITS Harvard played on a natural grass surface for the first time this season…. Jonah Lipel’s first-quarter field goal extended the Crimson’s streak of not being shut out to 233 games, an Ivy League record.
Princeton 35, Brown 19
Yale 29, Bucknell 9
Penn 34, Columbia 14
Cornell 19, Lehigh 15
New Hampshire 14, Dartmouth 0
Coming up: The Grudge Match! On Friday night Harvard returns to the Stadium for the resumption of Ivy play as the Crimson takes on traditional rival Princeton. Kickoff: 7 p.m. The game will be nationally telecast on ESPNU and broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM, 92.9 FM-HD2, and WHRB-FM 95.3. The Tigers are 5-0 and 2-0 in league play. In a series that began in 1877, Harvard trails 48-58-7. Princeton has won the last four, including last season’s controversial 18-16 victory in five overtimes in New Jersey; many Harvardians (including coach Tim Murphy) still refuse to recognize the result, but other than that we will say no more about it. (Unless you want to call us and we’ll kvetch about it for hours.)
The score by quarters