Football 2022: Columbia 21-Harvard 20
Sloppy play and a wily Lion create a nightmarish loss.
LAST WEEKEND we all fell back. The Harvard football team took this edict perhaps too much to heart. In a seismic Ivy League upset at the Stadium, the Crimson lost to last-place Columbia 21-20. The defeat drops Harvard to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in league play, essentially eliminating the Crimson from the title race. The Lions are now 4-4, 1-4.
Led by wily veteran coach Al Bagnoli, who rolled the dice successfully on a fourth-quarter extra-point call, Columbia stole this one. Harvard played without its two best receivers, senior Kym Wimberly and sophomore Ledger Hatch, both out with injuries. They were sorely missed, especially in the red zone (footballese for inside the opponent’s 20-yard line). Nevertheless, all credit goes to the Lions, especially their defense. They limited the Crimson to three second-half points, kept star runner Aidan Borguet from breaking one of his patented long gainers, and blocked (or at least got a hand on) three Harvard field-goal attempts, the last of which, coming with 1:17 left, would have given the Crimson the lead.
“The thing that our team heard from me every day this week is that [Columbia] is a dangerous team,” said Tim Murphy, the Stephenson Family coach for Harvard football. “The reality is we had our opportunities. Their defense played great in the second half, and I thought our defense played great in the second half. The ‘game of inches’ part was there today.” This was Murphy’s first loss at the Stadium to the Lions since 1995, in his second season as Crimson coach.
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In the early going this had all the earmarks of a typical Harvard-Columbia game—meaning, a Crimson blowout. Back at quarterback for the Crimson was senior Charlie Dean, who had missed the previous week’s victory at Dartmouth with an injury. On the Crimson’s third series, Dean connected with first-year wideout Cooper Barkate on a right-to-left crossing pattern. With Barkate doing some nifty after-catch running, the play went for 49 yards to the Columbia 20. Four plays later, from the eight, Dean threw to senior tight end Haven Montefalco in the end zone. Touchdown! Senior Jonah Lipel kicked the extra point. Harvard 7, Columbia 0.
Led by quarterback Caden Bell, an alumnus of Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California (where he was preceded by a quarterback you may have heard of, by the name of Tom Brady), the Lions came right back. Bell tossed a bomb down the left side on which quicksilver receiver Bryson Canty made a spectacular diving snag. The gain was 49 yards. The Harvard defense stiffened, so Alex Felkins, kicking with a gusty wind at his back, drilled a 44-yard field goal. Harvard 7, Columbia 3.
Later in the period an exchange of punts gave the Lions the ball at the Crimson 45. Bell connected with Canty twice, first for 29 yards; then, six plays later, for a six-yard touchdown. Felkins converted. Columbia 10, Harvard 7.
Showing urgency and snap, the Crimson immediately riposted, going 72 yards in nine plays for a score. Dean hooked up with junior tight end Tyler Neville for 12 yards and senior Joe Young for 22 to the Lions 13. Borguet made one of his trademark pinballing runs, this one for 10 yards. On the next play he appeared to fumble—but the call was overturned. (Borguet was ruled down when the ball came out.) Reprieved, Borguet banged over for a one-yard touchdown. Lipel kicked the point. Harvard 14, Columbia 10.
On the ensuing series, Bell hit tight end Luke Painton for an 18-yard gain—but Painton fumbled and Crimson senior defensive back Victor Tademy pounced on the ball at the Lions 43. Remarkably, this was Harvard’s first fumble recovery all season (eight games). Taking over, the Crimson stalled at the Columbia 13, so Lipel booted a 30-yard field goal. At the half, it was Harvard 17, Columbia 10.
Early in the third quarter the Crimson made two interceptions, the first by senior defensive back Max Jones, the second by senior defensive back Alex Washington. The latter, after Washington was tackled on the Harvard three-yard-line, served as a de facto effective punt for the Lions. The Crimson could not move the ball and the Harvard punt was returned all the way to the 13. There, the Harvard defense rose up, and Columbia settled for a 24-yard Felkins field goal. Harvard 17, Columbia 13.
The Crimson quickly reestablished its margin. Mixing the rushes of senior Sone Ntoh with tosses to Barkate, Young and Neville. Dean directed Harvard to the Lions 17. But there the offense stalled. Lipel was called on for a 34-yard field goal—and he delivered. Harvard 20, Columbia 13. Thus concluded the Crimson’s scoring for the day.
Harvard had its chances to make it a two-score game. The first came after a terrific interception by senior linebacker Kobe Joseph, who wrenched the ball from the hands of Painton. Taking over on the Columbia 37, the Crimson reached the eight but got no further. Harvard lined up for a 25-yard field goal. Lipel kicked—and the Lions blocked it. Hoisted with their own petard: Harvard is one of the top kick-blocking teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Crimson got another chance. Barkate made a nifty return of a Columbia punt, reaching the Lion 32. Dean connected with Young—a gain that was negated by a holding call on Harvard junior offensive lineman Jacob Rizy. Finally, the Crimson lined up for a field goal from the Columbia 39 (a 49-yard kick). Blocked again, and run all the way back to the Harvard 40. In eight plays the Lions were in the end zone, the finale a 25-yard pass from Bell to Painton. Felkins booted the conversion. Columbia 20, Harvard 20.
But hold the phone! On the kick, Crimson sophomore special teamer Riley Jenne was ruled offside. Now coach Bagnoli had a decision to make. He could decline the penalty and accept the play, keeping the score tied at 20. Or, he could accept the penalty, in which case the score would revert to 20-19 Harvard, and the play would be run again, but with the ball moved half the distance to the goal line (about a yard away). In this case, he probably would attempt a two-point conversion. “Taking points off the board” goes against football orthodoxy, but Bagnoli didn’t hesitate. Columbia accepted the penalty and went for two. Bell got the snap and threw right over the middle to running back Ryan Young, who made a tough catch amid several Harvard defenders, then fought his way over the goal line. Two points for the Lions! Columbia 21, Harvard 20.
There was plenty of time left—9:11—and the Crimson offense twice got into Lion territory. The first time it was halted on downs at the 32. The second time, starting at the Harvard 20, two passes from Dean to Barkate were instrumental in moving the ball to the Columbia 34. First down and 10. Montefalco jumped offside. First and 15. Eventually the Crimson faced fourth and two from the 25. Despite the previous booting woes, Murphy ordered a field goal, which would be kicked from the 32—a 42-yarder, into the wind. Lipel kicked. The Lions’ Patrick Passalacqua tipped it, but the ball still had enough leg. It sailed toward the goalposts. Bonk! It caromed off the left upright and fell to earth, outside the goalposts, harmlessly to earth—tragically for Harvard. Columbia took over and ran out the remaining 1:17.
For what it’s worth, Harvard outgained Columbia, 408 yards to 268. Borguet amassed 108 yards—topping 100 for the sixth time this season. (His longest run, however, was 15 yards, a tribute to the effectiveness of Columbia’s nation-leading run defense in penning him in.) In 2022 Borguet has gained 1,003 yards on the ground, the 12th 1,000-yard season in Harvard history. Dean was 17-of-29 passing for 220 yards. In an impressive first start, Barkate had five receptions for 102 yards, both game highs. Among the Crimson defenders, senior defensive back Khalil Dawsey and junior linebacker Matt Hudson led the way with six tackles apiece.
Individual achievements aside, this defeat is nightmarish and stinging. Columbia was considered Harvard’s most winnable November game. The Crimson’s final two opponents are Penn and Yale, each with one league loss and each also having to face unbeaten Princeton. (The Elis appear to be peaking at the right time.) Harvard will play a role in determining the Ivy champion—just not the role it had hoped to play.
TIDBITS The overall series now stands at Harvard 63 wins, Columbia 16, and one tie. The Lions have won two of the last three….In their personal matchup, Harvard coach Tim Murphy and Columbia coach Al Bagnoli (who spent 23 seasons at Penn) are knotted at 14 wins….Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was in attendance. His son Mason is a junior defensive back at Columbia.
Yale 69, Brown 17
Penn 28, Cornell 21
Princeton 17, Dartmouth 14
Coming up: Next Saturday, for its final 2022 road game, the Crimson travels to Philadelphia to meet Ivy rival Penn. Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET. The game will be streamed on ESPN+, and broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM, 92.9 FM-HD2, and WHRB-FM 95.3. The Quakers are 7-1 overall and 4-1 in Ivy play. In a series that began in 1881, Harvard leads 50-39-2, including a 23-7 Crimson victory last season in Cambridge.
The score by quarters
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Photograph courtesy of Harry R. Lewis
Eighty years ago this week—on November 7, 1942—why was the Michigan marching band forming an H at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor? Because the foe was Harvard, which in those days still played a big-time, intersectional schedule. Due to wartime travel restrictions, the Harvard band did not make the jaunt westward, so the Michigan musicians graciously presented a salute. The 25,534 spectators rattling around the Big House (capacity then: 85,753) saw the Wolverines whip the Crimson 35-7. Harvard’s lone touchdown came in the third period on a one-yard run by fullback Wayne Johnson Jr. ’44. During those years players often suited up for more than one school, so the following season, as a Marine V-12 trainee, Johnson was a member of the squad at…Yale. He is the only man to win a Harvard and a Yale varsity letter. (Photo courtesy of Gordon McKay Research Professor of Computer Science Harry R. Lewis ’68, Ph.D. ’74)