Football 2023: Harvard 17-Dartmouth 9

After subduing the Big Green, Murphy is the Ivy’s winningest coach.

Harvard players celebrate after interception

OUR MAN After making a key interception, reserve Crimson defensive back Phillip Smitherman (No. 24) is mobbed by his adoring teammates. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF HARVARD ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

Harvard’s game against Dartmouth on Saturday evening was in keeping with the throwback nature of this season’s celebration of 150 years of Crimson football. There was the big Harvard Stadium Homecoming crowd, reminiscent of Harvard-Dartmouth games of yore. There was the tight defensive struggle. And there was the almost complete reliance on the ground game, which harked back to the days before the legalization of the forward pass. The upshot was a 17-9 victory for the Crimson (who entered ranked No. 23 in the Football Championship Subdivision) that pushed Harvard’s record to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Ivy League, tied for first place with Princeton. The Big Green dropped to 3-4, 2-2.

The triumph also (and significantly) was the 136th in Ivy play for Tim Murphy, the Stephenson Family head coach for Harvard football. In his 30 years on the Crimson sideline, Murphy has won more league games than any coach in Ivy history, surmounting Yale’s Carmen Cozza. Murphy tried to deflect any praise. “The people who own those victories are the 1,000-plus kids and the 66 coaches who’ve been here for the last 30 years,” he said.

There was a bittersweet aspect to the achievement: Buddy Teevens, Dartmouth’s revered coach and Murphy’s friend since they were 12, died a few weeks ago of injuries suffered in an accident last winter. Their annual sideline jousts had been as much a feature of this game as the play-by-play. What was it like not to see Teevens across the field? “Strange…surreal…sad,” said Murphy. “Anybody who knew Buddy knew he was special. For me, football connects you for life. I didn’t know much at age 12, but I knew I wanted that guy to be my wingman.”

Harvard won despite completing only five passes for a total of 29 yards. The Crimson was facing a Dartmouth defense that ranked fourth in the nation in rushing yardage, having allowed mere 84.2 yards a game. Predictably, it took Harvard a while to get in gear. In the second half the Crimson rode the powerful legs of junior running back Shane McLaughlin, who churned out 123 yards en route to a career-best 156-yard full-game performance in which he averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Running behind the mighty Crimson offensive line, McLaughlin got stronger as the game went on and was a key cog in two long drives that sealed the game. That, and a stout defense that kept Dartmouth out of the end zone, proved sufficient. “Our game was not a masterpiece,” said Murphy, “but we’re not giving it back. Any time you can hold a team to no touchdowns, that’s a really great night.”

Harvard’s passing woes were evident on its first drive, which began at midfield and ended when the Crimson starting quarterback, junior Charles DePrima, badly underthrew sophomore wideout Cooper Barkate at the goal line. The toss was picked off by Dartmouth’s Sean Williams, who returned it to the 10. Three plays later, Harvard’s senior defensive back Kaleb Moody sacked Big Green quarterback Derek Cadwallader, who fumbled; senior defensive tackle Tyler Huenemann recovered on the Dartmouth 14. Three plays after that, the Crimson was in the end zone. The capper came when sophomore quarterback Jaden Craig, inserted for this purpose, rammed into the end zone from four yards out behind McLaughlin’s block. Senior Cali Canaval kicked the conversion. Harvard 7, Dartmouth 0.

DePrima’s woes persisted. Late in the period he committed an intentional grounding penalty. The Big Green took over at the Crimson 38 and reached the 19. There Harvard stiffened, whereupon Owen Zalc booted a 37-yard field goal. Harvard 7, Dartmouth 3.

Dartmouth player tried to stop Harvard player
UNHAND HIM, SIR  Harvard defensive lineman Nate Leskovec appears to be too quick for this Dartmouth blocker. The Crimson’s senior captain made a crucial sack that took the Big Green out of field-goal range.
| PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF HARVARD ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

Early in the second period DePrima, trying to force a throw into double coverage to Barkate, threw another interception to Williams. Clearly, it was not DePrima’s night. “Charles had gotten dinged up last week [against Princeton] and we didn’t even know if he could play,” explained Murphy. He replaced DePrima with Craig who, as Murphy noted, showed poise. Like DePrima, he’s a run-first quarterback. As a passer, when he misfires, he tends to overthrow rather than underthrow. Later in the half Dartmouth’s Zalc tried a 52-yard field goal, but missed wide left. The distance was greater than it would have been had not Harvard senior defensive tackle and captain Nate Leskovec sacked Cadwallader for a five-yard loss. For the half Harvard had a ghastly 57 yards of total offense.

Midway through the third period Zalc did connect on field goal, this time from 47 yards out, a boot that curved from right to left and just crept over the crossbar. Harvard 7, Dartmouth 6. The game seemed to be teetering but then the Crimson launched its best drive of the day. Craig completed two short passes, one to junior wideout Ledger Hatch and one to senior tight end Tim Dowd. But the heavy lifting came on the ground courtesy of McLaughlin and Craig, plus a four-yard run by five-foot-nine freshman Xaviah Bascon (“Little X,” as Murphy calls him) and a dandy jet sweep by Barkate that went for 15 yards. (That’s one way to get the ball into the swift Barkate’s hands.) That was followed by a 12-yard Craig run on which he broke several tackles. On the next play, from the Big Green three, he barreled into the end zone. Canaval kicked the point. Harvard 14, Dartmouth 6.

Harvard player 29 runs with the ball with Darmouth player in pursuit
BIG MAC Harvard’s Shane McLaughlin rumbles upfield. Carrying the rushing load, the junior Crimson running back amassed a career-high 156 yards. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF HARVARD ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

Early in the fourth period the defense again blunted a Big Green drive when senior defensive back Phillip Smitherman leaped high to pick off a Cadwallader toss at the Harvard 36. The Crimson bench was ecstatic, and not just about the turnover. “This is a senior who hasn’t played much,” said Leskovec. “In practice he’s an exceptional teammate and is exceptionally beloved in our locker room. We’re super happy for the win but also super happy for Phil.” When all is said and done, this might be why Murphy has 136 Ivy wins.

From there the Crimson went on a 13-play drive that essentially salted the game away. Though it reached the Big Green one-yard-line, the Crimson could not push the ball over the goal. On third down, Craig tried to hit Dowd in the end zone; he overthrew so at least it wouldn’t be intercepted. From the right hash mark, Canaval kicked a 22-yard field goal. Harvard 17, Dartmouth 6—the fabled two-score game.

There were three minutes and 26 seconds left, and the Big Green used almost all of them to come away with three points. Eventually Zalc kicked a 35-yard field goal. Harvard 17, Dartmouth 9. Arguably the Big Green should have tried for the field goal earlier to give themselves more time for an onside kick and another drive. As it was, their last-ditch onside kick was recovered by Harvard junior wideout Scott Woods II to clinch the outcome; there would be no repeat of 2019, when Dartmouth’s Hail Mary pass snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Harvard player kicks ball
BIG THREE Harvard’s Cali Canaval boots a fourth-quarter field goal to give the Crimson an 11-point lead. The senior kicker is 5-for-6 on field-goal attempts this season. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF HARVARD ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

The Harvard defense was clutch. Sophomore defensive back Ty Bartrum led with a game-high 13 tackles. He will be a strong candidate for Ivy defensive player of the year. Next came his fellow defensive backs, junior Gavin Shipman with 10 tackles and three pass breakups, and Moody with eight tackles, which included that big sack. Wide-ranging junior linebacker Mitchell Gonser had six. The Crimson punter, junior Sebastien Talko, had another solid game, averaging 39.6 yards on five kicks, with two placed inside the 20. One thing about Tasko’s punts: when they hit the ground, they almost always bounce forward, giving Harvard extra yardage. You’d think that the opposing coaches would tell their returners to make sure to catch the ball on the fly.

So now to November, and three title-deciding games. First at Columbia. Who will start at quarterback? “TBD,” said Murphy. Then Penn at home, followed by Yale at the Bowl. In terms of finding a passing attack, the Crimson is on the clock. Just sayin’.

TIDBITS Harvard now leads the overall series 73-48-5….The attendance of 22,515 was the biggest non-Yale crowd since at least 2009….The Crimson is now assured of a winning record, its 20th in the last 22 seasons.

 

Weekly Roundup

Brown 30, Penn 26

Princeton 14, Cornell 3

Yale 35, Columbia 7

 

Coming up: On Saturday the Crimson travels to New York City to face Columbia. Kickoff: 12:30 PM. The game will be telecast on ESPN+ and broadcast on WRCA 1130 AM and 106.1 FM. The Lions are 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the Ivy League. In a series that began in 1877, Harvard leads 63-16-1 but Columbia has won two of the last three, including 21-20 last year at Harvard Stadium. The Crimson will be going for the 900th win in Harvard history.

 

THE SCORE BY QUARTERS

Dartmouth

3

0

3

3

 

 

9

Harvard

7

0

7

3

 

 

17

 

Attendance: 22,515

 

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

Week one: Harvard 45, University of St. Thomas 13

Week two: Harvard 34, Brown 31

Week three: Harvard 38, Holy Cross 28

Week four: Harvard 41, Cornell 23

Week five: Harvard 48, Howard 7

Week six: Princeton 21, Harvard 14 

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