Football 2023: Princeton 21-Harvard 14

The Crimson falls from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Harvard quarterback has the ball as Princeton players are in pursuit

NO GOOD OPTIONS Scanning the field, Harvard’s Charles DePrima (16) found little running room and few open receivers The junior quarterback completed only 15 of 32 pass attempts, threw three interceptions and netted a mere 10 yards on the ground.

The past week saw two wunderkind quarterbacks humbled, each for the first time. After 10 straight regular-season victories spanning two seasons, Brock Purdy of the San Francisco 49ers rallied his team from behind but lost to the Cleveland Browns 19-17. And on Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton, Harvard’s junior Charles DePrima rallied his team from behind but tasted his first career defeat when the Crimson fell 21-14.

The loss, Harvard’s first this season, dropped the Crimson to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in Ivy League play. The Tigers evened their overall mark at 3-3; they, too, are 2-1 in conference action. There is a five-team logjam at the top of the Ivies, with Cornell, Dartmouth (the Crimson’s next foe) and Penn also sporting 2-1 records. The defeat denied Tim Murphy, Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football, a record-setting 136th Ivy win.

Harvard, which entered the game ranked No. 17 in the Football Championship Subdivision, had been averaging 418 yards of total offense and 261.8 yards on the ground. DePrima, a run-first quarterback, was averaging 103.4 yards rushing. On Saturday Harvard gained but 68 on the ground. DePrima, who was sacked three times, netted only 10 yards on 17 carries. (This includes yards lost on sacks.) The reason was the diabolical defense masterminded by Princeton coach Bob Surace and his staff. Having surrendered only 15.0 points per game, Princeton ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring defense; the Tigers easily had the best D Harvard has faced so far in ’23. They hemmed in DePrima, taking away his running lanes (around the ends and through the middle) and fairly daring him throw. Surace’s strategy worked. DePrima completed only 15 of 36 pass attempts for 152 yards and was intercepted three times. He especially struggled on the so-called “out routes”—the safe short passes to the flanks that, when successful, can pick up valuable yards. But with Harvard’s defense holding the Tigers for most of the second half (and some solid punting by junior Sebastien Tasko, who averaged 39.9 yards on 10 boots), DePrima forged a late-game tie and almost pulled out an improbable win.

The first interception thrown by DePrima, in the first period, led to Princeton’s initial score. The Crimson had reached the Tigers 28 when Nasir Hill picked off a DePrima toss. The return, plus a block-in-the-back penalty against Harvard, brought the ball back to the Crimson 42. Two plays later Princeton quarterback Blake Stenstrom handed to running back Jiggie Carr, who raced 34 yards to the end zone. Sam Massick kicked the point. Princeton 7, Harvard 0.

It remained a one-score game until late in the half, helped by a drive-blunting interception of Stenstrom by Crimson sophomore safety Ty Bartrum. With 1:58 left, the Tigers took over at midfield and in seven plays were in the end zone. The grand finale was an eight-yard flip from Stenstrom to wideout A.J. Barber (son of former New York Giant Tiki Barber). Massick kicked. Princeton 14, Harvard 0. At this stage, the Crimson had run for a total of one yard. It was beginning to look like a soccer game in which a two-goal lead was insurmountable.

With the Harvard defense tightening down, the offense broke through. In the middle of the third quarter, the Crimson took over on its 37. On fourth and five from the Princeton 40, Harvard went for it and the decision was rewarded when DePrima threw his best pass of the day, a 29-yarder to the left to senior Kaedyn Odermann, who laid out to make a sensational catch. On third down, DePrima fired again to Odermann. This time the wideout was in the end zone on the right, closely covered. He grabbed the ball and held on—a so-called “strong catch.” Touchdown! Senior Cali Canaval kicked the point. Princeton 14, Harvard 7. With 10 seconds remaining in the third quarter, we had a ballgame.

Harvard player with ball is tackled by Princeton players
DRIVE AND DIVE Harvard’s Shane McLaughlin (29) fell over the Princeton goal through a hole blasted by offensive lineman Logan Bednar (59). The touchdown, followed by Cali Canaval’s extra point, forged a fourth-quarter tie.

On the next Tigers series the Crimson forced a three-and-out. A poor punt plus a penalty for interfering with a fair catch placed the ball at the Princeton 38. Now the Harvard offense got in gear. Junior running back Shane McLaughlin rushed for nine yards. DePrima ran for 11, then five, then seven, then one, almost scoring. On the next play McLaughlin blasted over the goal. Canaval kicked. Harvard 14, Princeton 14, with a little less than 10 minutes remaining.

As the teams exchanged punts, the specter of overtime (and a rerun of the Tigers’ 18-16, five-OT win in 2021) loomed. It was not to be. Princeton’s Brady Clark boomed a 57-yard punt that went out of bounds on the Harvard three, the very definition of a “coffin-corner kick.” The Crimson could advance the ball only to the 15. This time Tasko’s punt went a mere 30 yards. Princeton took over and found the end zone eight plays later, with Stenstrom throwing eight yards to Connor Hulstein. Massick punctuated. Princeton 21, Harvard 14. The Crimson got the ball with 1:21 left, but on third down DePrima’s pass was picked off by the Tigers’ Will Perez. Finis.

Harvard players on the field
STANDING UP FOR THE DEFENSE A trio of senior Harvard defensive linemen—captain Nate Leskovec (51), Tyler Huenemann (92) and Thor Griffith (50)—helped hold the fort until the offense got in gear.

Don’t blame the defense. Princeton’s three touchdowns came with the benefit of so-called “short fields,” having been achieved on drives of 50, 42 and 45 yards respectively. Harvard senior defensive back Garrett Sharp and all-Ivy senior defensive tackle Thor Griffith tied with a team-high eight tackles. Another strong performer was junior defensive lineman Brandon Svets, at 6-feet-5 a wizard at batting down passes.

TIDBITS: Princeton leads the overall series 60-48-7….This was the Tigers’ sixth straight win over the Crimson, the longest Princeton streak in the rivalry behind only the seven consecutive Princeton victories from 1947 through ’53.


Weekly Roundup

Cornell 36, Brown 14

Dartmouth 20, Columbia 9

Penn 27, Yale 17


Coming up: On Saturday the Crimson returns to the Stadium to face traditional Ivy rival Dartmouth. Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET. The game will be telecast on NESN, NESN+ and ESPN+, and broadcast on WRCA 1130 AM and 106.1 FM. The contest will be part of Harvard’s Fall Fest/Homecoming celebration, and there will be postgame fireworks. (For more information, see The Big Green is 3-3 overall and 2-1 in Ivy play. In a series that began in 1882, Harvard leads 72-48-5; last year the Crimson broke a three-game losing streak with a 28-13 victory in Hanover, N.H.




















Attendance: 8,345


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

Read more articles by Dick Friedman
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