Football 2023: Harvard 38-Columbia 24

The Crimson tames the Lions for its 900th all-time win.

Harvard offense has the ball with Columbia defense in pursuit

EVER FORWARD With the offensive line creating an opening, Harvard’s Shane McLaughlin (29) rumbles through the Columbia defense for several of his 89 yards. The Crimson’s junior running back leads the Ivy League in rushing with 98.9 yards per game. | PHOTOGRAPH BY NICHOLAS T. JACOBSSON/THE HARVARD CRIMSON

Guess who is in first place in the Ivy League, with its destiny in its hands?

Harvard, that’s who. With a 38-24 defeat of Columbia on Saturday, the Crimson, which entered the game ranked No. 19 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), rose to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in conference play, one game ahead of Dartmouth, Penn, Princeton, and Yale. The Lions fell to 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the league. Harvard finishes with Penn and Yale; Yale concludes with Princeton and Harvard; Princeton ends with Yale and Penn; and Dartmouth, seemingly with the easiest road, closes with Cornell and Brown. In other words…get ready for a typical rip-snortin’, rockin’-and-rollin’ Ivy finish.

This has been a season for milestones, with Harvard celebrating its 150th year of football and Tim Murphy, the Stephenson Family head coach for Harvard football, having become the winningest coach in Ivy history the previous Saturday against Dartmouth. In New York City the Crimson achieved another. The victory at Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium was the 900th overall in Harvard history. (The overall record: 900-410-50.) Among schools in the FCS, the Crimson trails only archrival Yale, which garnered its 934th all-time victory on Saturday at Brown.

Harvard’s win on Saturday featured many commanding performances. In his first start, sophomore quarterback Jaden Craig was crisp and efficient, completing 13 of 18 pass attempts for 264 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions. Craig, who seemingly has replaced junior Charles DePrima as the No. 1 quarterback, operated with decisiveness and threw with zip. Six receivers made receptions.

The Ivy League’s leading rusher, junior running back Shane McLaughlin, gained 89 yards on 18 carries.

Columbia player has the ball and a Harvard player tackles Columbia player
LION TAMER Harvard’s Phillip Smitherman (24) corrals Columbia’s Joey Giorgi. The senior defensive back topped the Crimson with eight tackles. | PHOTOGRAPH BY NICHOLAS T. JACOBSSON/THE HARVARD CRIMSON

On the other side of the ball, senior defensive back Kaleb Moody had a day for the ages, blocking a punt and turning it into a score, and making two sensational interceptions. For good measure, Moody added five tackles. His defensive-back classmate Phillip Smitherman had a team-high eight tackles. A special salute should go to the strong and deep Harvard offensive line and defensive front seven, each of which controlled the line of scrimmage, dominating the outmanned Lions.

Harvard got the jump early. On the Crimson’s second offensive series, on second and 10 from the Harvard 17, Craig backpedaled, buying time, then spied senior tight end Tim Dowd, who had lined up on the left, roaming behind the Columbia secondary deep on the right. Craig fired, Dowd caught and commenced running, never giving any defender an angle to catch up with him. He rambled all the way to the end zone. The 83-yard hookup was the third longest touchdown pass in the program’s history. (The longest, a 92-yarder from Tom Stewart to Jack Cook in 2018, also victimized the Lions.) Senior Cali Canaval kicked the conversion. Harvard 7, Columbia 0.

The next score came at the end of the Lions’ ensuing series. The Crimson defense forced a three-and-out. William Hughes dropped back to punt at the Columbia 10. The snap came back, followed closely by Moody, who had barreled through a gap in the middle. Hughes swung his leg. BONK! Moody blocked the ball, which traveled backward and bounced off the turf. Moody grabbed it on the hop and scampered the 10 yards into the end zone. In recent times the blocked punt has been a Harvard stock-in-trade, but this was its first this season. It was, however, the third of Moody’s career. Canaval kicked the point. With only 5:13 gone, it was Harvard 14, Columbia 0.

Later in the period Craig led a drive that consumed 12 plays, the classiest of which came when he eluded the Lions rush and flipped to senior tight end Tyler Neville for 19 yards. When the drive bogged down at the Columbia nine, Canaval came on and booted a 27-yard field goal. Harvard 17, Columbia 0. As the period ended, the Crimson had 158 yards in total offense, the Lions 42.

Columbia got back in the game when quarterback Joe Green took the Lions 75 yards in 10 plays, the last of which was a nifty, shifty 23-yard scoring jaunt by talented running back Joey Giorgi. Hugo Merry (an All-Ivy name if ever there was one) kicked the point. Harvard 17, Columbia 7.

It took the Crimson a mere five plays to regain the 17-point bulge. Three of them were passes that Craig delivered with zing: to Dowd for 15 yards, to Neville for 14 yards, and to senior wideout Kaedyn Odermann for 37, all the way to the Lions three. Odermann raced left to right and Craig hit him in stride. On the next play McLaughlin took a handoff from Craig, bounced outside to the left, and skittered into the end zone. Canaval kicked. Harvard 24, Columbia 7.

The remainder of the half was marked by two exceptional defensive plays. First, senior defensive lineman Thor Griffith (seven tackles) overpowered his blocker and dragged down Lions runner Malcolm Terry II for a five-yard loss. Two plays later Moody made his first interception, at the Harvard 17. In coverage on the right sideline, Moody followed the ball the whole way and caught it as if he had been the intended receiver.

The Lions received the second-half kickoff and held the ball for almost 10 minutes. They reached the Crimson 10. There, on third-and-five, Griffith again broke through his blockers and sacked Green for a 14-yard loss. Unfazed, Merry booted a 42-yard field goal. Harvard 24, Columbia 10. However, this had been a long trip for a short beer.

At the end of the quarter Moody made his second interception, this one reminiscent of a fabled snag 69 years earlier by the New York Giants’ Willie Mays roughly 60 blocks south, at the Polo Grounds. In what is known in baseball lore as “The Catch,” running with his back to the plate nearly 500 feet way, Mays snared a long drive. This time, Moody was in deep coverage and with his back to quarterback Green. As the ball sailed in his direction, Moody reached back to pluck it one-handed at the Crimson 38. It looked impossible. In 150 years of Harvard football, you’ll have to search hard to find a more amazing pick.

Harvard player attempts to catch ball with Columbia players in pursuit
HATCH CATCH Harvard junior wideout Ledger Hatch prepares to reel in one of his two receptions. Six Crimson receivers had at least one grab. | PHOTOGRAPH BY NICHOLAS T. JACOBSSON/THE HARVARD CRIMSON

After the turnover, Craig did what any quarterback worth his salt does: He salted the game away. Craig passed to Dowd for 25 yards, then to junior wideout Ledger Hatch for 26 to the Columbia eight. (Hatch made the snatch just off the ground.) On the next play McLaughlin weaved his way among his blockers and into the end zone. Canaval kicked. Harvard 31, Columbia 13.

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It was desperation time for the Lions, so on their next possession they went for it on fourth down from their own 28. Green was sacked by Crimson junior linebacker Oreck Frazier. Harvard took over on the Columbia 18 and in six plays was in the end zone, Craig doing the honors himself on a one-yard rollout around right end. Canaval kicked. Harvard 38, Columbia 10. After this, with Murphy inserting the subs, Columbia scored what were essentially two meaningless touchdowns to account for the final score. (Not meaningless, of course, if pride still matters.)

For Harvard, this was a confidence-builder in preparation for what is virtually a two-game playoff among the league’s heavy hitters. Meantime, as long as we are mentioning milestones: the Quakers’ visit on Saturday will mark the 65th anniversary of my first visit to Harvard Stadium. The actual date was November 1, 1958, and (in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, A.B. 1904, LL.D. ’29) it shall live in infamy: Penn 19, Harvard 6. I was seven, and my only recollections are of what seemed to be brutal cold (this was my first exposure to Stadium winds), and that we peed communally into a trough. (No urinals; we were a hardier breed.) I have no idea why I ever wanted to come back.

TIDBITS Harvard is the only team in the FCS that has not lost a fumble this season….The Crimson is now 64-16-1 against Columbia….The last time Harvard was 7-1 was 2016. That year, the Crimson dropped its final two games, to Penn and Yale.

 

Weekly Roundup

Dartmouth 23, Princeton 21

Penn 23, Cornell 8

Yale 36, Brown 17

 

Coming up: On Saturday the Crimson returns to Harvard Stadium for the final home game of the season, against Ivy rival Penn. Kickoff: 1 p.m. The game will be telecast on ESPN+ and broadcast on WRCA 1130 AM/106.1 FM. The Quakers are 6-2 overall and 3-2 in league play. In a series that began in 1881, Harvard leads 51-39-2 and has won the last two, including last year’s 37-14 victory in Philadelphia. Saturday will be Senior Day, at which those Crimson players appearing in their final home game and their families will be celebrated.

 

THE SCORE BY QUARTERS

Harvard

17

7

0

14

 

 

38

Columbia

0

7

3

14

 

 

24

 

Attendance: 3,723

 

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 

Week seven: Harvard 17, Dartmouth 9

 

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