Harvard 25-Penn 23 (Triple Overtime)
A thrilling win makes the Crimson Ivy champs—now for Yale.
Sunlight had transitioned to darkness on Saturday at Harvard Stadium when the Crimson football team lined up in the third overtime with a share of the Ivy League title in its hands. Harvard had tried to give the game against Penn away several times but now, with the score 23-23, success on a two-point conversion—the way the game is conducted in third overtimes and later—would give the Crimson not only a victory, but also clinch a share of the Ivy League title.
Now for something special—something deep in the playbook.
The ball was snapped to quarterback Jaden Craig, who then handed to wideout Scott Woods II coming from the right. Reverse! Woods flipped to wideout Cooper Barkate, running from the left. Double reverse! But wait—there’s more! Craig had filtered into the end zone. He was uncovered. Barkate tossed. Craig caught. It’s good! Game over! Harvard 25, Penn 23. The Crimson had won the 2023 Ivy championship—at least a share of it. It is the first Harvard title since 2015.
The Senior Day victory gave the Crimson, who entered the game ranked No. 19 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) an 8-1 record and a 5-1 mark in Ivy League play. (Harvard also finishes the home portion of its schedule 6-0.) Gallant Penn fell to 6-3, 3-3. Next week the Crimson travels to Yale, which is 4-2 in Ivy competition after its two-overtime victory at Princeton. Dartmouth, which beat Cornell, also is 4-2 in league play. So…for Harvard, a win would mean it’s all theirs.
In a year laden with milestones, two more were added on Saturday: This was the 10th Ivy title (shared or outright) for Tim Murphy, the Stephenson family head coach for Harvard football, tying him for first place with Yale’s Carmen Cozza (1965-1996). Moreover, it was Murphy’s 200th victory in his 30 seasons on the Crimson sideline. “Never a dull moment,” said a relieved Murphy, who had romped on the field with his players during a postgame celebration. “At the end of the day our kids showed their character. Never give up. Never, ever give up. That’s always been our mantra. Today was the epitome of that. I’m so proud of our kids. So proud of our coaches. Just a great day for Harvard football.”
The game began as if it would be a rollicking shootout. Behind its sharp quarterback, Aidan Sayid, and its sensational freshman running back, Malachi Hosley, the Quakers went through the Crimson defense like (in the deathless words of Gen. George S. Patton) crap goes through a goose. They went 75 yards in four plays, the last 29 yards coming on a Hosley jaunt during which he bounced to the right off would-be tacklers at the line of scrimmage, then accelerated past three Harvard defenders to the end zone. Hosley is one to watch: He has the Gayle Sayers-like ability to accelerate through his cuts. Graham Gotlieb kicked the extra point. Penn 7, Harvard 0.
In only six plays, the Crimson riposted. The big gainer came when Craig, a sophomore making his second career start, hooked up with classmate Barkate for 27 yards, bringing the ball down to Penn 3. On the next play Craig scored on a keeper. Senior Cali Canaval booted the extra point. Harvard 7, Penn 7.
The defenses found their footing. The next score didn’t come until the second period when, at the end of an 11-play drive that stalled at the Harvard 26, Gotlieb booted a 43-yard field goal. Penn 10, Harvard 7.
Again, back came the Crimson. This time Craig used his own runs plus those of junior running back Shane McLaughlin and three passes to Barkate to move the ball from the Harvard 20 to the Penn eight. On the next play Craig threw to Barkate, who had run a corner route to the end zone. Barkate snared it for a touchdown and, unfortunately, used the moment to taunt his fallen Quaker defender, which cost Harvard 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff. As if the fates were disapproving, Canaval missed the extra point. Harvard 13, Penn 10. Flubbed extra points almost always come back to haunt you, and this one would be no exception.
But for now, the Crimson poured it on. On its next possession Harvard went 70 yards in nine plays, the two biggest being a pair of Craig-to-Barkate hookups, the first for 31 yards, the second for 20. The capper came when Craig rushed up the middle for a two-yard score. This time Canaval did not miss. Harvard 20, Penn 10.
On the Quakers’ next series they reached the Crimson 34, but the drive was blunted when Harvard freshman Damien Henderson (the latest in a seemingly unending supply of Crimson defensive backs to emerge this season) intercepted Sayin. The half ended. The salient statistic: Barkate had seven receptions for 122 yards in the suddenly balanced Crimson offense.
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But there would be no more Harvard scoring in regulation time. The Penn defense pressured Craig (Yale no doubt took notice) and the Quakers capitalized in the third period when Crimson junior punter Sebastien Tasko mishandled a snap and had his kick blocked. Penn recovered on the 29 and drove to the Harvard six. There, on third and one, the Quakers made a somewhat head-scratching decision to try a pass, which failed. They settled for a field goal, and Gotlieb drove it through. Harvard 20, Penn 13.
With an Ivy title in the balance, the teams moved to the fourth quarter. Hosley culminated a 69-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run. Gotlieb kicked the conversion. Harvard 20, Penn 20. (Remember that missed extra point?)
Eleven minutes and 12 seconds remained, and the Crimson used 8:49 in a methodical 19-play, 69-yard drive. Craig now rode McLaughlin on the ground (18 tough yards) and brought in other wideouts—senior Kaedyn Odermann (three catches) and junior Ledger Hatch (two). Ultimately the Crimson reached the Penn three, first and goal. But the Crimson shot itself in the cleats with a false-start penalty and a sack of Craig. Fourth and goal from the 12. Still…no problem, right? Canaval would just trot in and boot the chip-shot field goal. Only…the ball was snapped, Canaval kicked…and missed. The boot was to the right all the way. Penn got the ball and on the last play of regulation tried a 59-yard field goal that was blocked.
The game went to sudden death. For the first and (if necessary) second round, each team would get the ball at the 25, alternating which went first. Penn was first up. On third down from 17 Mosley was stonewalled by Harvard senior defensive tackle Thor Griffith, who made his final Harvard Stadium game memorable with a team-high 10 tackles. Whereupon the Quakers’ second kicker, Albert Jang, drilled a 36-yard field goal. Penn 23, Harvard 20.
The Crimson’s turn. With Craig connecting twice with senior tight end Tyler Neville, Harvard made it all the way to the one-yard-line, first and goal—but no farther, runs by McLaughlin and Craig proving unavailing. Fourth and one. What do you do? Try to win it right there or kick a field goal and play on? Murphy opted for the latter. This time Canaval did not miss. Harvard 23, Penn 23. “When you [start with] first-and-goal from the one-foot line, you just assume we’re gonna get it in,” said Murphy. “Potentially I should have called something else.”
By rule in the next round the Crimson would go first. It would be a short round. On the first play junior center Austin Gentle was flagged for holding. On the second Craig was intercepted by Logan Nash—the first career interception thrown by Craig. Now it was the Quakers’ turn, with a chance to win the game and stay in the Ivy title race. On fourth down Gotlieb tried a 36-yard field goal. It was up and…wide left, hooking just outside the upright.
(This might be considered revenge served extremely cold for Penn’s 1982 victory in which their field-goal kicker got a second chance at a game-winning boot when a Harvard rusher was flagged for roughing the kicker after he was blocked into said kicker by a Quaker. In this,the 150-year anniversary of Crimson football, some memories remain very long.)
The sides went to two-point conversions. On Penn’s try, Harvard junior defensive back Gavin Shipman stepped in and knocked away Sayin’s pass attempt.
Now to the Crimson, holding the season in its hands. Back in 2016 at Penn, Harvard had successfully run a version of the pass to the quarterback, in that case Joe Viviano ’17. Saturday’s successful score was “a great call by our offensive coordinator Mickey Fein,” said Murphy. Alluding to the failure to score a touchdown on the previous series, Murphy added, with a relieved laugh, “This will make [this finish] more memorable.”
The job is not done, of course. Some will argue that a loss to Yale would ruin the season. However disappointed we would be, we heartily disagree. We’ll save the full summary for next week, but no matter what happens in New Haven, after eight years the Crimson is back on top.
TIDBITS The victory improved the Crimson’s mark against Penn to 52-39-2. It also was the third straight triumph over the Quakers, Harvard’s longest winning streak over Penn since the nine-game skein from 1973 to ’81….For his performance against Penn, Harvard quarterback Jaden Craig was named the Week 11 recipient of the New England Football Writers Association Gold Helmet Award….On any given Saturday: This week the Ivy League featured an amazing three overtime games, one involving the team in last place (Columbia).
Yale 36, Princeton 28 (2 OT)
Brown 21, Columbia 14 (OT)
Dartmouth 30, Cornell 14
Coming up: The 139th Playing of The Game! On Saturday the Crimson travels to New Haven to face archrival Yale. Kickoff: Noon ET. The game will be telecast on ESPNU and broadcast on WRCA 1130 AM/106.1 FM. In a series that began in 1875, the Bulldogs lead 69-61-8, and have won four of the last six, including last year’s 19-14 victory at Cambridge. This year there’s little to choose between these ancient foes. In six Ivy League games, Harvard has scored 169 points and given up 131, while Yale has scored 176 and given up 126. Questions: Will someone explode the way Harvard’s Aidan Borguet ’23 did with his four touchdowns in 2019? (Freshman running back Xaviah Bascon…come on down!) Will Jaden Craig’s relative inexperience finally catch up with him? And will the Crimson have anything left? Promises Murphy: “It’s gonna be a laser-like focus for Yale.”
THE SCORE BY QUARTERS
THE SEASON SO FAR: follow Dick Friedman’s dispatches.