Football 2017: Harvard 14, Cornell 17
That’s why they play the games.
Last Saturday at unseasonably warm Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, New York, in one of the most shocking Ivy League upsets of recent times, Cornell—picked to finish last in the preseason Ivy media poll—defeated Harvard (selected, with Princeton, to finish first) 17-14. The Big Red spotted the Crimson two touchdowns. Then, behind the running of All-Ivy back Chris Walker (93 yards on 19 carries), Cornell inexorably outmuscled Harvard. With the loss, the Crimson’s 2017 record dropped to 2-2 and 1-1 in conference play. The Big Red, 1-3 overall, also is 1-1 in the conference. The defeat snapped Harvard’s 11-game winning streak over Cornell. Harvard now has lost three of its last four Ivy games spanning two seasons.
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The statistics tell a stark story. Cornell won the time-of-possession battle by a staggering 36:50 to 23:10. The Big Red ran 77 offensive plays to the Crimson’s 44. The Harvard offense’s inability to stay on the field in the second half had a fatal corollary: its hard-pressed defense wore down. The Crimson was missing three injured stalwart starters—defensive linemen DJ Bailey ’19 and Stone Hart ’18, and linebacker Anthony Camargo ’19. But that takes nothing away from the effort of Cornell, whose offensive coordinator, Joe Villapiano, is in his first season at Ithaca after 12 years on the staff of Harvard coach Tim Murphy.
The early action ran according to form. On Harvard’s first series, quarterback Jake Smith ’21, making his third straight start, took the Crimson 72 yards in six plays. The two biggest were a pass interference call on which Cornell got to Crimson receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley ’19 too early, and a 34-yard pitch from Smith to H-back Ryan Reagan ’21 down the seam to the Cornell three. Two plays later, running back Lavance Northington ’20, operating out of the wildcat formation, punched the ball over from the one. Jake McIntyre ’20 converted. Harvard 7, Cornell 0. (And with fewer than 10 minutes gone, the Crimson had extended its Ivy record streak of not having been shut out to 193 games.)
With Cornell hampered by six early penalties, Harvard built its lead in the second period. Taking over at the Crimson 45, Smith used his legs, gaining 19 yards on two runs. The ball reached the Big Red 36, and with Harvard facing a third-and-13, Murphy took a timeout. What he drew up worked brilliantly. On the next play, Smith found tight end Jake Barann ’18 wide open in the middle of the field. Barann made a finger-tip catch and ran into the end zone. McIntyre kicked the point. Harvard 14, Cornell 0. With 40 minutes left to play, the Crimson had scored its final point.
The Big Red resurgence came on the next series. Using two quarterbacks—Dalton Banks and Jake Jatis—Cornell went 87 yards in 15 plays, 14 of which were runs. (Not helping was an ill-advised personal-foul penalty on Harvard defensive back Devin Judd ’20.) On the fifteenth, Jatis ran it in from the two. Zach Mays booted the extra point. Harvard 14, Cornell 7 at halftime.
The second half started promisingly enough. The Crimson got the ball and running back Charlie Booker III ’19 barreled down the left sideline for 39 yards, to the Cornell 25. But on third down, Smith was sacked, leaving McIntyre to try a 43-yard field goal…wide left. It was McIntyre’s first missed kick of the season. Getting the ball back, the Big Red used the runs of Walker and fellow back Jack Gellatly to ram the ball down the Crimson’s throat. Then Banks faked the run and threw a bomb down the right side to Owen Peters, who made a slick swivel to snag the ball at the Harvard six. Three plays later Jatis again plunged over from the two. Mays again converted. Harvard 14, Cornell 14.
Cornell kept winning the possession and territorial battles. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Big Red’s Nickolas Null launched a 59-yard punt that was downed at the Harvard 1. In three plays the Crimson only could advance to its eight—and Cornell’s Nick Gesualdi returned the ensuing punt to the Harvard 34. From there, the Big Red’s Harold Coles burst untouched down the middle to the Crimson three. Though Harvard stiffened, Mays was well set up for a 27-yard field goal. Cornell 17, Harvard 14.
Nearly 10 minutes remained but the Crimson had no oomph. On the next series Smith was sacked three times. The Big Red took over with 6:03 left; Harvard did not get the ball back, at its 20, until there were 35 seconds remaining. Smith suffered another sack, and a game-clinching interception by Dylan Otolski. In reality, the outcome was decided much earlier, when Cornell began ripping right through the Crimson middle.
Smith, who went all the way, finished 8-of-14 passing. The failure of the Harvard offense to get in gear not only kept the frazzled Crimson defense on the field but Harvard’s best weapons, Shelton-Mosley (a mere three catches for 68 yards) and Adam Scott ’19 (one catch for 11 yards), off it.
Abercrombie Fund: The Harvard Varsity Club has established the Benson M. Abercrombie ’21 Fund to help defray expenses for Abercrombie and any future student-athlete who has been the victim of a “severe or catastrophic” injury. Abercrombie, a defensive back from Hoover, Alabama, suffered a spinal injury in the opener against Rhode Island. He has regained some feeling in his arms and legs. Abercrombie remains in Rhode Island Hospital; his next objective is a rehabilitation center. His family has started a CaringBridge website and has been posting periodic progress reports. Last Friday Ben’s father, Marty, wrote: “We had hoped to move Ben to a rehab center by the end of this week but he is not quite ready to make the move. He will be reevaluated on Monday so hopefully he will move early next week. Until then Ben will continue on his lung treatments, finish his course of antibiotics and do limited physical rehab.”
Columbia 41, Marist 17
Dartmouth 28, Yale 27
Central Connecticut 42, Penn 21
Princeton 50, Georgetown 30
Stetson 17, Brown 13
Coming up: Next Saturday Harvard begins a welcome three-game homestand when it takes on Lafayette at the Stadium. Kickoff: noon. The game will be telecast on NESN and the Ivy League Network, and broadcast on the radio on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM and 94.5 FM-HD2, WHRB FM 95.3. The Leopards, of the Patriot League, stand at 2-4 on the season. Harvard leads the all-time series 16-3, with the most recent game a 42-0 Crimson victory in 2015.
This will be Harvard’s seven-hundredth game at Harvard Stadium, where the Crimson’s record is 445-220-34. The first game at the hallowed horseshoe was played on November 14, 1903 and the outcome was an 11-0 loss to Dartmouth. On Saturday, anyone who was at that game and can furnish proof with a cancelled ticket stub will be admitted free. (Folks: Please don’t go rummaging through your attics—we’re kidding.)
The score by quarters