Harvard went into this weekend all but dead in the Ivy race. After a disappointing loss to Princeton, the Crimson had drifted two games back of a Penn team that showed no sign of letting up.
The annual two-team race between Harvard and Penn was dead before it even took shape.
Yale, in fact—yes the same Yale that this writer picked to finish dead last in the league—had a better Ivy record than Harvard and a more realistic shot at contending for a league crown.
And this dire situation wasn’t just media chatter and fan disappointment either. Crimson coach Tim Murphy talked last week about readjusting goals and being realistic. After all, the last two-loss Ivy champ was back in 1982. No active player on the Harvard football team was even alive in 1982.
And so, the Crimson took the field against the Big Green looking to play solid football and improve. Contending for a title was out of everybody’s mind.
The hope for the rest of the season was two-fold. Obviously, wins were still most important. But also, developing sophomore Liam O’Hagan, his new favorite target freshman Alex Breaux, and the rest of Harvard’s young and talented core were priorities. As much as everyone tried to avoid saying it, thoughts—at least in some respect—must have drifted to next year.
And then Saturday came and the Crimson found new life for at least another week.
Harvard’s dismantling of Dartmouth combined with Brown’s upset win over Penn sets the Crimson just one game back of the league lead with games against the Quakers and the Bulldogs looming at the end of the season.
“I said to [the team] after the game that Brown beat Penn,” Murphy said. “The frustrating part is that we’re literally one play away from being tied for first and a 5-2 team.”
Frustrating? Yes. Hopeless? Not anymore.
After Saturday’s action, the top of the Ivy league looks like this.
Penn, Brown, Princeton, and Yale all have one league loss. With two losses, Harvard sits right behind them having already lost to the Tigers and beaten the Bears.
The big game for the Crimson to watch—and the one that will likely determine if it has a shot at a championship heading into the final two weeks—will be next week’s Yale-Brown matchup.
As difficult as it may be, Harvard fans are going to have to swallow their pride, put on anything blue they own, and root for the Bulldogs to knock off the Bears.
If Brown gets by Yale unscathed, the race is pretty much done. The Bears finish up against Dartmouth and Columbia and with the Ivy title on the line, they won’t drop one of those games.
But if the Bulldogs come through with a win, things could get very interesting.
Harvard will have to win out, which is hardly an easy task. Princeton would have to drop one more game, most likely to Penn or Yale.
And if all of that happens, the season ends with a mind boggling five-way tie atop the Ivy league, with Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Penn sharing the league championship.
So it’s not easy, but it’s a lot more probable now than it was last week.
“Anything can happen right now,” Murphy said. “I said going into the season that this is not just going to be a Harvard—Penn year.”
Heading into the stretch run, it would appear that he was right on the mark.
—Staff writer David H. Stearns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org