Perhaps with the real Hermione Granger sitting on their side of the field, the Brown Bears could have borrowed her Time-Turner to reconsider their final play call. But in the muggle world, the Bears will have to live with their decision: down by only three points with under five seconds remaining and poised on the Harvard 25-yard line, Brown coach Phil Estes elected to keep his field goal unit on the sideline and take one last shot at the endzone.
Brown quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero took the snap out of the shotgun formation and lofted the ball for wide receiver Bobby Sewall in the right side of the endzone. Sewall elevated to make the would-be game-winning catch as time expired, but senior linebacker Jon Takamura was there to make sure the ball did not end up in the hands of the Brown wideout as time expired. With the final whistle, the Crimson (1-1, 1-0 Ivy) took home its Ivy League opener, 24-21, in front of 17,263 fans on Friday night under the lights at Harvard Stadium.
“It was a good thrown ball, [and] I thought I was in good position,” said Sewall, who finished with 116 all-purpose yards and three TDs. “[I] went up for it, and there was a swarm of crimson there.”
Brown’s decision to throw for the endzone rather than attempt a 42-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime left many fans scratching their heads. But for Brown head coach Phil Estes, the decision was a no-brainer.
“I don’t have a kicker that can kick the ball that far,” Estes said. “I know what our kicker can do, and that’s not within his range. I’d rather throw it up to my three best guys and give them a chance to make the play.”
But for Brown (0-2, 0-1 Ivy) to simply get a chance to win the game took some magic in its own right.
With the Bears down, 24-14, with 3:07 remaining in the game, it looked as if Harvard would easily walk away with an early-season victory over the team it shared the Ivy League crown with last season. But thanks to an 80-yard touchdown drive and a recovered onside kick, Brown managed to put itself in a position to win the game with under a minute to play.
Starting at his own 20-yard line, Newhall—in his second career start—orchestrated an 80-yard touchdown drive in which he threw for seventy yards, rushed for ten more, and completed an eight-yard touchdown pass to Sewall with 34 seconds remaining. After Drew Plichta’s extra point attempt went through the uprights, the Bears had the Crimson lead cut down to three.
As Brown lined up for the onsides kick, Harvard knew all it had to do was come up with the football to all but ensure victory. But sophomore Alex Gedeon was unable to hold on to the 13-yard kick from Brown’s Nathan Lovett and Chimso Okoji recovered the ball for the Bears at its own 43-yard line with 32 seconds remaining.
Newhall’s opening rush for 18 yards and the subsequent pass to Trevan Samp for 14 yards placed the ball at the Harvard 25-yard line with under thirty seconds remaining and the Bears down by three. Newhall took three shots at receiver Sewall in the endzone, but each landed incomplete and Harvard snuck away with the victory.
“Brown gave us everything they possibly had, and we’re fortunate enough to squeak it out,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “Though it wasn’t necessarily pretty in the last two minutes of the game, the kids finished it.”
Also making his second career start at quarterback was junior Collier Winters (two touchdowns, 223 yards), whose second-half heroics helped Harvard overcome a 14-10 halftime deficit.
On the Crimson’s second drive after halftime, Winters led Harvard with both his arm and his feet on a 92-yard drive that culminated in a three-yard touchdown run by the quarterback, giving Harvard a 17-14 lead it would not relinquish.
After a short rush by rookie Treavor Scales, Winters completed a 38-yard pass to junior wide receiver Chris Lorditch, who ran out of bounds at the 50-yard line. Winters scrambled for another 20 yards on the following two plays, then aired it out again, this time to senior wide receiver Matt Luft. Though Luft was unable to come down with the ball, a pass interference call on Brown’s AJ Cruz put the ball on the Brown 15. The drive finished with a designed quarterback run out of the shotgun formation, which Winters punched in from the three-yard line.
“Winters’ a smaller guy,” Brown defensive lineman James Devalin said. “He gets happy feet in there when you get a little bit of pressure on him, and he’s definitely a slippery player.”
The Brown defensive line, which ranked fourth in the nation in run defense last season, was only able to sack Winters behind the line of scrimmage on one occasion.
Winters padded the score on Harvard’s next possession, hitting Luft in the back of the endzone for his first reception and a 15-yard touchdown. After the referees initially ruled that Luft came down with the ball out of bounds, they deliberated and determined that Luft did indeed get his foot down.
“When you go up and catch the ball, you just automatically kind of kill your legs and try to drag them somehow,” Luft said. “There’s some difficultly level to it, but it’s stuff you kind of do all the time.”
Following a successful point after attempt from senior Patrick Long, Harvard sported the 24-14 advantage, which appeared to be a safe lead with just 12:37 remaining in the game. But the Brown comeback with just over three minutes to play put the game in jeopardy until Newhall’s last second pass attempt was unsuccessful, and the Crimson came away with the 24-21 victory.
“We were not a polished Swiss watch [Friday],” Murphy said. “We just played with great emotion and found a way to win.”