The horrors of Halloween came early for the Harvard football team on Monday as it went back and watched its first Ivy loss since 2010 unfold in advance of a matchup against Dartmouth Saturday.
“You tell them right up front, ‘This is going to be a very tough day when we watch this film,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “‘But at six o’clock tonight we are going to exorcise these demons and we are going to move on,’ and that’s what we did.”
Harvard’s first defeat in 15 games resulted from untimely penalties and turnovers and an outstretched arm that came up short of a first down to end the Crimson’s final drive. Harvard punted after that play and the Tigers drove the ball 90 yards to take the lead with 13 seconds left on the clock.
“We lost a game we should have won, and there’s no excuse for it,” Murphy said. “We just didn’t close the deal, with multiple opportunities.”
The Crimson had a 34-10 lead in the fourth quarter but gave up 29 unanswered points to fall into a three-way tie for second place in the Ivy League.
“You’ve got to be made of some strong stuff to bounce back from a loss like that,” senior Alex Norman said. “It was painful to watch the film but you’ve got to…use it as fuel for the next week.”
Harvard has spent this week making sure history doesn’t repeat itself and that next Monday’s film session won’t be as difficult to watch.
“We’ve gotten off to some fast starts this year, but our whole mantra this week is, ‘We’ve got to finish,’” Murphy said. “We’ve got to finish every play, we’ve got to finish every drive, [and] we’ve got to finish the game because that’s what we didn’t do. Despite all the great stats offensively, we didn’t finish well enough, we didn’t finish when we had to convert a first down, [and] we didn’t finish when we needed a touchdown.”
In terms of finishing, Harvard could learn from the Big Green, which topped Columbia, 21-16, on a touchdown with just over one minute remaining in the contest. The win put Dartmouth at 2-1 in conference play heading into its annual battle with Harvard for the first time since 2007.
“They’ve gone from a team that really struggled on defense to stay in games to now their defense is keeping them in every game,” Murphy said.
Through six games, the Big Green has held its opponent to just one touchdown three times and has not surrendered more than 28 points in any game, including a 34-14 victory over Yale and a 28-21 loss to Penn earlier in the season. Coming into Saturday’s game, Dartmouth’s defense ranks first in the Ivy League and ninth in the FCS in total defense.
“The biggest change in [Big Green coach] Buddy [Teeven]’s tenure over the last year and a half has been the development of their defense,” Murphy said. “If you can play defense, you can be in every game, and that’s where they are now. They are physical, they have athletes, they have a good scheme, and now they believe.”
The Dartmouth defense will face its toughest test yet Saturday as it attempts to slow down the third-best offense in FCS in terms of yards per game. In last week’s loss, the Crimson had three receivers with 100 yards and four players reach 100 yards for the first time in its modern era.
“[There are] just so many different weapons with [Harvard], and the quarterback, [senior Colton] Chapple, he just flat out makes plays.” Teevens said. “You watch what they do and how they do it—there is tremendous respect on our end.”
Dartmouth’s offense, which is currently ranked sixth in the Ivy League, will have to keep up without the help of running back Dominick Pierre, who averaged over 100 yards and one score in the Big Green’s first four contests but has been hampered by injury in the last two weeks and is not expected to play Saturday. Pierre is one of the two best backs in the Ivy League according to Murphy.