HANOVER, N.H.— The nature of the Harvard football team’s 31-14 win can be accurately summed up by a first-quarter play that started at the Crimson’s own four-yard line.
Senior quarterback Colton Chapple dropped back for a pass but was quickly greeted by a blitzing linebacker who had a clear shot at a safety. Somehow, Chapple escaped the rusher and scrambled to his left for an 11-yard gain, only to fumble the ball near the sideline. But junior wideout Andrew Berg was there to fall on the ball to regain possession for Harvard.
That series of events represents all 60 minutes of play Saturday not only because it brought some of Chapple’s 88 rushing yards, but also because Dartmouth missed several opportunities to make game-changing plays, as was the case all evening. On the other side, the Crimson took advantage of enough chances to beat the Big Green for the 15th time in the last 16 contests despite being outgained in total yards for the first time all season.
Late in the third quarter, Harvard found itself holding on to a 21-14 lead and in desperate need of some momentum. After failing to progress past its own 40, the Crimson took over with strong field position at the Harvard 45. From there, Chapple completed two passes for first downs with senior Treavor Scales’ longest run of the day, a 19-yard scamper, coming in between. Two goal line runs later and the visiting offense had taken advantage of the opportunity provided by its defense to open up a two-touchdown lead.
Dartmouth appeared poised to post a response on its ensuing possession, methodically driving into Harvard territory with a series of short passes, including a fourth-down conversion. But before what would have been a third-and-two from the Crimson 43, the Big Green was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and pushed back 15 yards, neutralizing the home’s team momentum. A Harvard field goal minutes later would put the game out of reach.
Though the final score may have suggested otherwise, Saturday’s contest was a close battle decided by a few bounces of the ball and short stretches of success. In big moments, the more experienced Crimson seemed to come out on top more times than not, like in the red zone, where Harvard came away with points on all five of its trips while Dartmouth was shut out on both of its red-zone chances.
“At the end of the day it comes down to 120, 140-odd snaps,” Big Green captain Pat Lahey said. “We had a lot of opportunities to make some plays, and Harvard made some plays when it needed to, and it showed in the end result.”
TACKLES FOR WIN
The remarkable has become the expected—another week, another dominant performance by the Crimson defensive front. This week, the team combined for six sacks, including two apiece for senior John Lyon and sophomore Zach Hodges. Harvard now leads the FCS in sacks per game at 4.71, nearly a full sack better than any other team in the conference. And despite playing in two fewer games than the second-place team, the Crimson has 36 more sack yards than any other FCS squad.
As scary as Lyon, Hodges, and Co. have been against the pass, running the ball on them has proved equally futile. Despite generally using a ground-based attack, the Big Green knew coming into the week they could not rely on picking up yards running the ball.
“They challenge you to throw the football, by design,” Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens said. “They outnumber [you] in the box, and they’ve got some very solid players. They play eight guys, and they are all very good.”
At the end of the day, the Big Green had tallied just 19 yards on 24 carries, but it wasn’t the first victim to Harvard’s run-killing buzz saw. The Crimson leads the FCS in rushing yards allowed per game and is the only team holding opponents to less than two yards per run, as foes have averaged just 1.73 yards per attempt.
Even though Harvard pulled away to win Saturday, the play most football fans will remember from the game was a 68-yard catch-and-run by Dartmouth receiver Ryan McManus that earned the No. 4 spot on ESPN’S Sportscenter Top 10. McManus leaped to pull down a pass and then broke half a dozen tackles before sprinting to the end zone.
But that wasn’t the Big Green’s only big play through the air. Despite the rush the Crimson’s front four has generated, the defense has struggled at times to stop the pass. Last week, Princeton’s Roman Wilson gained over 100 yards in the second half. This week, Michael Reilly had a career night, catching 12 balls for 165 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Alex Park reached 300 yards for the first time in his career despite being sidelined with an injury late in the game.
“We can live with some of the yards; we’ve just got to play great red-zone defense,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “Not that we don’t have a lot of room for improvement—we do. Our next step is to become a really good overall balanced defense, and we are making a lot of progress.”
—Staff writer Jacob D. H. Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Follow him @jacobfeldman4.