One game into the Harvard football team’s Ivy League title season, the Crimson’s course hardly looked promising.
Harvard had just dropped its first game against Holy Cross, and senior quarterback Collier Winters was already hurt.
His backup, junior Colton Chapple, had some experience as the third-stringer in 2010, but his time on the field was limited. Coming into its first league game against Brown with an 0-1 record and starting its second-string quarterback, it was an inauspicious start for Harvard.
Few could have predicted Chapple’s success.
The junior quarterback, in only four starts in 2011, matched or broke a series of long-standing passing records for the Crimson, and as Winters returned to health, Chapple placed himself squarely in the discussion as to who Harvard’s starting quarterback would be.
But in a move that was far from unanimous among the coaching staff, Winters returned to take back his old job, winning his final five collegiate starts en route to Harvard’s 7-0 league record.
Chapple, in his first two games of the season under center, led Harvard to a pair of convincing victories, first with a 24-7 win over Brown and then with a 31-3 blowout at Lafayette in Easton, Pa.
But in his next two games, Chapple had two of the best single-game performances for any quarterback in program history.
Playing at Cornell, he threw for four touchdowns and 414 yards, the second-highest total ever for a Crimson quarterback.
The next week against Bucknell, Chapple cemented his place in Harvard’s history books. He threw for five touchdowns, tying a record set by Carroll Lowenstein ’52-’54 in 1953.
And he did it in just over two quarters, coming out of the game early in the second half with the contest already well out of reach for Bucknell.
“By the time Bucknell rolled around, I realized that I could play in this league and that I could play at a high level,” Chapple says.
Before Chapple tied the mark on Oct. 15, Lowenstein’s record had stood for 58 years.
Not often does a record-setting performance land you on the pine, but the week after his five-touchdown game, Chapple was benched for the rest of the season. Winters promptly threw for five touchdowns against Princeton, becoming the second quarterback to accomplish the feat in as many weeks.
“I never expected to play when you have a fifth-year senior coming back from injury,” Chapple says. “We were able to battle it out in practice, and when it came down to it, the coaches—you have to respect their decision.”
While Chapple didn’t get the chance to finish the season, the year was still a huge step forward for the junior in the eyes of Harvard coach Tim Murphy.
“We became a ball control, running offense in the games that he played as a sophomore,” Murphy says. “Games as a junior, [we] didn’t change a thing—full speed ahead, full throttle, wide open offense.”
“We felt like regardless of what happens, we can win a championship,” Murphy adds. “We had the potential to win a championship with either guy.”
—Staff writer E. Benjamin Samuels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.