NOTEBOOK: Pruneau Prevails in First Career Start

Like Mike
Mark Kelsey

Senior quarterback Michael Pruneau spent the last three years waiting for an opportunity to prove himself. With junior starter Conner Hempel out with a knee injury, Pruneau got that chance on Saturday against Cornell and delivered. The Texas native threw for 340 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, including one on the ground and one to roommate senior tight end Cam Brate.

Two years ago, Harvard football coach Tim Murphy said he believed Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews, then a sophomore, would be at least a third round NFL draft pick. After Saturday’s game, there was no reason for Murphy to change his mind.

Mathews, now a senior and a legitimate NFL prospect, carried the Big Red offense on his shoulders all day long. He threw for 472 yards, the most a quarterback has ever passed for in a single game against Harvard.

Despite his valiant efforts, the Crimson (4-0, 2-0 Ivy) had the last word at Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, New York, winning by a score of 34-24.

But that doesn’t take anything away from the performance of Mathews. Through his passing and scrambling, Mathews accounted for all but one of Cornell’s (1-3, 0-2) total yards. The senior also threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another.

“If I’m a General Manager, I’d draft that guy in the top couple rounds,” Murphy said. “No question about it. You get to a point where you know they’re passing on every down, but he still completes balls. Just amazing.”

It was a dominant aerial performance by any standard. Mathews showed he could thread the needle over the middle, find a streaking receiver down the sideline, and escape from a collapsing pocket to scramble for a gain.

Both of Mathews’ touchdown passes came out of a shotgun set the Big Red threw at Harvard all game. On the first drive of the second half, Mathews fired a bullet into the middle of the end zone that his sliding receiver reeled in for the score.

On the very next drive, Mathews capped a 12 play, 75-yard drive by finding Lucas Shapiro on a seven-yard in route between a trio of Harvard defenders. The strike brought Cornell within three.

“We believe in our guys, and we believe in our pass protection,” Mathews said. “They’re a team that is more geared to stop the run, and we felt we had matchups in the pass game.”


Mathews wasn’t the only quarterback who showed up to play on Saturday. For the second week in a row, the Crimson offense—this time under the direction of senior quarterback Michael Pruneau—made plays when it mattered most.

With just over six minutes remaining, Harvard found itself clinging to a three-point lead. Mathews and the Big Red offense had just marched down the field for a touchdown that got the crowd on its feet.

But Pruneau, who filled in for injured junior starter Conner Hempel, responded in turn. The senior completed two straight passes to sophomore receiver Andrew Fischer and senior tight end Tyler Ott to move the ball into Cornell territory.

Two plays later on a critical third down, Pruneau rose to the occasion and found a diving Ricky Zorn over the middle to move the chains.

It would take just one more play to cap the drive off. Rolling to his right, Pruneau lofted a pass in the direction of senior tight end Cam Brate, who created enough separation in the front corner of the end zone to haul the touchdown pass in.


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