In a season filled with triple-overtime games, nail-biting victories and defeats, and last-second field goals, what was perhaps the most crucial game for the Harvard football team was not even played by the Crimson.
Hours after Harvard (9-1, 6-1 Ivy), fueled by four touchdowns from sophomore running back Paul Stanton, claimed victory in the 130th playing of The Game, Crimson coach Tim Murphy received some unexpected news.
“We’re on the ride home, and I’m not even thinking about the Dartmouth game, but it’s eerily quiet on the offensive bus,” Murphy said. “[Junior tight end] Tyler Hamblin, who’s a very respected kid on the team, comes shuffling down the aisle and says, ‘Coach Murphy, Dartmouth’s up by five with five minutes to go in the game,’ and I go, ‘I don’t want to hear it.’”
In the final Ivy League matchup of the season, the Big Green was locked in a battle with Princeton, the Ancient Eight leader. With a Princeton victory, the Tigers would lock up sole ownership of the title. With a Dartmouth win, the Crimson would snag a share of the title.
“About five minutes later, kids are pushing [Hamblin] up the aisle, and he’s saying ‘I don’t want to talk to him,’” Murphy said. “[Hamblin] says, ‘Coach, Dartmouth just intercepted the ball with 30 seconds left and Princeton has no timeouts.’ I say, ‘Is that what I think it means?’ Tyler goes, ‘Yeah coach, we just won the Ivy League Championship.’”
With how dominant Princeton had been throughout league play—undefeated to that point—a Tigers championship had appeared to be the foregone conclusion. But on a snowy night in Hanover, the Tigers faltered, and the result was a Harvard football team that had double the reason to dance in the streets of New Haven that night.
“Beating Dartmouth and having them beat Princeton was probably the greatest feeling ever,” Stanton said. “We knew that [Dartmouth] had a chance because of how close the game was with us and we knew that they were a great team…. When they did that it was probably the happiest moment of most of our lives.”
Princeton, which handed the Crimson one of its two losses the previous season, was responsible for the only blemish on Harvard’s otherwise undefeated 2013 record. In its second triple-overtime game of the season, the Crimson had a chance to take the lead with just over a minute left in regulation, but junior kicker Andrew Flesher’s ball sailed wide left from 50 yards out, and the teams headed to overtime.
On second and goal in triple overtime, Tigers quarterback Quinn Epperly found wide receiver Roman Wilson—the same duo that connected for the game-winning touchdown a year ago—in the back of the end zone to conclude the game. The loss knocked the Crimson out of first place in the Ancient Eight, giving Princeton complete control of its title destiny.
A week later, the Crimson found itself in another tight battle when it faced Dartmouth. Flesher redeemed himself, hitting a field goal with under a minute to play, and senior cornerback Jaron Wilson grabbed the game-clinching interception in a contest that would prove to have significant title implications.
“Dartmouth’s as good as anybody,” Murphy said. “They’re a couple plays away from having won the whole thing, too. When you consider it, they’ve beaten Princeton two years in a row. When you consider it, we had to make a fingertip catch on a double reverse pass down in the far end zone to win the game, plus a game-winning field goal. They’re legit.”
Though the Crimson notched a win in almost all of its games, the success was preceded by uncertainty heading into the season.
The 2012 team graduated many key offensive players, including quarterback Colton Chapple and tailback Treavor Scales. After wavering between senior Michael Pruneau and junior Conner Hempel for much of the preseason, Murphy named Hempel as starting quarterback before the first game.
But when Hempel was sidelined halfway through the season with a knee injury, Pruneau filled in, leading the team to victories against Cornell and Lafayette. The transition back was smooth, however. Hempel returned the following week to throw for four scores against Princeton.
Stanton, who filled the starting running back spot left by Scales, proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the season, rivaling Scales’ senior year statistics. The sophomore rushed for 936 yards and 15 touchdowns, and notched another two touchdowns in The Game off of Hempel passes.
“A year ago, you look at all the impact players we lost and you wonder, ‘How are we going to replace this guy, and this guy?’” Murphy said. “There were a lot of really pleasant surprises, which is kind of the identity you have as a championship-caliber team year in, year out—the tendency for guys to step up.”
—Staff writer Samantha Lin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Linsamnity.