The stakes were high and the battle was tense. On Oct. 26, the undefeated Harvard and Princeton football teams faced off in Cambridge, with the winner earning the driver’s seat in the race for an Ivy League championship.
The showdown featured nearly a thousand yards of offense, close to 100 total points scored, and lasted just under four hours.
But at the end of the day, the lasting image was the Princeton team mobbing wide receiver Roman Wilson after he reeled in a game-winning touchdown pass from quarterback Quinn Epperly in triple overtime to secure a 51-48 Tigers victory.
“It was definitely an exciting game,” captain Norman Hayes said. “It took a lot of heart from both sides just to play for as long as we did. They ended up making that last play, and we kind of fell short. But it was a great game nonetheless.”
The game was compelling from start to finish. Twice during the second half, Princeton jumped out to a seven-point lead after Epperly touchdown passes. When the Tigers seized a 35-28 advantage and picked off Harvard quarterback Conner Hempel with under five minutes to play, Princeton appeared to be in firm control.
But senior cornerback Brian Owusu saved the day for the Crimson, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Harvard. Three plays later, Hempel found senior tight end Tyler Ott in the end zone to tie the game.
The back-and-forth play continued in overtime, when the two teams traded touchdowns in the first extra period. After Princeton settled for a field goal on its second possession, junior kicker Andrew Flesher converted an important 38-yarder of his own to extend the game.
But Harvard’s luck ran out there. After another Crimson field goal, the Tigers needed just three plays for Epperly to connect with Wilson in the back corner of the end zone to win the game and silence the Harvard faithful.
The Crimson no doubt had flashbacks to the prior season—in the 2012 Harvard-Princeton meeting, Epperly found Wilson for a 36-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining to complete a 29-point fourth-quarter Tigers comeback.
“If you look at the games the last four years against [Princeton], we’ve not only had a hard time stopping them, we’ve had a hard time even slowing them down,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “One of my priorities for our defense this year is to find a way to stop Princeton, find a way to slow them down.”
While the game provided an exciting narrative, the statistics were perhaps even more compelling. By the day’s end, Epperly had thrown for a Princeton-record six touchdowns, and Hempel posted four TDs of his own. Crimson senior wide receiver Ricky Zorn amassed a career-high 168 yards in the air, and time of possession was almost dead even.
“That was a very devastating loss for us,” said sophomore running back Paul Stanton. “We lost to them the year before at the very end too, and we know that this year we can’t let that happen again. We can’t take the pedal off.”
—Staff writer David Steinbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.