Two weeks ago, Harvard football lay in ruins.
Princeton had just demolished the Crimson, 52-17. That result exposed holes in the defense and hung Harvard with two league losses. The Crimson left injured and demoralized.
Then began an unlikely transformation. In the past two weeks, Harvard has revived a moribund season. In week six, the Crimson stormed back to top Dartmouth, 25-22. And last Saturday, in week seven, Harvard ripped off 21 straight points to unseat Columbia (6-2, 3-2 Ivy).
After that 21-14 victory, Harvard (5-3, 3-2) controls its destiny once more. If the Crimson closes with wins over Penn and Yale, then the program will share the Ivy League championship.
GET RICHIE QUICK
In his first two seasons, junior defensive tackle Richie Ryan played in 19 games and recorded 1.5 sacks. Last Saturday, in 60 dominant minutes against Columbia, he tallied 2.5.
On a day when freshman quarterback Jake Smith threw four interceptions in the first 20 minutes, the Harvard defense salvaged the game, holding the Lions scoreless in the second and third quarters. And in the final minutes, Crimson tacklers clinched the win by halting Columbia’s final drive.
The defensive line deserved special credit. Lions quarterback Anders Hill faced pressure all afternoon and took eight sacks. Before Saturday, Hill ranked as the Ancient Eight’s second-most prolific passer with 1,838 yards. He never got in his rhythm against the Crimson and finished with 184 yards and two interceptions.
Ryan led the pass rush. The 275-pound veteran forced a strip-sack late in the third quarter. He pummeled Hill on second-and-10, and teammate Kelvin Apari recovered at the Columbia 39.
Besides his sacks, Ryan added another tackle for a loss and stuffed the lone designed run on the Lions’ final drive. For his efforts, the junior was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week.
Ryan’s production proved especially crucial given depth issues on the defense. Junior defensive lineman DJ Bailey sat out the game, and Apari sustained a lower-body injury in the second half.
“I think we have some of the best athletes in the league,” said senior defensive lineman Stone Hart. “This is a year where anyone can beat anyone, so it’s just about doing your job, staying focused, and not giving up.”
It took Jake Smith weeks to win the starting quarterback job. On Saturday, it took him less than 20 minutes to jeopardize it.
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No One Could’ve Predicted This Season for FootballIf the Crimson’s defense continues to play with such poise and an evident sense of urgency, Harvard has a prime opportunity to enter the Yale Bowl with a shot at the league title.