In 2011, Colton Chapple and the Harvard football team cruised to an easy 42-3 victory over Bucknell. Before the teams’ rematch on Saturday, I was expecting a fairly similar story.
Yes, Bucknell had the third-best rush defense in the FCS. And sure, Harvard coach Tim Murphy had said earlier in the week that the Bison defense would be one of the best the Crimson faced all season.
But through four games, the only thing that had any success in slowing down the Crimson attack was some early-season rust in Week One.
And since that 28-13 victory over San Diego, the Harvard offense had mowed down everything in its path. In Weeks Two through Four, Harvard averaged an ungodly 47.3 points per game—and even that understated the Crimson’s historic dominance. In two of those three games, Murphy pulled a number of starters long before the final whistle.
It’s not just the offense that made opposing Division I squads look like Pee Wee challengers.
The Harvard defense had done its fair share as well—against Cornell, especially. Facing one of the most potent offenses in the league and a quarterback with legitimate NFL potential, the defense played the iceberg to Cornell’s Titanic, allowing just 13 points in an easy 32-point win.
On Saturday, as expected, the Crimson won the battle against the Bucknell handily. By the end, that familiar plot line had emerged: Harvard had amassed an insurmountable lead by the half, the starters were pulled, and then the backups tried to put something together while the clock ticked toward zero.
And as expected, the Harvard defense had no problem against a Bison offense that, for most of the game, looked hopeless in trying to string together a drive. Only in the game’s waning moments did Bucknell get on the board.
But what didn’t I expect? In the first quarter, a seemingly different Crimson offense took the field. The attack that had ruthlessly bulldozed opposing defenses was asleep at the wheel.
For the first time all year, the Crimson failed to score on its opening drive. In that first quarter, senior quarterback Colton Chapple, who had completed 71.3 percent of his passes in the previous three games, went one for six with a couple bad overthrows and a pick.
Senior running back Treavor Scales, boasting 6.8 yards per rush entering Saturday, only averaged 3.8 on five carries in the first 15 minutes of Saturday’s game.
The Crimson only managed to score in that opening quarter thanks to a fortuitous fumble recovery deep in Bison territory. Even with that, Harvard held a tenuous 7-0 lead after one.
And you had to ask yourself: Was this going to be a game? Would Bucknell be the team—finally—to snap the Crimson’s nation-best winning streak?
The second quarter very starkly provided that answer: no.
As rough as Chapple was in the first quarter, he was that good in the second, completing nine of 11 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Add in a 58-yard touchdown run from freshman Andrew Fischer, and the Crimson had opened up a commanding 28-0 lead by the half. That was that.