Everybody was healthy in time for the big match of the year against undefeated Penn—a team that had vanquished the Crimson three years in a row.
Harvard was clearly the more battle-tested team of the two and after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, the Crimson stormed back to take the game and the Ivy League title.
Saturday, this Harvard team of destiny once again faced adversity, in the form of the Yale Bulldogs and the pressure of trying to make history. The Elis played some of their best football Saturday, scoring 23 points and picking off Rose twice.
But Harvard was, well, undefeated.
This is a season to savor for a while and nobody deserves it more than the seniors on this team. They’ve endured the endless talk about the 1997 team and the sharp criticism for losing so many close games.
But the people who made the difference on the field against Yale were those same seniors.
Players like Dan Farley and Sam Taylor—roommates, best friends and the team’s No. 2 and 3 wideouts. They’ve provided excellent blocking and sure hands, deflecting attention away from Morris and getting 8-10 catches of their own per game.
Or cornerback Willie Alford, a three-year starter who broke up a fake-punt pass play and scooped up a fumble against Yale. In a conference where the passing game is getting more wide open and the receivers are getting bigger, Alford has been one of the top cover men in the league.
And then, of course, there are both lines. On the defensive side, Phil Scherrer, Kyle Sims, Ryan FitzGerald and Laborsky shut down the run, sacked opposing quarterbacks and caused turnovers like no other defensive line of the past five years. Offensively, Steve Collins, Danny Kistler, Justin Stark and Jason Hove led the Crimson to the Ancient Eight’s top rushing attack and made sure Rose always stayed vertical in the pocket.
The final “senior” star player (save Rose, who’s returning since he still has eligibility) is fifth-year tailback Josh Staph, who put up another 100-yard effort Saturday. Despite being low on the depth chart, often injured and not even invited to camp twice in a row, Staph has managed to play his way to 492 yards rushing and eight touchdowns this season.
“He epitomizes the program,” Murphy said Saturday. “He’s the Cinderella story.”
The 2001 Harvard football team was no Cinderella. But it was a helluva story.