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Harvard coach Tim Murphy’s defensive philosophy is to make the other team play “left-handed”—to shut down an opponent’s strength, which is almost always the running game, and to force passes the secondary can predict. Against Princeton, the Crimson defense knew what was coming, but until the first overtime possession, stopping it was a different matter altogether.
Harvard entered the game surrendering an average of 102.6 yards per game on the ground. Tiger running back Jon Veach had 111 by the half, en route to 205 total yards—a personal high and the sixth-best in Princeton history.
“Jon is a complete back,” said Princeton coach Roger Hughes. “He runs, he reads well, He’s a tough kid. He has great hands and he understands football…it’s not surprising to me that Jon Veach had this kind of day.”
It was Princeton’s featured back Branden Benson that the Crimson had worried about defending during mid-week practice, but Veach’s first drive established him as the man to watch.
After putting the Tigers inside Harvard territory by slicing through the defensive line for two 11-yard rushes in his first three carries, Veach took a handoff from quarterback Matt Verbit and blasted through an open hole at the line of scrimmage. Once on the other side, there was just daylight for the supposed second-stringer, as he outraced Crimson senior free safety Chris Raftery to the end zone for the 49-yard score.
“We knew they had two very good backs,” Murphy said. “But to be completely honest, they had featured the other kid [Benson] most of the time and we were under the impression that was who they were going to go with.”
Those misconceptions were swept away with that rush of early-game Princeton momentum, as was all Benson’s playing time.
The 73 rushing yards Veach gained on that opening drive were just the beginning of the most explosive offensive performance posted by a single player against the Crimson this season. Carrying the ball 34 times for 205 net yards and two touchdowns, Veach outrushed each of Harvard’s first five opponents by at least 38 yards.
With his offensive line creating huge gaps in the Crimson’s defensive front, Veach scampered from side to side with impunity, eight times rushing for at least 10 yards on a single carry.
“Our offensive line did a great job,” Veach said. “Sometimes the plays went where they were designed to go, and sometimes we took them in other directions. As long as the line keeps coming off the ball, we’ll be able to run the ball on anybody.”
But without Veach’s determination on the ground, that might not have been true.
At the Harvard five-yard line with 9:58 remaining in the fourth quarter and trailing by seven, Princeton once again turned to Veach, who did not disappoint.
Hitting the hole at full speed, Veach looked as though he would burst untouched into the end zone to pull within one, but a pair of Crimson defenders collapsed on him at the two-yard line, stopping his forward progress. The halt was only temporary as the 5’10 back, on the strength of a second and then a third effort, forced his way across the goal line, dragging the larger defenders along with him.
Usually, though, Veach just slipped behind them.
Sliding into open space created by an intense Harvard pass rush, Veach provided Verbit with a reliable safety valve when the pressure got to be too intense, as it frequently did.
On another occasion, he might have just taken a couple of passes thrown his way and picked up a few short gains. But this was Veach’s afternoon in the sun and the Crimson defense just couldn’t touch him.
Catching four passes for 46 yards and one touchdown, Veach wiggled his way through the Harvard secondary, his lateral motion in the open field baffling the weary and banged up Crimson cornerbacks.
His touchdown catch in the second quarter that extended Princeton’s lead to 14-6 should have just been a shovel pass for a three-yard gain. Instead, Veach slipped through a tackle and darted past two would-be pursuers for his second score on the day.
“It was absolutely part of our game plan,” Hughes said. “We felt that [getting] our running backs isolated on their linebackers was a key and that was a matchup we were trying to get all day.”
But fate would not allow the day to be Veach’s and in the end Princeton’s failure would be his.
With the game on the line in the first overtime, the Tigers turned to Veach. Finally, Harvard was ready.
As he took the first handoff of the first overtime possession and darted across the line, senior linebacker Juano Queen put him to the turf immediately after just a one-yard gain. Senior defensive end Brad Payne and junior linebacker Bobby Everett saw to it that Veach met the same end on the next rush.
Veach didn’t touch the ball again and, for Princeton, the game was already over.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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