WORCESTER--The game hung in the balance for over three hours. Starting in the fourth quarter, the Harvard football team traded scores with Holy Cross. Each team scored crucial touchdowns in the closing minutes of play.
The trend continued in overtime. On each squad’s first two possessions, the Crusaders and Harvard both managed to push the ball into the end zone. But for Harvard, the third time was the charm.
After the defense forced a Holy Cross missed field goal, the Crimson finally had a chance to put the game away. And sophomore running back Paul Stanton would not be denied. On the Crimson’s third possession of overtime, the sophomore running back took the ball into the end zone from 17 yards out for the game-winning touchdown.
It took three overtimes to get there, but Harvard ended on top, winning 41-35 in Worcester, Mass.
“For much of the game they really outplayed us and outcoached us,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “Our defense was really heroic in keeping us in the game. At the end of the day, our kids showed tremendous resiliency and I’m so proud of the character of our football team.”
The Crimson demonstrated resilience all day long. While Holy Cross outgained Harvard 461 yards to 342, the Crimson made vital plays down the stretch when it needed them most.
With just over three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, it looked as if Harvard was down and out. Holy Cross had marched from its own nine-yard line down the field into Crimson territory. Then, on a second down, Crusaders quarterback Peter Pujals found wide receiver Nate Stanley streaking down the right sideline for a 20-yard touchdown completion. For the first time all game, Holy Cross had seized the lead, 21-14.
But Harvard quarterback junior Conner Hempel did not let that last long. On a crucial third down, Hempel dipped and dodged to evade several Crusaders defenders and pick up the first down. Three plays later, senior tight end Cam Brate found an opening in the back of the end zone. Just like that, the game was tied at 21. Harvard needed just under two and a half minutes to march 84 yards down the field.
“We had a play drawn up for [Brate],” Hempel said. “He beat one guy and was double-covered, but force it to Brate, that’s my motto. For a clutch play, you can throw it to Brate because he’s going to make it.”
In the first overtime, both teams punched the ball in for touchdowns. After Pujals converted a third-and-five pass for a score, Hempel responded with a short touchdown pass to senior tight end Tyler Ott.
The same thing happened in the second period of extra time. Stanton, who finished the game with 158 total yards and two touchdowns, pushed his way through the Crusaders line for the score. Pujals responded in turn with another touchdown pass.
Finally, in the third overtime, the Crimson defense made the crucial stop, and the Harvard offense would capitalize to seal the hard-fought victory.
The win was the team’s first at Holy Cross since 2005.
Nearly forgotten in the dramatic affair was that Hempel left the game midway through the first half with a hyperextended knee. The junior was replaced by senior Michael Pruneau, but Hempel returned to the game in the third quarter and seemed to be at full strength.
The Crusader defense didn’t seem to mind which of the two Crimson quarterbacks was in the game. Despite eventually coming out on top, the Harvard offense struggled to move the ball for much of the game. Holy Cross won the time of possession battle, controlling the ball for 35:21 in regulation, as the Crimson offense struggled to keep its defense off the field. At halftime, Harvard only accumulated 88 total yards. Through the end of the third quarter, Harvard had only thrown for a total of 80 yards.
Harvard Faces Holy Cross Road Test
NOTEBOOK: Harvard Football Wins Rare Overtime GameThe last time a Harvard football game extended past regulation, it beat Yale in triple overtime, eight years ago. Saturday, it took just as many extra periods to down Holy Cross, but the Crimson eventually emerged victorious, 41-35.
Undefeated Crimson Travels to CornellThis Saturday, when the Crimson travels to Schoellkopf Field, it will attempt to extend its unbeaten record to four games and notch its second Ancient Eight win against a struggling Big Red team.
Second Half Surge Leads Football to Victory, 41-18
Football to Put Road Win Streak on Line at Holy Cross