SAN DIEGO--In its first-ever trip to Torero Stadium, the Harvard football team put an end to San Diego’s 13-game home winning streak.
Over 3000 miles from home, the Crimson never relinquished its lead en route to a dominant 42-20 victory. Junior quarterback Conner Hempel answered many questions in his first game as Harvard’s starter. Aided by an offensive line that allowed zero sacks on the day, he totaled 383 offensive yards—345 passing and 38 rushing—and four touchdowns with no picks.
“The line did a great job,” Hempel said. “I think that’s a strong point in my game—getting out of the pocket, seeing what happens down the field, and the receivers today did a great job getting open.”
Down by 15 points with 3:50 remaining, Toreros quarterback Mason Mills was picked off by junior cornerback Norman Hayes. Three plays later, Hempel found sophomore receiver Andrew Fischer, who weaved his way into the end zone to put the Crimson solidly ahead, 42-20.
“There’s a ton of room for improvement,” coach Tim Murphy said. “But we know we have a quarterback, and I thought that Conner more than anything played with a lot of poise and discipline, and made plays. Some of it was good execution by everybody, and some of it was good improvisation.”
Hayes also had 12 tackles to lead the defense, followed by senior DJ Monroe, who nearly picked off Mills twice and tallied eight tackles.
With the offense sputtering on its first drive, the defense scored Harvard’s first points of the year. With 5:22 left in the opening quarter, junior linebacker Conner Sheehan pressured Mills into coughing the ball up at the 47-yard line. Junior defensive end Zach Hodges scooped the ball and sprinted down the sideline for a score to give Harvard the early 7-0 lead.
“Coach Murphy always preaches playing through adversity,” Hodges said. “Two plays before that, I kind of caught a cramp, so I was like, ‘Oh, here’s adversity,’ so when I saw the ball, I was just hoping, ‘Please don’t get walked down,’ but we knew it was going to be a fight. We like a fight.”
After totaling just three offensive yards in the first quarter, Hempel showed why he won the starting job on his second drive.
In his first start as Harvard’s play-caller, the junior showed flashes of his dual-threat ability, scrambling for 30 yards and passing for another 29 on the Crimson’s first offensive scoring drive.
Sophomore Paul Stanton danced his way through defenders into the end zone to finish the drive with a touchdown. His scamper came just plays after a big run of his was brought back on a penalty. The score gave Harvard a 14-3 lead.
The Toreros answered back with ten unanswered points to close out the half. Montell Allen pushed his way into the end zone to bring the Toreros within four, and then a failed fake punt attempt following a three-and-out gave the Toreros the ball back at Harvard’s 30-yard line.
San Diego settled for a field goal before the teams headed into halftime with the Crimson up, 14-13.
After a slow start in the first half, the Crimson came out firing. With a 14-13 lead, Hempel drove the team down the field, finding Andrew Berg down the left sideline for a 34-yard gain before hitting Fischer in the back of the end zone to give the Crimson a 21-13 lead.
“[The touchdown] was huge,” Murphy said. “It started the momentum, and we really just never came off of it.”