On a cool afternoon in Cambridge, it took the Harvard football team a long time to heat up.
After an ugly first half in which the Crimson tallied zero points and turned the ball over four times, Harvard (4-0, 2-0 Ivy) scored on four of its five second half drives to earn a 24-7 victory over visiting Cornell (0-4, 0-2).
Buoyed by strong defensive play that held the Big Red scoreless for 56 minutes, Harvard ultimately had enough to overcome its early struggles and earn its second conference victory of the season.
“The defense is the whole story,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “Even if we score 40 points, it all starts with the defense, and the defense today was downright heroic. It dominated the line of scrimmage, really gave [Cornell] nothing.”
While the Crimson defense was outstanding all game long, for the offense, the first and second halves could hardly have been more different. Harvard’s one chance at a first-half score came at the end of the second quarter, but senior kicker Andrew Flesher clanked a 43-yard field goal attempt off the right post.
But once the sun finally emerged from the clouds in the second half, the Crimson offense came roaring to life. Harvard scored points on three consecutive drives to take a 17-0 lead that its defense would not relinquish.
On its first drive of the second half, with junior running back Paul Stanton returning from injury, the Crimson rode a series of runs and passes deep into Cornell territory.
On fourth-and-14 at the Big Red 24-yard line, Murphy elected to go for it. The gamble paid off big time, as junior quarterback Scott Hosch found a wide-open sophomore tight end Anthony Firkser on the left side of the field for the easy touchdown.
The Crimson added to its point total on the very next drive. After Hosch connected with Firkser for a 35-yard gain and converted on another fourth down, Flesher stepped on and confidently punched in a 23-yard field goal to make it a two-possession game.
Just minutes after forcing another Cornell punt, Hosch and Stanton teamed up to lead a seven-play, 60-yard drive highlighted by a leaping, 22-yard catch by junior tight end Ben Braunecker over the middle. Harvard pushed the score to 17-0 when Stanton punched in a three-yard touchdown run up the middle.
“[Cornell] had a lot of different looks and did a great job bringing pressure,” Hosch said. “I missed a couple of opportunities in the first half that I should have taken advantage of, but I knew if we kept plugging away that we'd break through.”
Saturday represented a banner day for the Harvard defense. The Crimson front seven was stalwart all game long, allowing just 35 net rushing yards on 34 Cornell attempts.
Senior defensive end Zack Hodges finished with two sacks on the day, with the first putting him in sole possession of the all-time Harvard record.
“We talk about putting our brick on the wall that is Harvard football,” Hodges said. “It's nice to be able to at least partially—we'll see how the season finishes—but put my brick up there in [a few] months, with all those 10,000 men who did it before me."
Constant pressure on freshman quarterback Jake Jatis, coupled with a flock of defenders crashing on all running plays, held Cornell to just 53 yards in the half. The first time Cornell moved the chains came with just under four minutes remaining in the first half.
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