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UPDATED: November 21, 2015, at 8:15 p.m .
NEW HAVEN, Conn.—The stage was bigger. The stakes were higher. But for the Harvard football team, it was just another day at the office on Saturday against Yale.
The Crimson relied on the same formula that propelled it to eight wins in nine games earlier this season. On offense, familiar faces continued to rack up yardage. On defense, a cohesive, senior-laden unit made stops and held firm when pressured.
The result rang out loud and clear on the scoreboard at the end of the afternoon: Harvard 38, Yale 19. The victory marked the Crimson’s ninth consecutive positive outcome in The Game and, more importantly, the program’s third straight Ivy League championship.
“The third straight time making history, it’s something that the senior class will be able to talk about for the rest of our lives,” senior tight end Ben Braunecker said. “I’m just so proud of the way we did it.”
Senior quarterback Scott Hosch led the charge on the offensive end with four touchdown passes and 320 yards, breaking the Harvard all-time single-season passing record in the process. Freshman wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley reeled in two of those scores and rushed for another, while Braunecker contributed his own pair of receiving touchdowns.
The Crimson (9-1, 6-1 Ivy) trailed for only 57 seconds on Saturday. After surrendering an early Yale (6-4, 3-4) score, the visitors dashed off 31 unanswered points to seize a commanding lead. After 42 minutes of silence, the Bulldogs offense finally began churning in the fourth quarter. But it was too little, too late.
“They score 45 points a game—they’re going to score,” Yale coach Tony Reno said. “We expected them to do that…. They’ve got some explosive kids who are hard to play in coverage.”
Saturday’s game represented the final collegiate contest for a host of Crimson seniors on both sides of the ball. But a bright future was also on display at the Yale Bowl Saturday afternoon in the form of Shelton-Mosley.
The freshman’s first score of the day came early in the game on a 53-yard throw-and-catch. With Yale lined up to defend the pass on third-and-nine, Shelton-Mosley showcased his dangerous speed—outrunning his defender and, seemingly, the ball itself—to reel in the Hosch lob and tie the game at seven.
If Shelton-Mosley’s first touchdown demonstrated his explosiveness, the second showcased his agility. With the ball at the Yale 35-yard line early in the second quarter, the freshman hauled in a short reception, juked a defender in the middle of the field, and beat the remaining blue-and-white jerseys to the pylon for the score.
An eight-yard sweep in the fourth quarter capped off the day for Shelton-Mosley and simultaneously iced the game for the Crimson. The freshman finished with 119 receiving yards.
“[Shelton-Mosley] makes routine plays great,” Hosch said. “He just made me look good all year, and I know that I would not have had the success I had if not for him.”
Meanwhile, Braunecker’s reliable set of hands was perhaps equally critical on a day when Harvard struggled at times to run the ball. On the team’s final drive of the first half, Braunecker completed an 89-yard drive with an 18-yard leaping touchdown reception in the back corner of the end zone.
With the Crimson up 14 points coming out of halftime, Braunecker reared his head once more to deal the Bulldogs a blow. Though 10 of the drive’s 13 plays were rushes, the decisive strike came on a third-down, two-yard pass to the tight end.
Of course, Harvard only managed to create such separation thanks to a dominant defensive performance in the middle stages of the game. After surrendering a touchdown on the first drive, the Crimson defense allowed a total of 28 yards over the subsequent five possessions.
Much of the defense’s success throughout the day stemmed from its ability to stop the run. An active front seven—paced by 11 tackles from senior linebacker Jacob Lindsey—held Yale to 34 net rushing yards on the afternoon. The Bulldogs thus became one-dimensional at times, as evidenced by the 65 pass attempts from quarterback Morgan Roberts.
For his own part, Roberts completed 38 of those attempts for 410 yards and two touchdowns. The quarterback’s main target was wide receiver Christopher Williams-Lopez, who racked up 169 yards and a touchdown in the air.
But after surrendering a season-high 35 points in the team’s first loss in 22 outings last week against Penn, the Crimson defense had the last word on Saturday. In particular, the unit stifled Yale on third down, allowing only five conversions on 18 attempts.
“We knew we had a game plan where we were going to stop the run, force them to pass it,” captain Matt Koran said. “We thought we liked the matchups on the perimeter. Our DBs really held it down.”
After a tight offseason quarterback battle, Harvard coach Tim Murphy officially named Hosch the starter less than a week prior to the first game. The senior repeatedly answered the bell at crucial moments throughout the 2015 campaign.
Saturday was no exception. With senior running back Paul Stanton sidelined due to injury, Hosch had to shoulder a heavier load. Touchdown passes of 53, 35, and 18 yards demonstrated the quarterback’s ability to throw the deep ball. The new owner of the Harvard single-season passing record also led the team with 60 yards on the ground.
“We’ve always appreciated Scotty, but to be perfectly honest, he continues to just absolutely amaze us,” Murphy said. “Probably the best decision maker we have had here at the quarterback position in my 22 years.”
Wins from Harvard, Penn, and Dartmouth on Saturday mean that the Ivy League title will be shared between the three teams. The co-championship marks the first time in Harvard football history that the program has captured three straight titles.
As dusk rolled in and parcels of the Yale contingent from the 52,000-plus in attendance trudged toward the exits, that impressive reality likely began to take hold for the Crimson players. Especially for the senior class, which only experienced four defeats in as many years in Cambridge.
For these outgoing faces, a victory in the 132nd edition of The Game represents an exclamation point.
“Just so proud of our kids and coaches,” Murphy said. “We beat a very good football team today. We needed to play our best game of the year to get this done, and that’s what we did.”
— Staff writer David Steinbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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