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NOTEBOOK: Fourth Down and 51 Yards To Go

One Down, Six To Go
The Crimson scored 37 points in the first 30 minutes of its Ivy League opener against Brown on Saturday.

In just one half of play, the Harvard football team showed Brown—and the rest of the Ivy League—why it is the favorite to capture back-to-back outright conference championships.

The answer lies in a combination of offensive explosiveness and defensive smothering. The Crimson scored points at will on Saturday night at Harvard Stadium, driving the ball down the field and making the Bears pay for their turnovers. Harvard similarly outmuscled the visitors on the defensive end, wreaking havoc on Brown’s protection scheme and disrupting play after play.

The Crimson led, 37-0, entering the half. A physical Harvard squad had turned what some initially billed as a competitive game into anything but.

“We got on a roll on both sides of the ball, special teams, and it got a little bit out of hand,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “A game like that can sometimes get a little messy, and that was what occurred. But we played really hard.”

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Three consecutive plays at the beginning of the second quarter summed up the first half. Entering the frame, the Crimson held a 16-0 lead, and it was still very much anybody’s game.

The same could not be said moments later.

First, senior running back Paul Stanton capped a 50-yard touchdown drive by pushing his way through the line to score on a short third-and-goal attempt.

On the very next offensive play for the Bears, their senior quarterback, Marcus Fuller, looked to connect with a receiver downfield on the left sideline. But senior defensive back Asante Gibson jumped the route, snared the ball out of the air, and juked all the way down to Brown’s six-yard line.

With the Harvard offense back on the field, senior quarterback Scott Hosch did not hesitate, immediately hitting senior wide receiver Seitu Smith II in the back of the end zone for another touchdown. Suddenly, the score was 30-0. Even though there were 12 minutes remaining in the second quarter, the contest seemed out of reach.

The Crimson demonstrated this very explosiveness all night long. When things went poorly for the Bears, Harvard seemed to always make its opponents pay in the form of points.

“When we see our defense with so much energy, our special teams playing so well, it’s a lot of fun to go out there and just focus on our jobs and play hard, play physical,” senior offensive lineman Cole Toner said.

A BAFFLED BROWN

Over the past several years, Brown has typically given the Crimson competitive games. Last season, for instance, Harvard trailed the Bears deep into the third quarter before ultimately pulling out an eight-point victory.

Saturday’s matchup bore little resemblance to such contests. Throughout much of the first half, Brown’s offense demonstrated an inability to advance the ball with any consistency. And at other moments, the Bears committed miscues that caused their coaching staff to scratch their heads.

Take Brown’s second offensive possession of the game. On a third-and-eight at the Brown 25, senior defensive back Sean Ahern made a beeline for Fuller on the quarterback’s blindside.

Untouched by any blocker on the blitz attempt, Ahern leveled Fuller, who coughed up the football. Senior linebacker Jacob Lindsey scooped up the fumble and waltzed into the end zone for the Crimson’s first defensive touchdown of the year.

Two possessions later, it was the Bears’ special teams causing headaches. With Brown lining up to punt on its own 15-yard line, sophomore defensive back Zach Miller busted through the punt protection and blocked the attempt. The Bears then kicked the bouncing ball out of their own end zone, resulting in a safety for Harvard.

“I have no explanations for what happened out there,” Brown coach Phil Estes said. “Got a lot of work to do, I know that.”

The Bears did not register a first down in the contest until less than nine minutes remained in the second quarter. Trailing 30-0 a few minutes into that quarter, Brown had just five yards of offense to the Crimson’s 163. Estes’s team finished with three lost fumbles, one interception, and one turnover-on-downs.

ODDITIES

The few fans that stuck it out for the length of Saturday’s contest were treated to some unusual occurrences. And several came as a result of sloppy play from the Bears.

Early in the third quarter on a Bears’ punt attempt on an excessively long fourth-and-51, the long snapper fired the ball over the head of the Brown punter, causing the unit’s second safety of the game. Murphy couldn’t recall ever having coached in a game that had two safeties from the same team.

After the Bears scored their first touchdown of the game a few possessions later, senior defensive lineman James Duberg blocked Brown’s extra point attempt. Senior defensive back Jordan Becerra picked up the ball and ran it the length of the field, but the Harvard points were nullified by a Crimson penalty.

“It was just one of those days where everything seemed to go right, and just a tough day for Brown,” Murphy said. “That’s not the Brown we’re used to seeing. And if you’re in the game long enough, it happens to everybody.”

—Staff writer David Steinbach can be reached at david.steinbach@thecrimson.com.

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