Before Friday night, senior quarterback Joe Viviano had never started a college game, never completed a pass, and never accounted for a touchdown.
So much for those statistics.
In the 143rd season opener for Harvard football, the senior rookie looked more like a senior than a rookie. He completed 24 of 32 passes, threw for three touchdowns, and rushed for another.
A winless Rhode Island program (0-3, 0-1 CAA) provided little resistance as the Crimson rolled to a 51-21 victory. Statement made: The three-time champions are back, and they have no interest in abdicating the throne.
“Hats off to Harvard,” Rams coach Jim Fleming said. “I think [the consistency] is a tribute to Murphy and the program…. They’ve reloaded nicely.”
On an evening when backups saw significant action, production came from all over the roster. Junior running back Semar Smith earned 107 yards on 19 carries, senior tight end Anthony Firkser caught seven balls for 111 yards, and sophomore wideout Justice Shelton-Mosley caught nine for 108 yards.
But the game ball clearly belonged to the 6’5” senior under center.
Viviano’s premier highlight came in the final two minutes of the first quarter, with the Crimson already up 14-0. Facing a third-and-seven from the Rams’ eight, Viviano backpedaled, bumped into a pass-rusher, jump-cut another, and fled the backfield.
He ended up in the end zone—an eight-yard scamper that felt more like 80. Harvard fans might forgive Viviano for the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he received for spiking the ball.
“Just having fun,” Viviano said. “[I was] pretty excited after my first run. Probably shouldn’t do that.”
By no means did the Crimson (1-0) play a perfect game. Despite not getting the start, Rhode Island quarterback Paul Mroz came in and caused problems for the Harvard secondary at times.
A crack in the defensive armor appeared late in the first half, when the Rams started on their own 45 after a kickoff. Aided by a roughing-the-passer call, Mroz marched his team to the goal line, capping the campaign with a one-yard plunge into the end zone.
By that point, though, the Crimson already held a 24-0 advantage. The hosts scored points on six of their first seven possessions; by the end of the first period, Harvard had outgained Rhode Island 158 to 36.
The Crimson’s opening drive encapsulated this dominance. On the first snap of the season, a play-action fake sent the Rams reeling and set up junior tight end Jack Barann for a 30-yard gain.