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NOTEBOOK: Some Positives in Princeton

Little-known fact: on October 26, 1813, the United States invaded Canada. Fortunately for the people of Quebec, poor training and a lack of resources ultimately hindered the American effort to overtake our northern neighbor (but I’d say our revenge was sweeter than a jug of Montreal’s finest maple syrup). However, when it came to the War of 1812 as a whole, the tides turned - the once-defeated American army went on to successfully fend off the United States from the British and their Canadian allies.

On the very same day as that Canadian invasion, albeit 206 years later, the Crimson found itself in a very similar situation.

“Everybody’s ready to go to war,” said Harvard running back BJ Watson before this Saturday’s contest against Princeton. “That’s what this is. We're ready to go to war because that's what this is all about.”

Like the US, the Crimson ended up falling to its rival, losing its battle with the Tigers by a margin of a single touchdown - the squad’s first conference loss of the season. However, with four games to go, Harvard isn’t out of the running for the Ivy League title just yet. The War of 2019 is still anyone’s game.

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A PRETTY SPECIAL SQUAD

Going into this weekend’s matchup, the Crimson led the nation in blocked kicks. On Saturday, Harvard’s special teams squad proved its dominance once again, thwarting a Princeton PAT-attempt and clinging to its position atop the record list.

This season has been marked by the Crimson’s command of the kick. On the other side of the pigskin, the crusaders from Cambridge have been just as effective. Senior kicker Jake McIntyre completed his 31st career field goal earlier this year, breaking Harvard’s all-time record with a successful peg through the posts against San Diego. Since then, the Orlando, Fla. native has been unstoppable, blasting an unobstructed three extra points and PAT at Powers Field this weekend.

In a post-game interview, Crimson coach Tim Murphy credited special teams trainer Jon Poppe with Harvard’s kick-time control, applauding the coach for “tak[ing] a lot of pride” in his work.

On the punt front, Harvard’s stats have been very similar. The Crimson leads the Ancient Eight in net punting yards, averaging just over 39 yards per punt. Though this may not be indicative of special-teams dominance in and of itself, the trend continues when it comes to other punting statistics - Harvard ranks toward the top of the conference in both total punt yards and touchbacks, second only to Cornell.

POACHING THE PIGSKIN

Toward the very beginning of this weekend’s contest, things weren’t looking to great for the Crimson. Before the game’s main plotline even began, Princeton receiver Jacob Birmelin snatched a Kevin Davidson-bomb in the endzone, marking the fifth time that Harvard was scored on by its opponent within their first drive.

Tasked with responding to the Tigers’ attack was none other than Crimson quarterback Jake Smith. However, it quickly became apparent that the junior was not up to the task. After a single first down completion, Smith’s lob was picked off by the Princeton defense. Smith’s throws would go on to be picked off twice more.

“Those were terrific plays,” Tigers coach Bob Surace said. “I thought we did a good job disrupting [Smith] when he threw it into coverage. Other than the one we boomeranged back to them, we did a good job capitalizing.”

Those three picks brought Smith’s “passes had intercepted” count up to eight on the season. For comparison, the Princeton offense has only been picked off twice - first in the Ivy League and third in the nation.

RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT

For Harvard, this weekend’s contest will tell all. Unless the Crimson can take down the undefeated Big Green, it’s a near-certainty that November’s Dartmouth-Princeton battle, to be fought at Yankee Stadium, will determine the outcome of the Ivy League championship.

This year has been a walk in the park for the Big Green. Dartmouth’s 35-6 takedown of the Jacksonville Dolphins has set the tone for the season; its most challenging game was a 13-point win against Penn. The Big Green offense is championed by quarterback Jared Gerbino, who, in contrast to Smith, has not yet been picked off this season.

Add that to Dartmouth’s impressive defense, and the Big Green has not yet faced a formidable opponent. That all changes this Saturday at Harvard Stadium.

Will Dartmouth’s special teams squad be up to facing its Crimson challenger? Can Jake Smith continue his touchdown-streak without being picked off? Regardless, for Harvard, the war for the Ivy League title continues this weekend.

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