Coming into the game, Harvard had never been outscored by the Toreros, holding a 3-0 series lead against its Pioneer League competitors. Though the squad lost a whopping 31 seniors since it last took the gridiron, the Crimson was coming off of a three-game win streak from the 2018 season, “antsy” to once again pick up the pigskin.
However, Harvard was noticeably lacking one significant senior. Captain Wesley Ogsbury was barred from taking the field due to a controversial helmet-to-helmet contact penalty during last year’s season finale against Yale. His emergence from the locker room at halftime certainly contributed to a last-ditch, fourth-quarter effort by Harvard to take down its California competitor. Regardless, this attempted comeback was for naught, with the “West Coast, best coast” mentality overcoming any confidence the Crimson may have held.
Ogsbury was not the only noticeable absence from the Harvard sideline. Running back Aaron Shampklin and wide receiver Tyler Adams were not in uniform for the Crimson’s opening contest. The pair of juniors are not enrolled in classes this semester, but are expected back to the team next fall.
For Harvard, the beginning of the end was spelt out within the game’s first seven seconds. The Crimson’s opening kick seemed to have relegated the Toreros to their own side of the field, but that was about the best Harvard could do. In his first throw of the game, the dead-set Sinnett launched a 65-yard pass to receiver Michael Bandy, making for the first pass, completion, and touchdown of the game. While Sinnett may have been the best a team can get, for San Diego, the addition of receiver Michael Bandy was certainly fine and dandy.
“We played what we were capable of doing on both sides of the ball,” said San Diego coach Dale Lindsey. “I mean, our offense has really been a delight, they've been a surprise. Reid [Sinnett]’s been exceptionally good – we know Bandy can play, there some other receivers there. Our offense has been able to run the ball, they sustain drives, they get the big plays.”
If history repeated itself at the start of the second quarter, the third quarter saw history stop in its tracks and turn a complete 180. The Bandy-Sinnett duet was replaced with a Smith-Chrest twosome as Harvard quarterback Jake Smith lofted a 75-yard heave to receiver Cody Chrest for the Crimson’s first touchdown of the game. The rest of the quarter saw the two teams toil through the trenches, with each Torero penalty countered by a Harvard incompletion. However, the gains that the Crimson made were rendered irrelevant – Sinnett’s mid-quarter drive down the field ended in a rushing touchdown, bringing the score to a solid 31-7.
That’s when the tides began to turn. Though the fourth-quarter was the only of its kind not to see a touchdown reception within the first ten seconds, a Smith lob to freshman tight end Kyle Klink upped the Crimson’s total by six – something that Harvard could certainly Klink it’s glass to. A sloppy San Diego drive sent the ball back into Smith’s hands, with the Crimson crusader sending an 80-yard pass to junior receiver Jack Cook for the fourth successful downfield bomb of the game.
“I just think these [last] three games have been against really, really good competition,” Lindsey said. “If you look at this Harvard team what I noticed about them is they recruited tall and guys with length. They didn’t have little short arm guys out there, all their players were tall with long arms. Coach has done a great job there. I'll tell you what, I'd like to have some of his players come here and play.”
The Toreros’ offensive hustle in the first quarter was matched by the squad’s defensive dominance – a speedy seven-play, 23-yard drive by the Crimson, their first of the afternoon, forced a punt and sent the pigskin back into the hands of Sinnett.
The next ten minutes were fatal for Harvard. The only time the competitors from Cambridge even felt the ball over the course of that period – a decade in Football Time® – was during a failed interception attempt by linebacker Jack McGowan. That was the only instance where San Diego appeared to be even close to losing possession.
“They possess the ball for 34 minutes a game,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy. “Which means they stay on the field for offense.”
Two of Bandy’s signature snags saved the Toreros from facing early-drive fourth downs, bringing San Diego to a whopping 77 yards on the drive. However, replacing Sinnett with running quarterback Alex Farina proved to be a fatal flaw for the offense; even after Sinnett was sent back out onto the field after a failed pass by Farina, the Toreros couldn’t get their mojo back. San Diego had to settle for the field goal, but those easy three points were three points better than the Crimson could do, as an unsuccessful Harvard drive sent both teams into the second quarter.
As Bandy’s reign of dominance was coming to an end, San Diego receiver Dalton Kincaid’s was just beginning. Within seven seconds, the Nevada native nabbed a Sinnett hail mary in the endzone, pushing the Toreros’ lead up to 17. A near-safety in the next play threatened to bump that lead by a pair of points, but a facemask penalty on San Diego saved the Crimson from being taken down in its own endzone.
A combination of two 19-yard rushes by Harvard running back Devin Darrington dared to put the Crimson on the scoreboard, but a missed field goal by senior kicker Jake McIntyre dashed any hopes of a first-half comeback. Sinnett, the ball back in Torero hands, decided to vary his arsenal of receivers with an 18-yard toss to Alex Spadone at the tail-end of his next drive, resulting in yet another Torero touchdown. A disheartened Harvard then ran out the clock, bringing the half – and any promise of a Crimson scoreboard appearance – to an end.
The Toreros’ latter half was defined by penalties and fumbles. However, their second-semester senior mentality was not enough to propel Harvard to victory. Down by 11, an important McIntyre field goal cut the deficit to eight points. Adding to its significance, the kick made McIntyre the school’s all-time leader in field goals.
The late kick brought the score to 31-23, a total at which the count was destined to stay. An interception by San Diego safety Daniel Tolbert with a minute left in the game cemented victory for the Toreros, bringing the bullfight to an end and leaving the Crimson seeing red.
— Staff writer James Joyce can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.