Aside from the obvious geographical differences, California and Cambridge aren’t all that different. The two locales each featured a plethora of both shorts and pants this week as the temperature rose to an acceptable 75 degrees, each has contributed a Speaker to the House of Representatives (bonus points if you can name both!), and the two serve as built-in bookends to the continental United States. However, as Harvard takes on the Brown Bears this Friday at home, the Crimson is hoping that its game in Cambridge is nothing like the trial it faced in San Diego last weekend.
“The bottom line is that [San Diego] had two games under their belt with another fourteen days to prepare before us,” said Crimson coach Tim Murphy of his squad’s 31-23 loss to the Toreros. “They were a much more synchronized, battle-tested team than we were. They played really well the first half, and we just struggled in all phases.”
For Harvard, last Saturday’s game against San Diego was lost in the first seven seconds. On the first play of the game, Torero quarterback Reid Sinnett launched a 65-yard bomb down the gridiron to put seven points on the scoreboard. Another endzone-bound toss within the first ten seconds of the next quarter cemented San Diego’s lead, a difference to which the Crimson was unable to catch up.
“I’m obviously never happy when we take an L,” Harvard quarterback Jake Smith said. “I think there's a lot of things to learn off of that first half, but then second half we really stepped it up. And we're really an improved offense and defense – an improved whole team, for that matter. I'm proud of the way that my teammates came up in the second half.”
The latter half of the Crimson’s crusade against San Diego not only saw a near-comeback, but it featured a shattered record by Harvard kicker Jake McIntyre. The senior set the all-time Crimson record for field goals by completing the 31st of his career, a cause for celebration in a game that was written off as a Harvard loss. However, in talking about his record, McIntyre cites his coach and teammates as the real heroes.
“I've been really, really blessed over the last four years to have Coach Murphy's support,” said McIntyre of his record-breaking career. “You know, it's really nice if you can rely on the guys around you. And I've always been able to do that. So that's made it a hell of a lot easier.”
“Jake McIntyre not only arguably the best kicker we’ve had in my tenure, but he’s also one of the greatest kids,” Murphy said. “When you’re a specialist, it’s not easy to be a leader on the team – a lot of times, you’re isolated at practice, yet Jake is one of the most highly respected kids on our team. He’s someone all of our kids really have great feelings about. He’s made an impact beyond becoming the highest scoring kicker in school history.”
Though McIntyre’s kick was certainly the highlight of the second half, it was supplemented by a complete 180 in Crimson gameplay. A pair of touchdowns led to a near-Harvard victory; Coach Murphy hopes to keep this momentum going into Harvard’s Friday night game against the Bears.
“Playing as we did in the second half was certainly a morale boost, it was very positive,” Murphy said. “I think the reality is that we put it behind us. We got our Ivy League opener this week, under the lights on ESPN, and our energy should be great and it is.”
Although the Crimson is still recovering from a first-game loss, Brown is doing quite the opposite. Their 35-30 win against Bryant last Saturday propelled them to 1-0 for season as they claw their way to Cambridge. However, if history is any indicator, Harvard should be hopeful going into the match – the Crimson has come away with a victory in their last nine home games against the Bears.
“I think we're just super focused and ready to get going with Ivy League play,” Smith said. “It's been a while since we've had an Ivy League competition – our last game was Yale, the weekend before Thanksgiving last year. We're excited to get back into it.”
Standing in Harvard’s way of increasing its nine-game streak to ten is Brown quarterback EJ Perry. Perry, a transfer from Boston College, will be returning to his home-turf as he looks to continue his stellar first-week performance.
“The thing that’s really helped Brown is that they got the transfer quarterback from Boston College,” Murphy said. “He had an electrifying first game. He was the Ivy League Player of the Week for Brown and was a finalist for National Player of the Week. He’s given them some instant swagger on the offensive side of the ball. Like any great quarterback, he’s a gamechanger.”
“I think they have a really good team this year,” McIntyre said. “They got a quarterback who transferred from BC who put up some major stats last week against Bryant. But I'm confident.”
Adding to that confidence may be the evening-time environment of Friday’s game. Not only will Harvard’s battle against the Bears be fought at home, but it will transpire under the lights – a prospect that Murphy sees as “exciting” (or “lit,” as the cool kids say).
“So many of our kids grew up with Friday Night Lights during high school football,” Murphy said. “They love playing at night. I think the only challenge is that obviously it’s a pretty short week coming off of a West Coast trip – it’s basically two practices.”
For the Crimson, this will be a game of returns: a return home, a return to Ivy League play, and, in the eyes of McIntyre, a return to Harvard victory.
“We're ready to come play and start Ivy League play out the right way,” McIntyre said. “I think everyone's going to be pretty pumped to get back out here and finally get a game in our stadium. I think it'll be a good result, but we'll see on Friday.”