Harvard and the Bears entered tonight’s contest with diametrically opposed records, though after only one game. The Crimson approached the contest following a rare drop of a season opener to San Diego — its first lost to its opponent from the West in program history. In contrast, Brown entered on the momentum of a win, besting Bryant University last week.
The start of the contest looked to carry over the momentum from the prior week. Three plays and 34 seconds in, the visitors from Providence logged the first points of the tilt. The inaugural play from scrimmage net 53 yards as the Bears’ running back Allen Smith busted through the center of the Harvard line. The back fell 22 yards short of seven points, though it wouldn’t matter. Only an incomplete pass buffered the first play of the game from Smith’s next touch, a six-point dash through the scrambling the Crimson defense.
Rather than cede the ball back to Harvard on a normal kickoff, Brown opted for the onside. The kick tumbled into the Bears’ hands. The visiting team lifted the ball high in the air and ran celebrating back to its sideline. It was a referee whistle that quieted the celebrations. Brown had touched the ball one yard prior to its traveling of the requisite 10 yards, granting Harvard possession.
“I thought we were gonna have that,” said the Bears’ coach James Perry. “That was unfortunate… but we didn’t execute perfectly.”
The reversal of fortune didn’t shift the momentum. A low murmur of excitement could be heard from across the field, one that shifted into a cheers as junior Crimson quarterback Jake Smith tossed a pass into the hands of Brown’s Ryan Putnam. The defensive end sprinted 21 yards up the friendly sideline, granting the Bears solid field possession.
Brown looked unstoppable, driving to the Harvard five-yard line, and primed to double its lead. Things took a turn when the Bears’ quarterback — and Boston College transfer — EJ Perry muffed a snap, mishandled it again while trying to pick it up off the ground, and bobbled it once more as he dove toward the runaway pigskin. Crimson junior Nasir Darnell lept on the ball for the shift of possession, and subsequently, momentum.
“I think [I’m] just progressing as a quarterback in the system, having all the experience behind me, and having more confidence because of it,” Smith said. “I’m able to just see the defense faster, process information, and move through my routes quicker and it just makes the game slow down so much for me. It’s just going to continue to get better from here.”
The dagger that shifted the game from well within the Bears’ reach to a two-possession contest was delivered, without mercy, from Smith with only 13 seconds remaining in the half.
The drive itself came to fruition on account of Brown attempting a fourth-and-one conversion on it’s own 34-yard line. Only a single unit to go, the Bears’ Andrew Bolton wasn’t just stuffed, but tossed back for a two yard loss.
“The D-line just had a great day,” junior linebacker Jordan Hill said. “They tried to run the ball a couple of times on those third and fourth downs and those guys were just in the backfield every play.”
The Crimson took over with five seconds less than a minute to halftime. Two incomplete Smith passes, supplemented only by a six-yard run from junior Devin Darrington left Harvard at fourth-and-four. Smith converted where Brown couldn’t, nailing B.J. Watson on the right sideline for seven.
The Crimson’s march towards six looked to have been circumvented with the advent of an unnecessary roughness call. Only 23 seconds remained until the buzzer, and Harvard was forced back 15 yards and 10 seconds were drained from the clock.
With the hurried snap, Smith rocketed a strike to the back of the endzone, finding an open senior Jack Cook to cradle the toss. The Bears’ only had half a second to work with, and did nothing before trudging back to the locker room.
The touchdown put the Crimson up two scores, 21-7, going into the mid-game break, with Harvard set to receive the kick at half.
The excitement of the first half was metered by the slowdown of the second. With a strong lead, the Crimson took its time on offense, draining the clock, and scoring at the end of long drives. In the end, the time of possession battle was dominated by the Harvard squad, 38:51 to 21:09.
On third downs, Harvard allowed Brown to convert on only three of 11 attempts. In contrast, the Crimson converted on nine of 13 such attempts.
The defense limited the Bears’ quarterback Perry, last week’s FCS player of the week, to 162 yards and no touchdowns. Harvard also managed to drag him down in the backfield five times.
In addition to a transfer quarterback this season, Brown brought a brand new coaching staff as well. Taking the helm of the squad Friday for just his second game as head coach was James Perry. The Bears’ 20th head football coach helped lead the team to its second Ancient Eight title as a player in 1999. That season, the League named him Ivy League Player of the Year.
“They’re obviously a program that’s in transition,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “They’re really well-coached. We had better players today. I thought our execution through the second, third, and fourth quarter was pretty good.”
Among the highlights for the home team was the receiving corps, responsible for 28 points. Four players grabbed touchdown passes Friday night including senior Cody Chrest, junior Adam West, Cook, and Watson. Many of the wideout corps is new to the spotlight this season, boding well for Smith’s opportunities through the air.
The Harvard running backs likewise dominated Brown’s team logging 222 yards to the visitors' 90. Leading the troupe was Darrington who battled his way to 91 yards and a touchdown. New to the squad, freshman Aidan Borguet contributed 84 yards and another touchdown of his own to the team’s total.
“We did not run the ball well,” coach Perry said. “I know we hit the two runs at the beginning of the game… We tried a few critical moment runs that didn’t work, and we’ll get better at that.”
With the victory, Murphy is only five wins away from besting the all-time Ivy League wins record for a head coach.
—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @THC_CadePalmer.