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In Back-and-Forth Affair, No. 25 Harvard Football Opens Ivy League Play With 34-31 Win Over Brown

The Crimson watch from the sideline as the Brown Bears' offense sets up on September 22, 2023.
The Crimson watch from the sideline as the Brown Bears' offense sets up on September 22, 2023. By Nicholas T. Jacobsson
By Jack Canavan and Nadia A. Fairfax, Crimson Staff Writers

This past Friday, the No. 25 Harvard football team (2-0, 1-0 Ivy League) opened Ivy League play with a rivalry game against the Brown Bears (1-1) (0-1 Ivy League). The game ended in a victory for the Crimson, as it continued its 12-game winning streak against the Bears by a score of 34-31.

“Nothing we didn’t know going in,” said head coach Tim Murphy about playing against the Bears. “They always seem to have a great quarterback and other offensive players. We thought it was going to be a shootout.”

“Our kids played with so much great intensity and focus down the stretch,” he continued. “It was really something we’re looking for as a team — nothing came easy. Again, went right down to what we do at the end of a game.”

The game had a slow start for the Crimson, with Brown shutting out Harvard in the first quarter. The Bears’ defense began strong, intercepting junior quarterback Charles DePrima off a deflection to set up a touchdown by junior running back Stockton Owen. Brown continued its streak with a field goal from 30 yards away.

The Crimson responded on the final play of the first quarter with a 25-yard completion from DePrima to sophomore wide receiver Cooper Barkate, putting Harvard in good position going into the second quarter. When the game resumed at midfield, DePrima picked up 16 yards with his legs before connecting with senior tight end Tyler Neville for a 20-yard gain. Both of these plays set up Harvard for a 14-yard reception touchdown from junior running back Shane McLaughlin to narrow Brown’s lead at 10-7.

Brown responded by driving almost the entire length of the field, but was stopped short by the Crimson defense. Harvard pinned Brown at fourth and goal at the one yard line with no option of scoring. Brown was forced to punt, and the ball returned to the Crimson.

DePrima then engineered a six-play, 56-yard drive to give Harvard a lead of 14-10 just 55 seconds before halftime. During the drive, the quarterback rushed for 54 yards in total, ending in a drive touchdown for Harvard.

Junior quarterback Charles DePrima hustles with the ball at Harvard's 2023 Ivy opener against Brown on Friday night. DePrima had a career-high in rush yards, running for 113  yards and three touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Charles DePrima hustles with the ball at Harvard's 2023 Ivy opener against Brown on Friday night. DePrima had a career-high in rush yards, running for 113 yards and three touchdowns. By Angela Dela Cruz

“That one goes to the big guys up front,” said DePrima about his rushing yards during the game. “The tight ends too, just opening holes up. We went to the run a lot, even though we didn’t have a lot of time left in the drive, it was just working, so we just stuck with what was working.”

The Crimson went into halftime with the lead, as it blocked Brown’s 50 yard field goal attempt. To start off the second half, Harvard forced Brown to punt, allowing the offense to drive 77 yards across six plays, ending with a 76-yard rush by McLaughlin. This marked the running back’s second touchdown of the game, and upped the score 20-10 Harvard.

“If you look at the two running backs we’ve had over the last seven years, both of them first time All-Ivy players, unbelievable kids, and it’s a big cross to bear when you have to be like the other guys that we’ve had, and Shane’s done a terrific job,” said Coach Murphy about McLaughlin’s performance in the game. “[It] probably exceeded our expectations in the short term.”

The Bears then responded with a touchdown with a little over four minutes left in the third quarter. The Crimson were quick to respond with a six-play drive that started and ended with Barkate. The sophomore wideout opened the drive with a 12 yard catch, and ended it with a 15-yard touchdown reception to extend Harvard’s lead 27-17.

“I mean the first half we started off pretty slow, but we ended up on top in the second half,” said DePrima about his connection with Barkate. “Talked it over during halftime. You know, Cooper and I, great runs, and we’ve been practicing for a while just like everybody here, so going into that, we talked about how we’re going to target who and where. Just trusting the scheme and Cooper got open a lot of the time, and just trusting him when he does.”

Barkate, with the help of DePrima, finished the game with a career high of 132 yards and one touchdown. Although only breaking onto the scene this season, the chemistry between the quarterback and wideout has been cooking since Barkate arrived on campus last fall.

“Me and Charles have been pretty good friends for a year now,” said Barkate. “Been brewing since last fall. We started off a little slow in the first quarter, but great resilience from Charles and the rest of our offense to not deviate from our overall scheme and how well we performed. Also huge thanks to Coach Fein and Coach Murphy here for continuing to go back to us even from a slow start.”

Down 27-17 late in the third quarter, Brown took the ball and began to mount a comeback. Powered by an array of throws from quarterback Jake Willcox, the Bears drove down the field and into the end zone on a rush by running back Stockton Owen, sending the game to the fourth quarter with Harvard ahead at 27-24.

Keeping the pedal to the metal, the Harvard offense fired off a four-play, lightning-fast touchdown drive to push the Brown deficit back to ten. DePrima led the drive with a run and three downfield completions, the last of which found Neville for a 31-yard touchdown reception, pushing the Harvard lead to 34-24.

“It’s just a juice thing,” said Neville about continuing to put points on the board. “The offense really kind of prides ourselves on our juice, and DePrima really stepped it up. In the second half, he was slinging the ball and when the guys in front get excited, it’s easy for everyone to get excited. So the offensive line, they really push it. Every time we go on the field we’re ramped up, and I think that showed in the last six reps.”

Attempting to pull themselves back within one score, Brown drove the field in similar fashion behind seven Willcox throws and another touchdown from Owen, cutting the Crimson lead to 34-31.

The Crimson defensive line prepares to push the Brown Bears back during Friday night's Ivy League season opener in Harvard Stadium. Harvard defeated its Ivy foe 34-31.
The Crimson defensive line prepares to push the Brown Bears back during Friday night's Ivy League season opener in Harvard Stadium. Harvard defeated its Ivy foe 34-31. By Angela Dela Cruz

Handing Harvard the ball back with 6:41 on the game clock, Brown was unable to stop the Crimson from eating up time on a number of rushes by DePrima and McLaughlin. Having forced Brown to use their three timeouts, Harvard ended the game on a two yard McLaughlin first down, allowing Harvard to take knees and run down the clock with just under two minutes left to conclude the game.

“That was awesome,” said senior linebacker Matt Hudson about playing one of his last games as a senior. “I loved every minute of that. Under the lights, the perfect weather, awesome football, great crowd. The Brown Bears have such a cool offensive scheme. Coach Perry has some great weapons, so they threw a lot at us. It was a really good challenge. It was awesome to get away with the win.”

At the conclusion of the game, the Crimson defense continued to make impactful plays. Sophomore safety Ty Bartrum — the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week — had nine tackles. Hudson had a career high of 11 tackles.

DePrima, in the second game of his career, had a career-high in rush yards, running for 113 yards and three touchdowns. He was also recognized for his performance by the New England Football Writers Association Gold Helmet Award, which is presented by the Jack Grinold/Eastern Massachusetts Chapter of the National Football Foundation.

“Part of it is, when you play a team like this, in modern day football, you never have enough points,” said Coach Murphy on the team’s aggressiveness in scoring. “Even at the end it didn’t feel like we had enough points with the penalties not being reversed. But I thought our offensive play callers did a good job.”

“There were a couple of things that we weren’t quite there with in the first half that we worked on in the second half, talked it over during halftime,” he continued. “The execution was really in sync.”

Harvard is set to take on Holy Cross (2-1) this Saturday. The Crusaders are ranked first in the Patriot League, and sixth on the FCS Coaches Poll.

“For the kids, it’s to enjoy this,” said Coach Murphy about looking forward to the competition against Holy Cross. “You only get ten [games] a year. So enjoy this victory. We start to introduce Holy Cross tomorrow, and they’re well aware that Holy Cross is hard. Best team in the country in FCS. Should beat Boston College, and should be undefeated, but we’ll cross that bridge tomorrow.”

The Crimson kickoff next at Fitton Field at 5:00 pm EST on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Worcester, Mass.

— Staff writer Jack Canavan can be reached at jack.canavan@thecrimson.com.

— Staff writer Nadia A. Fairfax can be reached at nadia.fairfax@thecrimson.com.

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