Down a touchdown to Columbia with much of the first half in the books—what Harvard coach Tim Murphy later called “the sloppiest half of football we’ve played this year”—the Crimson football team looked like it was in trouble.
With only seven league games, each one is vital to a title run. So, even in Saturday’s contest, which was billed as a tune-up for the Crimson, an exhibition match against a featherweight before stacking up against the big boys, victory was critical. A loss, and Harvard’s title chances might’ve been KO-ed.
Victory midway through the first half looked anything but assured. Much of that can be attributed to an underrated Lions team, whose record belies its talent.
But more importantly, after the Harvard football team took the field at WienStadium, very quickly it became clear that the typically error-free Crimson offense had gone missing.
In those first 30 minutes of play, the Harvard attack looked like it forgot that only NFL teams get bye weeks.
An interception and two fumbles—one of which was lost—cost the Crimson dearly in those first two quarters.
But an even bigger problem early on was the Crimson offensive line. On Saturday, Harvard’s feel-good story of the year didn’t look so good.
Unable to handle the strong Columbia D-line, the jumpy Crimson O-line committed false start after false start in the first half.
The Harvard attack looked to be battling two opponents: the Columbia defense and itself.
And so Murphy, who knows a thing or two about coaching, stepped in, pulling the offense aside after an early drive.
“I said, ‘[Have] poise.’ One of the characteristics that has been so strong this year has been poise, especially for a young offensive line group,” Murphy said. “I wouldn’t say we lost it, but we were kind of on the edge there. After that, we settled down a bit.”
And soon after, the penalties faded away, the mistakes went by the wayside, and the vaunted, record-book-defacing Harvard offense found its form.
While the Crimson failed to score 40 or more points for the fifth straight game—the first time that would have happened since the 19th century—Winters and his receivers put on a show. It is New York City, after all.
Throwing for 323 yards, Winters showed off his arm all day on Saturday, despite the first-half offensive troubles. With the senior behind center, third-and-25 became doable. Of course, a porous Lions secondary helped Winters’ cause.
But the Harvard gunslinger’s biggest weapon may not be his cannon-like appendage, but rather his arsenal of receivers.