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It felt like déjà vu.
Against Holy Cross last week, Harvard scored 14 points in the first 16 minutes. The offense looked unstoppable. The Crimson and the Crusaders looked about as well-matched as two right shoes. But after that second score, the wheels fell off, and Harvard only managed to tack on eight more points the rest of the way.
So naturally, when the Crimson scored 14 unanswered points in 17 minutes on Friday night to again take a commanding early lead, I felt like I was living Harvard coach Tim Murphy’s recurring nightmare.
But then I realized that things had changed. This wasn’t the same ragtag bunch that had taken Fitton Field last week. This was a team—and a damn good one.
Sure, there were some mistakes on Harvard’s part. The offensive line was porous at times and committed too many penalties. And for much of the middle two quarters, the offense looked as stagnant as it had last weekend in Worcester. Colton Chapple had a grand total of 16 passing yards in the third quarter (though a lot of that had to do with the rain).
But ultimately I think Murphy captured it best when during the post-game press conference, he nodded the entire time. And when Chapple answered questions, Murphy had trouble hiding his smile and looked like a doting father.
There had to have been a lot of smiling and nodding from the Harvard football faithful against Brown. Because on Friday night, so many great story lines emerged.
The first has become clichéd in the sport of football (it happened a few miles down I-95 in Foxboro a decade ago, in case you forgot). The veteran starter gets hurt. The largely untested backup is thrust into the limelight. And he steps in brilliantly.
This same story line emerged once more against Brown, when Chapple filled in beautifully for the injured Collier Winters. Other than one pick off a tipped ball, the junior played fairly flawlessly, especially given the horrific throwing conditions. Even if he sees no more action in 2011, the Georgia native has proved himself capable and ready of taking the reins next season.
But Chapple’s most impressive skill? He knew exactly how to use his receivers, especially Cameron Brate–just lob it up near him and let the 6’5 beast do his thing.
Last weekend, when the sophomore tight end made a few big catches, we asked, “Who is this kid?”
Now we know. And after his one-handed, highlight-reel, leave-your-mouth-wide-open catch in the second quarter, so does everyone else. Brate has emerged as the go-to guy on a talented receiving corps.
But while the offense shined—and it did—it was the Harvard defense that owned the night.
After last week’s gaffes, its vaunted secondary solved all of its problems, and then some. Senior defensive back Matthew Hanson did a pretty convincing Darrelle Revis impersonation, limiting Brown’s best receiver to a whopping 19 receiving yards. Only one Bears pass all night went for more than 20 yards.
The rest of the Harvard ‘D’ didn’t look too shabby, either. Junior linebacker Joshua Boyd picked up right where the injured Blaise Deal left off with a big, 11-tackle performance. Junior linebacker Bobby Schneider did it all—a sack, a pick, and seven tackles.
And the defensive line? Hard to handle. Brown quarterback Kyle Newhall-Caballero was scrambling and hurried and flustered all night long. One of the game’s great plays came when sophomore defensive tackle Jake Boy drilled the Brown quarterback mid-throw, leading to an interception.
And of course, senior defensive lineman Josue Ortiz looked pretty good, too. He harassed Newhall-Caballero for three quarters, hunting him down, stalking him, until he finally broke through in the fourth with a resounding, lightning-quick, 10-yard sack that you could feel from the press box. The man goes after quarterbacks with the same ferocity that freshmen attack sundae bars.
And as for Brown? Well, the Bears did a spot-on impression of last week’s Harvard team, committing critical blunders left and right. The score actually overstated the difference between the two squads. If senior defensive back Dan Minamide hadn’t caught an errant pass in the end zone and Newhall-Caballero didn’t bungle it at the one-yard line, it would’ve been a different ball game—maybe even a different outcome.
Brown coach Phil Estes knew it. When asked why his team lost despite comparable statistics, he barked, “Are you serious? Come on. Turnovers.”
The man looked about as happy as the cruise director of the Lusitania.
But it wasn’t just that Brown lost the game. Harvard won it in really every aspect. The Crimson couldn’t have been much more technically sound. And a host of players—some even coming in as replacements—proved themselves to be superstars in the making.
Murphy had it right. There’s a lot to smile about.
—Staff writer Robert S. Samuels can be reached at email@example.com.
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