Twenty-two starters took the field for the Harvard football team on October 26th, 2013. Three overtime periods later, Princeton handed the Crimson its first defeat of the season.
It’s nearly two years to the day later, and that game remains most recent loss that Harvard has suffered. On Saturday, the Tigers (4-1, 1-1 Ivy) will get another chance in Harvard Stadium to tarnish a perfect record in a matchup with the Crimson (5-0, 2-0), which has looked nearly unstoppable through the first half of the 2015 slate.
Of the 22 that stepped onto the gridiron to begin the game for Harvard in 2013, only five of those starters remain to avenge the loss. For those five and the rest of the senior class, Saturday won’t just be about wiping away memories of the triple overtime contest, but also about getting retribution for the 2012 defeat the Crimson suffered to the Tigers after a 24-point fourth quarter lead melted away.
“As a freshman, I was watching [the 2012 game] here on campus and it just broke our hearts to see that victory go away, and the following year, in triple overtime, it’s just two heartbreakers back-to-back against Princeton,” captain Matt Koran said. “Last year we were able to really get revenge that we were seeking, and this year I think the big thing is to even the score.”
Harvard will enter the game with the confidence that comes with amassing 221 points in five games, the most prolific offensive output in 123 years. But in order to send off its seniors with a 2-2 career record against the Tigers, the Crimson will need to maintain its scoring deluge against the stiffest competition it has faced all season.
“We haven’t faced a team that has as many good athletes as Princeton in all phases,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “There’ll be a little bit of a ‘whoa’ factor by their skill on both sides of the ball.”
Princeton boasts both the third best scoring offense and defense of the league behind undefeated Harvard and Dartmouth but showed its fallibility in last week at Brown, when a number of costly turnovers and a last-minute Bears touchdown handed the Tigers their first loss of the season.
After Brown scored a touchdown on the opening kickoff return, Princeton trailed for the remainder of the game, allowing Brown to put up 477 yards of offense en route to a 38-31 victory.
The Tigers’ defensive front seven will have its hands full again against perhaps the best offensive line in the Ancient Eight. The veteran group has allowed just two sacks all season and has paved the way for senior running back Paul Stanton to lead the league in averaging 99.6 yards per game, an even more impressive statistic considering Stanton has yet to play a full 60 minutes given the lopsided contests.
Harvard has posted an impressive average deficit margin of 36.2 points through five games and has not looked back since its 2013 defeat. The Crimson is currently riding a 19-game win streak, second in Division I football only to Ohio State with 20.
The success thus far this season has been largely due to a stifling defense, which has held opponents to an average of 8.0 points. Led by a veteran secondary, Harvard’s defense has allowed just one field goal over the span of three games and will face its first high-octane offense of the year in Princeton’s traditionally up-tempo, no-huddle squad.
The Tigers utilize a running back by committee that has produced nearly 200 rushing yards per game, trailing only Harvard in rushing offense. But against an unyielding defensive line that has kept opponents to an average of 72.6 yards on the ground, Princeton may have to turn to the air in inexperienced quarterback Chad Kanoff, who fills big shoes following the graduation of the duo threat of play-callers Quinn Epperly and Connor Michelsen.
“The previous two quarterbacks, they were really great,” Koran said. “I don’t think they’ve missed too many steps with Chad….. He’s got a great arm and seems like he can run the offense.”
Ranked the 14th-best dual-threat high school quarterback nationally by ESPN.com, Kanoff looked poised in his first four games, throwing just one pick. But last week at Brown, Kanoff threw two interceptions, including one lobbed under pressure with just over a minute remaining that set up the Bears’ go-ahead touchdown.Kanoff and company cannot afford to make the same mistakes this Saturday, and indeed, will need their strongest performance to date for Princeton to repeat the 2013 showdown and spoil another undefeated season for Harvard.
–Staff writer Samantha Lin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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