This Saturday, in a pivotal clash between Harvard and Dartmouth, a press box window wasn’t the only thing that shattered. So did the Big Green’s comeback bid.
The window fell victim late in the first half, when referees awarded the Crimson the ball after a disputed punt-return fumble. That decision caused a member of the Dartmouth coaching staff to smash a hole in the glass sheet.
That punch foreshadowed greater frustration for the Big Green. Down 14-0 in the second quarter, Harvard rallied for 25 consecutive points and repelled a late comeback effort. Dartmouth (5-2, 2-2 Ivy) gained more yards, but timely defensive plays fueled the Crimson (4-3, 2-2), which escaped with a 25-22 win.
The outcome wasn’t certain until the final minute. Already, the Big Green had won four games on overtime scores or fourth-quarter comebacks. Trailing by three with 1:36 left, Dartmouth seemed ready to pull the trick once more.
But the secondary nixed the come-from-behind attempt. Big Green quarterback Jack Heneghan threw a pass into tight coverage, senior cornerback Raishuan McGhee deflected the ball, and senior safety Tanner Lee dove with outstretched hands to clinch the game.
“Last week was really difficult,” captain Luke Hutton said. “This week, practicing was really difficult. When things go the wrong way, it’s about making a decision. You can either fold or bounce back. Down 14-0 after getting embarrassed last week—to respond the way we responded, it’s all about heart.”
The victory gave the Crimson 14 straight over Dartmouth. Many of these wins have gone down to the wire. Counting 2017, four of the last five victories have come by three points or fewer.
Besides Lee’s final interception, the Crimson caused key turnovers on three consecutive drives. The first came late in the third quarter, with Harvard trailing by two. After a three-and-out, Big Green punter Davis Brief readied for a kick, but senior safety Tim Haehl exploded around the edge for the block.
This play set up a short field for freshman quarterback Jake Smith. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Smith hit junior wideout Henry Taylor in the end zone. The Crimson led for the first time all day, 18-14.
On Dartmouth’s next possession, Heneghan looked for a receiver along the left sideline in Harvard territory. Freshman defensive back Isaiah Wingfield dove in front of his man and snagged his first career interception.
The ensuing drive went nowhere, but the Crimson defense forced one more turnover. On fourth-and-inches at the Dartmouth 29, coach Buddy Teevens made the gutsy decision to bring out his offense. Lee and junior defensive lineman Scott Garrison combined to stonewall Heneghan. That play accounted for one of Lee’s team-high 10 tackles.
Again facing a short field, the Harvard offense took advantage. On second-and-goal at the Big Green 11, Smith scrambled left, reversed right, and finally spotted freshman running back Aaron Shampklin in the end zone. Harvard 25, Dartmouth 14.
Before today, Dartmouth had outscored opponents 45-9 in the fourth quarter. The Crimson reversed that trend, posting a 13-8 advantage in the closing 15 minutes.
“For whatever reason, we label ourselves as a second-half team,” Teevens said. “For whatever reason we didn't come out in the second half with the energy we should have. It's impossible to put into words the frustration that we have right now.”
Relative to the fourth quarter, the Harvard offense struggled early. With 1:20 left in the first half, the Crimson trailed 14-0 and had just posted a three-and-out. Junior punter Zach Schmid sent a kick to the Big Green’s Danny McManus, who signaled for a fair catch.
Before the ball could reach McManus, however, blocker Isiah Swann pushed Harvard halfback Jack Stansell into the returner. In the ensuing confusion, the ball popped loose, and Crimson freshman Max Jones recovered.
“Obviously that's a pivotal point,” Teevens said. “If it's an interference call, we'll get the ball at the 50-yard line, we'll get two timeouts, and [we’ll be] good to go. All of a sudden it's their ball in your territory.”
Harvard capitalized. After a wild scramble to convert a fourth-and-eight, Smith fired to senior halfback Ryan Antonellis at the goal line to make the score 14-6.
On the afternoon, Antonellis scored twice, while Taylor and freshman running back Aaron Shampklin added one apiece. In previous weeks, Harvard had relied on its backs to score, but Smith and wildcat quarterback Lavance Northington found the end zone four times through the air.
Northington’s touchdown punctuated the first drive of the second half—a possession that spanned 5:26 and 76 yards. The sophomore spelled Smith under center to run the option. He found Antonellis in the end zone for the first completion of his college career, making it a 14-12 game.
“When you put [Northington] in there, it makes people play assignment football,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “It’s hard to play downhill football when you have to defend the option and the pass.”
On that third-quarter drive, running back Charlie Booker gained 44 yards on five attempts. The junior was relatively silent in the first half with 20 rushing yards, but he closed out the afternoon with 89.
Ball security was a strength for the Crimson, as the team committed no turnovers. Historically, this recipe has boded well for Harvard, which is 34-1 in games since 2000 without a turnover.
The Crimson offense was not the only unit that struggled early against Dartmouth. Before halftime, Harvard’s secondary had difficulties reining in wide receivers, harkening back to last week’s performance against Princeton.
In the first quarter, Heneghan went five-for-five. Indeed, off the opening kickoff, the Big Green marched 80 yards in 4:36. Running back Ryder Stone, the main option out of the backfield, darted up the middle for a nine-yard score.
Dartmouth seemed firmly in control when it tacked on another touchdown in the second quarter. That drive lasted nearly eight minutes. Heneghan completed a back-shoulder toss to Hunter Hagdorn to put points on the board.
This drive was marked by daring strategy from Teevens. Twice the Big Green head coach decided to take chances on fourth-and-one, and twice Dartmouth converted. On the first conversion, wildcat quarterback Jared Gerbino followed his linemen up the middle. On the second, Teevens passed up a 36-yard field goal in favor of a handoff to Stone.
Saturday’s result strengthens Harvard hopes for an Ivy League title. Columbia's defeat to Yale on Saturday scrambled the picture. If the Crimson wins out and the Tigers and Cornell lose once each, then Harvard will clinch a share of the title.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s win, however, Murphy’s attention lay elsewhere.
“I want them to enjoy this,” the coach said. “It’s a game that they’ll remember for a long time. I just want them to enjoy this, and then we’ll tackle tomorrow at 6:45 a.m.”
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at email@example.com.
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