At season’s end, in a quiet moment in the confines of Dillon Fieldhouse following the 129th edition of The Game on Nov. 17, the unraveling over the final 12 minutes 45 seconds at Princeton last Saturday will play out in the minds of Harvard players. Over and over.
That’s when, ultimately, their run to an unbeaten season and quite likely a repeat as sole Ivy League champs ran aground in a shocking 39-34 setback to the Tigers.
A 34-10 fourth-quarter cushion evaporated. A Division 1-best 14-game winning streak halted.
“Unlike any game I have ever been involved with, and I have been a head coach for 26 years, at three schools . . . just one of those days,” summed up 19-year Harvard coach Tim Murphy earlier this week. “We just squandered too many opportunities.”
How many? Nearly a dozen. Convert one, game over.
“No excuses, there is no one to blame but ourselves,” said Murphy.
The bus ride back to Cambridge Saturday night was “pretty miserable,” acknowledged senior Kyle Juszczyk. But the Crimson are a tight-knit group, and there was no division.
“It was very, very frustrating,” he said. “But it was everywhere, a collective effort, offense, defense, and special teams. 34 points? We could have done more.”
The 6-foot-3-inch, 245-pound Juszczyk was magnificent in his ‘slash’ role (tight end/H-back/fullback/receiver), submitting a career-best 15-catch, 192-yard, three-touchdown performance as the Crimson rang up 634 yards of total offense. “[He’s] unstoppable, a matchup nightmare for anybody,” said Murphy.
Senior quarterback Colton Chapple (31 of 45 passing, 448 yards plus 82 yards rushing) had “one of the finest performances a Harvard quarterback has ever had,” according to his coach.
Princeton’s 29-point fourth quarter, though, is the only number that resonates.
“We have exorcised those demons, we got that out of our system on Sunday,” said Murphy. “We are focused and ready to go.”
Juszczyk said that he was encouraged how quickly his teammates were able to turn the page. “Right after watching film on Sunday, we went out for our stretching, and put it in the past,” he said.
The Crimson (5-1, 2-1) must turn the page, and quickly, or Saturday’s twilight matchup (5 p.m.) in Hanover, N.H., against a fortified Dartmouth squad (4-2, 2-1) could turn into another nightmare. And they must do so minus their captain and leading tackler, weakside linebacker Bobby Schneider, who suffered a broken left arm on the next-to-last defensive snap against Princeton.
Harvard owns eight straight wins in the series (and 14 of the last 15), including last year’s 41-10 snowplowing at the Stadium, which turned the Big Green’s 4½-hour trek home through a blizzard even more depressing. “Not a good memory,” recalled Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens.
But his Big Green, featuring the Ivy’s top defensive unit, are coming off a confidence-boosting 21-16 win at Columbia, punctuated by a huge third-and-1, fourth-quarter stop by junior linebacker Bronson Green (10 tackles in the fourth quarter), the league’s Defensive Player of the Week. Junior linebacker Michael Runger (9.2 tackles per game) is another stout defender.
“Nothing comes easy against them,” said Murphy.
“First thing I noticed, when I turned on the tape Monday morning, watching their game against Columbia, was the way their defense hit the ball carrier,” said Juszczyk. “They were just thrashing those guys, very aggressive, which is admirable.
“[But it] seems like every week, the defense we are playing, is No. 1 in the Ivy, or has the No. 1 rushing defense in the country. It does not change how we prepare. We do what we do. It’s a recurring theme every week.”
What they are doing is averaging 39.8 points per game.
“Harvard is still the class of the league,” said Teevens, taking note of the Crimson’s depth, speed, and physicality.
“You don’t stop them. [Treavor] Scales (103.3 rushing yards per game) is probably the best back in the league. Chapple can ad lib, and is very adept at making people miss. Having [their offense] on the sideline is the best form on defense. You need to possess the ball.”
That will be a bit more of a challenge with lead back Dominick Pierre (98.6 yards per game), senior center Rob Bathe, and senior tight end Justin Foley all sidelined. Freshman Brian Grove and senior Greg Patton will receive the majority of the handoffs from a pair of QBs, sophomore Alex Park and freshman Dalyn Williams, who have formed an effective tandem, each offering a different look. Park completed 6 of 7 passes on the winning 91-yard drive at Columbia.
“We have to find a way of getting a one-game winning streak right now,” said Murphy. “Dartmouth has won seven of its last nine. Buddy Teevens has done a great job of bringing the Big Green back,” speaking of his lifelong friend, and former high school teammate at Silver Lake Regional in Kingston.
It’s all a matter of execution.
“You have to finish the play, you have to finish the drive, you have to finish the game,” added the coach.Craig Larson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeLars.