HANOVER, N.H. — Princeton was still a raw, fresh wound.
And now a 21-0 halftime cushion, on the road, was in peril for Harvard, with Dartmouth fiercely determined to knock down the door.
The homecoming crowd of 10,138 at Memorial Field was rocking, the Big Green on the cusp of converting a Crimson fumble into their second touchdown of the evening with a fourth-and-goal bid from the 1 early in the third quarter.
Dominick Pierre bulled ahead behind 6-foot-8-inch, 305-pound senior left tackle John Scheve and sturdy guard Patrick Lahey, but he was met head-on by a stout collection of Crimson defenders, led by linebacker Brian Reilly and safety Chris Splinter, his bid denied.
“Huge momentum shift,” said coach Tim Murphy after watching his Harvard club bounce back from last week’s 39-34 stunner at Princeton, exhibiting equal parts of grit, character, and poise to pull out a hard-earned and satisfying 31-14 victory Saturday night.
“In terms of a momentum change, we were still positive on the sideline, and we felt we could come back, our defense was playing well, but it was a good play on Harvard’s part,” said Lahey, a 6-3, 280-pound senior out of North Andover who has made a triumphant return to the lineup after undergoing double hip surgery.
“I love ‘power’, that play that we have. A smashmouth play up the middle . . . it’s a battle of wills, we all left it out there on the field. Proud of the way our guys played.”
The fourth-down stop was one of a number of pivotal plays that enabled the Crimson to register their ninth straight victory over the Big Green, and 15th win in the last 16 meetings.
And with Cornell cutting down visiting Princeton, 37-35, the Crimson (5-1, 3-1) are back even with the Tigers (4-3, 3-1) — and Penn — in the Ivy race.
“It was a character game,” said Murphy. “I thought our kids showed great character.”
Treavor Scales was one. After scoring a pair of first-half touchdowns, the senior tailback (21 carries, 89 yards) had the ball ripped loose by linebacker Michael Runger, setting the stage for the fourth-and-1.
Sophomore Alex Park (23 of 38, 304 yards, 2 TDs) had a pair of scoring tosses to slice the deficit to 21-14, but Colton Chapple (17 of 31, 170 yards; 16 carries, 88 yards) drove Harvard 55 yards on six plays, with Scales surging across the goal line from 2 yards out for his third TD, and a 28-14 lead.
On the next series, Park landed hard on his shoulder, courtesy of a Zach Hodges sack, and he was done for the night. He was on target with junior Michael Reilly (career-best 12 catches, 165 yards).
“I thought we competed well, but disappointed with the outcome,” said Buddy Teevens after his Big Green dropped to 4-3 (2-2).
On his first series of the game, Chapple led the Crimson 93 yards on seven plays for a 7-0 lead. The 6-2, 195-pound senior connected with Kyle Juszczyk for 11 yards over the middle, went over the top to a leaping Cameron Brates for 35 more, and then zipped a 23-yard laser to the left shoulder of Ricky Zorn on the left sideline before taking a keeper — off a ball fake to Scales — 16 yards for the score.
Harvard needed all of 42 seconds, and two plays, to double the margin with 9:21 left in the second quarter. Senior linebacker Alex Norman picked off a first-down toss by Park inside the Dartmouth 25, scampered to the 6 with the return, and Scales punched in a 3-yard option pitch on second down.
Scales bulled in from 2 yards out with 2:35 left for a 21-0 spread, finishing off a 13-play, 70-yard drive aided by 15-yard roughing the passer call against linebacker Garrett Wymore on third and 14, placing the ball on the Big Green 20.
The Big Green had minus-2 yards rushing in the first half, and 19 yards on 24 carries for the night.
“Our defense and special teams played very well tonight,” said Murphy, singling out redshirt freshman linebacker Jacob Lindsey (team-high 12 tackles), who stepped in for sidelined captain Bobby Schneider (broken left arm).