Harvard, somehow, and yes, incredibly, found a way to pull out its 21st consecutive win.
And Dartmouth, yet again, despite delivering 57 minutes of spirited and ferocious play against its archrival, was denied for the 12th straight year.
The previous 11, however, were never this bitter.
Less than three minutes were left on the clock, seemingly in control, on top, 13-7, on the strength of a well-orchestrated 94-yard first-half drive and a pair of Alex Gakenheimer field goals, the dynamic Dalyn Williams and the Big Green offense were at midfield, determined to finally close out their first win in the 119-year series since 2003.
“We were in desperation-mode, trying to get the ball back to our offense,” acknowledged Harvard senior linebacker Jake Lindsey. “Pre-snap, I kind of knew what was coming.”
It was a pitch, from Williams to sophomore tailback Ryder Stone, who darted for the right sideline. “I felt if I went over the top for the tackle, I could make the play,” said Lindsey.
He did, popping the ball loose with a jarring hit, with senior captain Matt Koran pouncing on the recovery, with 2:54 left in the clock. “Hit him as hard as I could,” said Lindsey.
Eleven plays later, seemingly a lifetime, senior quarterback Scott Hosch rolled right and zipped a 5-yard pass to the goal line for freshman Justice Shelton-Mosley, his third option, and the Crimson were somehow back even, 13-all, with 38 seconds left. Kenny Smart booted the point-after to put Harvard on top for the first time.
But the 15th-ranked Crimson only escaped with their improbable 14-13 victory in front of 13,058 at the Stadium Friday night, when sophomore defensive tackle Stone Hart raised his left hand to block Gakenheimer’s career-long 46-yard field goal attempt with one tick left.
“We stole one,” summed up Harvard coach Tim Murphy after his resilient crew improved to 7-0 (4-0 Ivy) and seized control of the league race with three weeks left to play.
“They probably outplayed us for most of the game, they are a great football team. And we did what we do best, we found a way to win. We never give up, as cliché as it is, that is the only explanation I have for that W.”
Shut out in the first half for the first time in five years, and denied on five straight bids from the Dartmouth 1 early in the fourth quarter, Harvard finally broke through with 6:38 left, on fourth and 12, when Hosch found Seitu Smith at the left pylon with a beautifully thrown 39-yard toss, slicing the margin to 13-7.
“A tough one to lose,” said Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, who called his squad’s goal-line stand “legendary.”
Williams (24 of 42 passing, 311 yards) lamented his team’s inability to finish off the game.
The Big Green forced three turnovers, including two interceptions by their sensational senior linebacker Will McNamara, one to end the first half, and the second on Harvard’s first series in the third quarter.
The second series of the third quarter ended abruptly, on the Dartmouth 17, when Folarin Orimolade popped the ball loose from Paul Stanton, with safety David Caldwell pouncing on the recovery.
Dartmouth converted the turnover, Harvard’s third of the night, into a 39-yard field goal from Gakenheimer with 1:38 left in the third for a 13-0 lead. It easily could have been 17-0, but Victor Williams, wide open in the end zone, dropped a 27-yard option pass from Ryan McManus three plays earlier.
Fiercely determined to put an end to its 11-game skid against the hosts, the Big Green carved out a 10-0 cushion at the break – their first halftime lead in the series since their 30-16 win in 2003.
On the game’s first play, the nimble Williams scampered 14 yards up the middle. He later hooked up with senior speedster Ryan McManus for 43 yards on a seam rout to the Harvard 20. The Big Green came away with only 3 points, a 33-yard field goal from Gakenheimer.
The next series, aided by a personal foul against Harvard on third and 10 on his 19, Williams directed the Big Green 94 yards on 17 plays in 7:24 before Ryder Stone bulled his way in from the 3 for a 10-0 lead.Craig Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.