He may be a freshman, but Harvard quarterback Jake Smith already is a source of frustration for opposing Ivy League coaches.
“He was the difference,” Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens said Saturday after the Crimson overturned a two-touchdown deficit in a 25-22 win over the Big Green at Harvard Stadium.
Smith demonstrated his ability to improvise after the visitors gifted the Crimson an extra possession near the end of the first half.
The Big Green led, 14-0, in the second quarter and were set to take over with 1:20 on the clock after a Harvard punt. But Dartmouth return man Danny McManus, who called for a fair catch, collided with Harvard’s Jack Stansell at the Dartmouth 38 and fumbled the punt, which Crimson safety Max Jones scooped up. The officials initially threw a flag for interference but determined a Dartmouth player knocked Stansell into McManus, and the Crimson took over at the Big Green’s 38.
Smith (18 for 35, 125 yards, 3 TDs) and the offense capitalized.
The Crimson faced a fourth and 8 from Dartmouth’s 36 when Smith, who couldn’t find an open receiver, tucked the ball and took off. He evaded a group of defenders on the left side of the field before cutting back across the middle, dancing his way out of bounds at the 19 on the 17-yard pickup.
“He makes plays that just wow me all the time,” tight end Ryan Antonellis said of Smith’s playmaking ability. “He’s just such an accurate passer, especially outside of the pocket, and it’s just so nice to have that weapon at quarterback. When he makes plays like that 17-yard scramble, you just get excited.”
The ball moved to Dartmouth’s 8 following a defensive holding call two plays later, and from there Smith stepped up in the pocket and fired a touchdown pass to Antonellis that put Harvard on the board with 13 seconds left in the first half. Kicker Jake McIntyre banged the PAT attempt off the right upright after a bad snap forced an unsteady hold and the Crimson (4-3, 2-2 Ivy) went into the half trailing, 14-6.
“You put some pressure, there’s no place to go with the ball, we’ve got his guys covered down, and all of a sudden [Smith] pops multiple times,” Teevens said.
On the opening drive of the second half, Harvard wideout Lavance Northington took over for Smith in the Wildcat, faked the jet sweep to wideout Henry Taylor, and then zipped a 4-yard pass to Antonellis (3 catches, 21 yards, 2 TDs) at the back of the end zone to cut Dartmouth’s lead to 14-12. The 2-point conversion attempt flew through the hands of Taylor.
Late in the third quarter, the Crimson’s special teams unit provided another lift.
Safety Tim Haehl blocked a punt to set the Crimson up at Dartmouth’s 13. Charlie Booker III took the ball inside the 10, and Smith fired a 4-yard pass to Taylor on the first play of the fourth quarter to give the Crimson an 18-14 lead. Yet another 2-point conversion attempt went begging, as Dartmouth stuffed Northington at the line of scrimmage.
Harvard extended its lead to 25-14 with 7:21 left in the game. Smith, who also rushed for 64 yards, rolled to his right and delivered a dart to Aaron Shampklin from 11 yards out for the touchdown.
The defense did its job in the second half, too, allowing only 119 total yards and 8 points — a performance for which Harvard coach Tim Murphy credited defensive coordinator Scott Larkee.
“With all the injuries we’ve had and some of the other adversity [on defense], I made the analogy to my wife it’s like the washing machine is overflowing, and the pipes are busted, and you’ve got nothing but Duct tape and Band-Aids,” Murphy quipped.
Dartmouth (5-2, 2-2 Ivy) did cut into Harvard’s lead with 4:18 left in the game. Quarterback Jack Heneghan (22 for 34, 215 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) scored on a 6-yard rush, and the subsequent 2-point conversion trimmed Harvard’s lead to 25-22. But Crimson senior safety Tanner Lee picked off a deflected pass at the Harvard 40 with 1:18 remaining to secure the win.
“It’s impossible to put into words the frustration we kind of have right now,” Dartmouth linebacker Jack Traynor (17 tackles) said. “We had a clear opportunity to take control and win that game, and we just didn’t do it.”