PRINCETON, N.J.—This time, the game was actually over at halftime. Two years after a Harvard-dominated first half turned into a Princeton football comeback win at Powers Field, the Crimson (6-0, 3-0 Ivy) led 28-0 at halftime and cruised to a 49-7 win to remain undefeated Saturday.
Sidelined for a month with a back injury, senior quarterback Conner Hempel returned Saturday to pick apart the Tigers (3-3, 2-1) secondary. He completed 25 of his 31 passes for a career-high 382 yards and three touchdowns. Hempel ran for an additional 52 yards and another pair of scores.
"That was one of the finest performances that I could recall against us," Princeton coach Bob Surace said of Hempel's play.
The signal-caller showed no signs of injury-related limitations, evading free rushers on multiple occasions and extending drives with his legs. His first touchdown toss came when he spun away from two blitzers and found sophomore Joseph Foster, who weaved his way through the defense for a 39-yard score. Foster now has three receptions and two touchdowns on the season.
Senior wideout Seitu Smith and senior tight end Tyler Hamblin also returned from injury to help keep Harvard tied with Dartmouth atop the Ivy League standings. Smith finished with 78 yards and a touchdown while Hamblin brought down three passes for 58 yards. Sophomore tight end Anthony Firkser led the group with 86 yards and a touchdown.
Junior running back Paul Stanton started slow but finished with 105 yards thanks in part to a 33-yard score that put Harvard up 35-0 in the third quarter.
A quarter later, Hempel connected with Firkser for a 42-yard score. At that point, junior lineman Adam Redmond turned around and lifted Hempel in the air. It was a fitting sign of gratification after Hempel carried his team to a number of notable milestones.
The win was Harvard coach Tim Murphy’s 100th Ivy victory, making him the fourth to reach the mark. The 42-point margin is the largest in the 107 meetings between Harvard and Princeton.
“I thought our kids stepped up tremendously on an intangible level,” Murphy said. “We obviously executed very well offensively, defensively, and on special teams, and it was just one of those days.”
The Crimson also snapped a two-game losing streak against the Tigers. In 2012, Princeton scored 29 unanswered points to eliminate a 24-point fourth-quarter deficit in a 39-34 thriller. Last season, the Tigers outlasted Harvard in triple-overtime, 51-48.
“I’ll never forget the game down here two years ago—it’ll haunt me to my grave," Murphy said, adding that the loss affected his strategy in the second half. Murphy elected to keep Hempel under center until the fourth quarter, when the squad extended its lead to 42-0.
For Princeton, the defeat was its first at home since 2012. It nearly suffered a shutout but for a garbage-time touchdown with 28 seconds left.
The Tigers managed to gain 14 first downs, nine fewer than they averaged coming in. Quarterbacks Quinn Epperly and Connor Michelsen combined to average 4.2 yards per attempt while the Princeton runners gained 60 yards on 19 attempts.
After averaging 453 yards per game coming in, Princeton was held to just 244 on Saturday as the Harvard defense registered its third straight first-half shutout. The home team punted 12 times.
"Our butts are going to be sore because they got kicked," Surace said. "Everything that could have went wrong went wrong against a team that is going to make you pay for every mistake."
Junior quarterback Scott Hosch, sophomore quarterback Joseph Viviano, and freshman running back Semar Smith helped keep the Crimson offense rolling as Murphy emptied his bench in the fourth quarter. Smith finished with 124 yards on 12 carries. Harvard tallied 698 yards of total offense.
“We knew the sky was the limit, especially with the way our defense is playing," Hempel said. "We knew we could put up as many points as we wanted to as long as we executed, and we did.”
With senior kicker Andrew Flesher unavailable to play, the Crimson went for four fourth downs and did not attempt any field goals.
—Staff writer Jacob D. H. Feldman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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