NEW HAVEN, Conn.—This Saturday in New Haven, Harvard football clinched its first ever Ivy League three-peat by trouncing Yale, 38-19, in the 132nd playing of The Game. The result marked a program-record ninth straight victory over the Bulldogs and sent off the class of 2016 with a career record of 36-4, tied for the highest winning percentage in school history.
BULLDOGS GET THE CLAMP
Earlier this season, the Harvard defense put together what was likely its most dominant stretch in the past four years—a period of 212:30 without a touchdown.
Mathematically it is impossible to put together as impressive a stretch during 60 minutes of play, but on Saturday the Crimson came pretty close.
After conceding a touchdown on the opening drive, Harvard went 42 minutes without allowing another score. In that period, the scoreboard transformed from a 7-0 deficit to a 31-7 lead, and the Yale student section transformed from loud and packed to quiet and near-empty.
“We didn’t change anything,” captain Matt Koran said. “We just got back to our fundamental defense—just fly around making plays.”
Over the afternoon, the Crimson limited the Bulldogs to 34 yards on the ground. And when late-down yardage forced Yale to throw, the hosts hardly had more success, going 5-for-18 on third-down conversions.
As a result, Harvard forced the Bulldogs into three-and-outs on four of five consecutive drives during the first and second quarter. Over the course of this stretch, the defense conceded a total of 28 yards.
Meanwhile, all six of the top tacklers for the Crimson were seniors. Linebackers Jacob Lindsey and Eric Medes led the squad with 11 and 8 tackles, respectively.
But the production came from all corners of the defense. In the secondary, all four starters—seniors Sean Ahern, Scott Peters, Chris Evans, and Asante Gibson—recorded at least one broken-up pass in the victory.
“The thing that’s most special is that it’s our first three-peat in Harvard history,” Koran said. “We got the job done, and it was an awesome ride.”
AGE OF JUSTICE
Earlier this season, when College Sports Madness named freshman wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley the Preseason National Freshman Player of the Year, the selection might have raised a few eyebrows.
Sure, the sinewy rookie had entertained offers from stalwarts like Washington and California, but he was entering a Harvard system that rarely privileged freshman with significant playing time. Moreover, he would be competing for catches with an experienced attack—one that returned seven of eight leading receivers.
Ten games and 589 receiving yards later, these eyebrows remain raised—but for a different reason. From catch-and-run touchdowns to punt returns, Shelton-Mosley has repeatedly outraced the Ancient Eight, and the rookie serves as a source of future production as the Crimson heads into the offseason.
“He’s a very special athlete and a very, very special person,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “I think our upperclassmen are amazed because he acts like a junior.”
More immediately, this Saturday he headlined the Harvard attack, scoring the first two touchdowns of the game en route to a performance that included 119 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
The first score, coming less than five minutes into the first quarter, was the most crucial. After Yale opened up play with a four-minute scoring drive, the Crimson faced a third-and-nine on its 47-yard line and the possibility of a deflating three-and-out.
Instead, Shelton-Mosley skinned his defender, racing behind the secondary and grabbing a 53-yard bomb in the end zone. The catch tied the game and predictably energized the Harvard crowd, which went from silence to hysterics.
But the freshman had only begun. Early in the second quarter, he showed his elusiveness with a 35-yard juke-and-go that ended with a left-pylon score.
He also added an 8-yard end-around with less than six minutes left in the game.
ONE DOWN, THREE UP
From shutdown defense to electrifying offense, this Saturday seemed to showcase all elements of the Crimson’s success over the past four years—well, all elements except senior running back Paul Stanton.
Sidelined by a season-ending knee injury that he suffered against Penn, Harvard’s top rusher watched from the bench as teammates zipped up and down the field.
The afternoon of inactivity made for an incongruous end to one of the most illustrious rushing careers in school history. Over four years, Stanton tallied 2,906 yards and 36 touchdowns, the latter of which is second-most in school history.
But as the saying goes: one man down, three men up. In Stanton’s absence, Harvard found productivity in the trio of senior quarterback Scott Hosch and the two Smith brothers, senior wide receiver Seitu and sophomore running back Semar.
“Really impressed and really happy for the Smith brothers to be able to play together in the backfield,” Murphy said. “Our resiliency, our conviction—those intangibles have been the trademark of this team, and that’s exactly what it took.”
Although the Smith brothers took designed handoffs, tallying 53 yard apiece, Hosch finished as the leading runner with 60 yards.
And while none of the three rushers scored a touchdown on the ground, the trio proved especially valuable in chewing up clock late in the game, as Harvard took up seven minutes on a mid-fourth-quarter scoring drive, all but squashing the Bulldogs’ hopes for a comeback.
“It was just one of those nights where we seemed to just feed on this goal,” Murphy said. “Just one of those nights where everybody played probably as well as they could.”
—Staff writer Sam Danello can be reached at email@example.com.
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