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Football Drops First Season Opener Since 2011

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A lot can change in just one year.

On Sept. 16, 2016, Harvard opened at home against the University of Rhode Island and thoroughly rocked the Rams, 51-21. The Crimson’s offense clicked from the kickoff, finding the end zone three times in the first quarter alone, and the Harvard defense held URI to just seven points through the first three quarters.

On the same date in 2017, the Crimson grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, but it was evident from the start that Harvard would not walk away with another easy win. The rest of the way, the Rams established both their offensive attack and defensive prowess, ultimately dispatching the Crimson, 17-10, in Kingston, R.I.

“You never want to start a season with a loss,” captain Luke Hutton said. But again, the only way to improve, at least the only way I know, is just to work harder, and that’s got to be the message that we have for this week coming up against Brown. It’s got to be water under the bridge.”

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However, the most concerning loss of the day may have happened in the second quarter. URI quarterback Tyler Harris found receiver Marven Beauvais for 18 yards down the sideline, and freshman cornerback Ben Abercrombie knocked Beauvais out of bounds as he came down with the football. However, Abercrombie remained on the ground and was carted off with a neck injury.

Unlike last year, this game was not decided until the play clock expired. Coming out of a timeout, Harvard found itself on URI’s 25 with just seven seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Senior quarterback Joe Viviano handled the snap, catching it calmly with one hand. The veteran lofted a ball toward the end zone, but he overthrew his intended target. The Rams stormed the field as the ball skipped off the turf, celebrating the team’s fifth win in four years.

The Crimson’s last-ditch effort to even the score followed sloppy play on both ends. At a time when both squads desperately needed ball control—Harvard to set up a scoring drive and URI to preserve the lead—the teams fumbled on back-to-back possessions.

A long drive went off the rails when the Crimson attempted to convert on fourth down at the Rams’ seven-yard line. Viviano set up a handoff to junior running back Charlie Booker III, but Rams lineman Jose Duncan broke up the play. As Viviano and Booker collided, the ball squirted loose. Sophomore defensive back Momodou Mbye recovered, and Harvard’s 76-yard push was all for naught.

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“I saw an opening and jetted straight to the [quarterback],” Duncan said. “I knocked the running back into the quarterback, and the quarterback fumbled. That was critical for our defense. When we need a play on defense, someone needs to make a play.”

Just as it appeared the Crimson was circling the drain, the visitors rose up. With just under three minutes left on the clock, URI running back T.J. Anderson fumbled in Harvard territory, and senior safety Tanner Lee swooped in for the loose ball. However, the Crimson ultimately could not capitalize, as Viviano’s final heave sailed long.

Harvard appeared to have the upper hand in the early going. Booker bowled his way through the secondary twice, recording runs of 50 and 57 yards. Overall, the junior set a career high in yardage with 139 yards on 13 carries.

“The kid ran pretty well, and he ran hard,” Rams coach Jim Fleming said. “He broke some tackles. We looked atrocious on the explosive runs, which really had no purpose getting where they got to. More power to him—he made some plays. But our kids and coaches did a good job adjusting at halftime.”

On the afternoon, Viviano did not rely on a single target. Junior wideout Justice Shelton-Mosley recorded the most catches (five), and Viviano targeted seven different players.

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