For the first time since its 50-45 double-overtime loss to Yale on Nov. 23, 2019, Harvard suited up again in its long-anticipated return to the football field. It did not disappoint in its early-season action, putting the rest of the Ivy League on notice with a 44-9 blowout victory over Georgetown University at Cooper Field in Washington, D.C. The Crimson (1-0, 0-0 Ivy) has now won 16 of its last 20 season openers and improved to 120-25-2 (.823) all-time in debut games.
In that Yale game, running back Aidan Borguet had a career-best performance, rushing 11 times for 269 yards and four touchdowns, the capstone on his brilliant Ivy League Rookie of the Year campaign. On the Crimson’s third play from scrimmage, the sophomore picked up right where he left off, taking his second carry of the game 56 yards into the end zone to get the Crimson on the board early. Along the way, he broke four tackles, propelling himself into the end zone through pure will and strength.
Borguet’s score, which occurred just one minute, 26 seconds into the game, opened the floodgates for Harvard by setting the tone early: despite this being the first game action for many first-year and sophomore players, the Crimson was going to play aggressively. Both Coach Tim Murphy, who tied Yale’s Carm Cozza as the winningest coach in Ivy League history with the victory, and junior running back Aaron Shampklin highlighted the touchdown run as the key moment in the game.
“Aidan coming out and scoring on that drive [was crucial], starting the game off right,” Shampklin said. “It got everyone in the right mood, got the train rolling. So honestly that first drive, the [offensive line] blocked everything up right, Aidan broke four tackles, that was really the key moment of the game for us.”
Establishing the run early on, which Murphy noted as a key to success, allowed the Crimson to dictate the flow of the game. Its disruptive front seven put the pressure on the Hoyas’ fifth-year senior starting quarterback, Joseph Brunell, early and often, forcing him to attempt 37 passes. Whenever Georgetown tried to run, they repeatedly were stopped by a formidable wall of Crimson defenders, so head coach Rob Sgarlata turned to his aerial attack instead.
“We really had them on their defensive, which allowed us to dictate terms — [we] made them have to throw the ball when they couldn’t run the ball. Any time you’re making a team throw it, it’s really tough because you only become a one-dimensional offense,” Murphy explained.
Borguet’s early score would be just the start of a game-long trend of dominance on the ground by the Crimson. Georgetown’s front seven fared no better against the Crimson’s other running backs; Shampklin wreaked havoc, rushing for 185 yards and two touchdowns, including a 59-yard score in the second quarter. He nearly added a third, narrowly stepping out of bounds on Georgetown’s six-yard line in the fourth quarter, which set up junior quarterback Luke Emge for a score. In total, Harvard racked up 335 yards on 40 attempts (8.4 yards per carry) while limiting the Hoyas to just six yards on 31 carries (0.2 yards per carry). The Crimson’s gaudy performance on the ground likely manifested from the chemistry and talent in the running back room.
“We talk about it as a room all the time. We know that we have some good guys in the room. I trust Aidan, [sophomore running back Sone Ntoh], any other running back with the ball, and they trust me as well,” Shampklin said. “If I need a breather, [Borguet or Ntoh] comes in, so that room is very scary.”
Shampklin, a three-year letter winner and senior captain at Long Beach Polytechnic in Long Beach, Cal., led the Crimson during his sophomore season in 2018 with 1,053 rushing yards, the ninth-highest total in school history. In that season, he rushed for 178 yards against San Diego on his way to being named on the All-Ivy First Team. He was rewarded for his stellar season by being placed on the CFPA’s watch list for FCS National Performer of the Year heading into the 2019 campaign. Ultimately, he decided not to suit up during that 2019 season and lost his 2020 season to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Projected as an All-Ivy Second Teamer, Shampklin wasted no time proving that he had not skipped a beat. He made magic nearly every time he touched the ball; eight of his 14 attempts went for at least 10 yards. The Hoyas had no answer for him all day as he sprinted and juked his way to a new career high. Despite his brilliance, though, Shampklin was not satisfied.
“It was a little rusty for me. Hopefully, I can clean up some stuff. So I still have a lot of work to do. We’re gonna be back in the lab tomorrow,” he said.
One of the keys to Harvard’s success was establishing a successful passing game early on. Although sophomore quarterback Charlie Dean did not put up particularly gaudy passing numbers, finishing with 94 yards and completing 10 out of his 19 attempts, his effectiveness early on allowed the Crimson to pound the ball on the ground the rest of the game. His back-shoulder fade to the short left corner of the end zone, which was corralled by first-year wide receiver Kaedyn Odermann for a 31-yard score, gave the Crimson a 13-0 lead just seven minutes, six seconds into the game. That play marked the first collegiate score for Odermann, who would go on to lead Harvard in receiving yards with 38. Although Georgetown blocked the extra point and ran it back for a two-point safety, the dual-threat nature posed by Harvard’s offense had the Hoyas on their heels all game.
After conceding a Georgetown touchdown on Brunell’s pass to wide receiver Joshua Tomas, Harvard continued its hot offensive performance to start the game. A Shampklin rush for 11 yards and a completion to junior defensive lineman David Schwartz, who had checked in as an eligible receiver at tight end, brought Harvard to its own 47-yard line, where they faced a difficult situation on 3rd and 9. Dean stepped up, completing a 17-yard strike to junior wide receiver Kym Wimberley Jr. to earn a fresh set of downs.
The very next play, it was Shampklin’s turn. His first score of the game saw him take an outside handoff and cut inside before heading towards the left sideline and outracing everyone on his way into the end zone. His first breakout run marked Harvard’s third touchdown in as many offensive possessions to start the game. The run capped off a nine-play, 75-yard drive and opened up a 20-9 lead for the Crimson.
It was the Harvard defense who stepped up to snuff a Georgetown drive at the start of the second quarter. An early deep completion to Cameron Crayton marked the biggest play of the game for the Hoyas and advanced them deep within Harvard territory. From there, Brunell completed a pass to Zach Jewell, who was tackled at the 28-yard line. Faced with a 4th and 3 on the first play of the second quarter, Georgetown opted to go for it. Sophomore defensive lineman Nate Leskovec immediately made them pay, bursting through the offensive line to sack Brunell for a 9-yard loss and possession for the Crimson.
Harvard took advantage of the turnover on downs, scoring on each of its next possessions. Although it was unable to extend its streak of touchdown drives, it advanced far into Georgetown’s side of the field before junior running back Demarkes Stradford was stuffed for a five-yard loss, leaving Harvard with a 2nd and 15. After an incomplete pass and a short run, it set up for a 42-yard field goal attempt by junior kicker Jonah Lipel. He booted it straight through the uprights, giving Harvard a 23-9 lead.
After a Georgetown punt, Harvard’s efficient running game got back to work. A scrambling first down by Dean saved a drive that looked to have stalled at 3rd and 5 deep in Crimson territory. Then, after an incomplete pass, Shampklin broke through the line of scrimmage and outraced the entire Hoyas defense on his way to a 59-yard touchdown. Lipel converted the extra point, extending the Crimson lead to 30-9. After the game, Shampklin credited the offensive line for his success.
“[The offensive line] did great. Everybody pretty much blocked and made it super easy for us, the running backs in the backfield,” he said.
The next possession, the Hoyas drove slowly but surely, looking to respond to Harvard’s touchdown. They faced 3rd and 9 on their own 36-yard line but completed a crucial deep ball from Brunell to Crayton to move the chains and gain 33 yards. Crayton, who would go on to lead the Hoyas with 115 receiving yards on seven receptions, would eventually be brought down at Harvard’s 31-yard line. In the end, though, the drive came up short; Sgarlata’s aggressive decision to throw for the end zone on 4th and 4 from the Harvard 11 instead of settling for a field goal attempt did not pay off, as Brunell’s pass sailed out of the back of the end zone after he miscommunicated with Tomas.
After halftime, both teams came out slowly on offense. Georgetown earned the first scoring opportunity when, after the teams traded three-and-outs, it drove to the Harvard 29-yard line before Brunell’s fourth-down pass to Sergio Portobanco fell incomplete. On the Crimson’s ensuing possession, Wimberley was stopped short of the line-to-gain and the team was forced to punt.
Then, Harvard’s defense stepped up. Facing 3rd and 9 on his own 17-yard line, Brunell threw a pass that was intercepted by junior linebacker Daniel Abraham. Abraham sprinted up the right sideline and returned it all the way to the seven-yard line. Dean quickly rewarded the first interception of the season with a back-shoulder fade to the left corner that senior tight end Adam West high-pointed for a five-yard score.
Two pass interference penalties allowed Georgetown one last chance to get back in the game. On 4th and 2 from Harvard’s 22, Brunell lofted a pass to the left corner of the end zone that Asante Das was unable to pull down. Das would leave the game with cramps after the play, which would mark the end of the game for Dean too: Murphy, feeling secure about the game’s eventual outcome, pulled his starting quarterback.
With Emge now at the helm, the Crimson offense did not skip a beat. Two Shampklin runs gained 18 yards to start the drive, and when he needed to, the junior quarterback stepped up, completing a four-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Gavin Sharkey to secure a fresh set of downs. He then scrambled for five yards and a first down to convert yet another fourth down on the Georgetown 34; Harvard excelled in fourth-down conversions against the Hoyas, successfully passing the chains on three of their four attempts.
Shampklin then appeared to have scored his third touchdown of the game, tiptoeing down the left sideline before creeping into the end zone for a 29-yard score. The referee signaled for a touchdown and Harvard lined up to kick the extra point, but an official review confirmed that Shampklin had inadvertently stepped out of bounds at the six-yard line. Emge was stuffed on first down but refused to be denied on his second attempt, keeping it himself for a six-yard score to extend the lead to 44-9.
The game ended with that scoreline, for the teams traded punts the rest of the way. Crimson fans thought their team had scored another touchdown when first-year cornerback RuQuan Brown scooped up a loose ball and ran it into the end zone, but the fumble was overturned upon review when it was determined that Georgetown’s ball carrier had touched the ground before losing control of the football.
With the loss, Georgetown fell to 1-1 (0-0 Patriot League) after having defeated Delaware State in its opening game. Fifth-year senior Brunell finished 20/37, passing for 249 yards with a touchdown and an interception while being sacked four times. Tomas was the only Hoya to rush for positive net yardage, gaining three yards on two rushing attempts. The Hoyas will face Columbia next on Sept. 25 in New York.
Meanwhile, fresh off its dominant performance, Harvard prepares for a Friday night game under the lights in its Ivy League season opener against Brown (0-1, 0-0 Ivy) on Sept. 24 at Harvard Stadium. Historically, Harvard has amassed a 21-5 record under Murphy, and if it extends it, it will mark a terrific start to Murphy’s bid to win a 10th Ivy League title. Harvard enters the season projected to finish fourth in the preseason media poll, behind Princeton, Yale, and Dartmouth.
For now, the team will enjoy its victory. But Murphy knows that, for the Crimson to finish three spots higher than its preseason projection and reign supreme over the Ivy League, it still faces an uphill battle.
“We have plenty to work on, and I’m sure there will be even more once we watch the video, but one thing we do know — we’ve got a great bunch of kids, very hungry, very coachable, and we’re just going to have to be very simple in a very short work week when you consider that we have a Friday night game in six days,” he said.
When asked if he wanted to send a message to the rest of the Ivy League, Shampklin was even more concise: “Nope, you’ll see us next week.”
—Staff writer Griffin Wong can be reached at email@example.com.