The focus all week for Harvard, in securing the program’s 13th straight win, the longest in the Football Championship Subdivision, and a 2-0 start in the Ivy League, was rhythm and pressure.
Specifically, upsetting the rhythm of impressive slinger Jeff Mathews, the league’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year, and a high-powered Cornell attack.
Josh Boyd, a bit bummed after soaking up last week’s conquest of Holy Cross amid steady rain from the sideline with a sore shoulder, was only happy to deliver the first blow.
On Mathews’s second pass attempt, a short hookup with halfback Luke Hagy over the middle, the 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound Boyd jarred the ball loose and pounced on the fumble at the Cornell 39.
“Any time you can come out in an Ivy League game, you want to set the tone early,” said Boyd, a senior linebacker out of Hyde Park via Catholic Memorial who was in on a team-high nine stops. “It was huge to provide that spark. Just wanted to make a play for the team.”
Four plays later, senior Colton Chapple had the Crimson in the end zone with a 17-yard play-action toss to Andrew Berg, the first of three scoring strikes to the junior receiver, and the first of four on the afternoon for the 6-2, 195-pound quarterback from Alpharetta, Ga., in an impressive 45-13 victory over the Big Red in front of 7,112 at the Stadium.
Chapple capped his 24-of-36, 362-yard aerial blitz with a 24-yard loft to a leaping Ricky Zorn at the goal line in the fourth quarter, and bolted 4 yards to the right pylon for the Crimson’s sixth TD. Harvard (4-0, 2-0), ranked 23d, piled up 544 total yards.
But it was the Crimson D, spearheaded by the hard-hitting Boyd (he knocked the helmet off Cornell receiver Jesse Heon with a third-quarter blow) and fellow linebacker Bobby Schneider (eight tackles), that anchored a unit that harassed the 6-4, 221-pound Mathews from start to finish.
Mathews (21 of 44, 307 yards) was sacked four times, hurried on nine more snaps, was 2 of 13 on third down, and picked off twice, with junior safeties Chris Splinter (Masconomet Regional) and Jaron Wilson each capitalizing on pressure applied by the front seven.
“If you are going to have success against [Mathews], you’ve got to get him off his rhythm,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy.
“When he gets in there, and he gets time, and he gets guys open, he just lasers [balls] in there.”
The Crimson, who have held 17 of their last 30 Ivy foes to 100 yards rushing or fewer, clamped down on Cornell’s ground game (29 yards on 19 carries), forcing the Big Red to attack almost exclusively through the air.
“I did not make enough plays today, we knew we were going to see the pressure,” said Mathews.
Cornell coach Kent Austin added, “Their secondary shut down our receivers, they got physical with them.”
The Big Red secondary was defenseless against the 5-11, 195-pound Berg (career-high 10 catches, 132 yards), who made an adjustment on his second TD with a 9-yard over-the-shoulder grab, and fellow junior Zorn (5-100).
And senior tailback Treavor Scales (21 carries, 106 yards, 1 touchdown) churned out his third 100-yard game of the season, operating behind an offensive line that was minus two starters, senior center Jack Holuba (possible concussion) and sophomore right tackle Will Whitman, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Wednesday. Juniors David Leopard (center) and Parker Sebastian (tackle), and freshman Cole Toner (tackle) were stellar in relief. And sophomore wideout Seitu Smith, arguably Harvard’s most explosive player, was out with a hand injury.
“Credit our offensive line, I’ve only been touched in a few games,” said Chapple, who in the opinion of his coach is the Ivy’s Player of the Year through four games.
Said Murphy, “We have had such a lineage of QBs, but I don’t think anyone has been a better decision-maker, and been a more poised quarterback.” Chapple has 10 touchdowns (eight passing) the last two weeks and is now 10-1 in starts over three seasons.
Chapple’s third scoring toss to Berg, covering 15 yards, handed Harvard a 21-0 lead with 14:31 left in the second quarter before Mathews answered with Cornell’s only touchdown, a 3-yard dart to senior Luke Tasker, son of former Buffalo Bills special teams whiz Steve Tasker.
“We did a lot of things wrong offensively today, and we had too many penalties [13 for 100 yards],” said Murphy. “But we were very resilient. We just hung in there, hung in there, and made plays.”
Craig Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeLars.