Harvard passes this test
ITHACA, N.Y. - Cornell got in the first shot and slugged toe-to-toe with Harvard for nearly three quarters, but in the end, it was the Crimson’s haymakers and relentless aggression that won the fight.
A near record-setting performance by second-string quarterback Colton Chapple and four sacks by the defense keyed Harvard’s 41-31 Ivy League victory over Cornell yesterday before a sunsplashed crowd of 6,471 at Schoellkopf Field.
“I thought Cornell played us extremely tough, it was a very challenging game for us,’’ said Harvard coach Tim Murphy.
“They gave us all we could handle, and I’m really proud of the way we responded in the second half. It wasn’t always pretty, but we did what we had to do to win.’’
Chapple was 23 of 28 for 414 yards and four touchdowns, the last three on consecutive possessions over a 6 1/2-minute span late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, when the Crimson (3-1, 2-0) turned a 24-20 deficit into a 41-24 lead with a little less than 11 minutes to play.
Chapple’s passing yardage stands second on Harvard’s all-time list, behind the 433 of Neil Rose in 2002 at Dartmouth. The 6-foot-2-inch junior played in place of senior Collier Winters, who is still nursing a strained hamstring suffered in the opener.
“This was really a team effort,’’ Chapple said. All told, the offense racked up 544 yards, to 382 for Cornell.
“We came out a little slow, but we regrouped at halftime and really buckled down, and it all started up front with those five offensive linemen. They gave me all day to throw, and when they do that for me, I’ve got to do my job.’’
The Big Red (2-2, 0-2) got another solid passing day from sophomore Jeff Mathews, who completed 21 of 35 throws for 322 yards and three touchdowns, two to senior wideout Shane Savage (8 catches, 152 yards).
But big mistakes, particularly on specials teams, doomed Cornell. A surprise pooch kick was recovered by the Crimson in good field position and led to a touchdown. Then in the second half, Brad Greenway had consecutive miscues - sending a kickoff out of bounds following a Cornell touchdown, then going to one knee to field a low punt snap, giving Harvard the ball in Cornell territory and leading to another score.
“We can’t be making those mistakes against a good team, our seniors need to know that,’’ said Cornell second-year coach Kent Austin.
Harvard’s victory was its 10th in the last 11 meetings and marked the fifth time in the last six meetings that the Crimson have scored at least 31 points. Harvard has now reached 30 points in five of its last seven road games.
The home team couldn’t have asked for a better start. After a short kickoff, Mathews drove the Big Red 70 yards to the end zone in just three plays - passes to tailback Grant Gellatly, wide receiver Luke Tasker, and Savage, the last a 42-yard scoring strike.
A pregame warning from Murphy proved prophetic, as the Crimson found themselves down, 7-0, just 71 seconds into the game.
“The last thing I said to our kids before we came out was, ‘Trust me, this is not going to be easy,’ ’’ Murphy said.
“We played well the first three games, but we hadn’t had a whole ton of adversity, and I thought our kids really responded and kept their poise, kept to the game plan.’’
The score stayed 7-0 until 3:50 remained in the quarter, when Harvard capitalized on Cornell’s only turnover of the game, a Mathews pass that went through receiver Ryan Houska’s hands and was picked off by Alex Gedeon.
Chapple drove the Crimson 81 yards in six plays, hitting Adam Chrissis from 11 yards for the score.
The points came quickly after that, with the lead changing hands three times in the second quarter and Cornell retaking the lead once in the third, before Harvard took charge with 21 consecutive points midway through the half.
After playing three of its first four games on the road, Harvard begins a three-game homestand Saturday against Bucknell in its final nonleague game of the season.