Harvard turns a switch
Winters returns, lights up Tigers
Harvard coach Tim Murphy knew Thursday morning he was going to start Collier Winters at quarterback. The move caught Princeton by surprise.
Winters had been out since the season opener against Holy Cross with a hamstring injury and between the four touchdowns Colton Chapple threw two weeks ago against Cornell and the school-record-tying five he threw last week against Bucknell, the Tigers had every reason to prepare for Chapple.
Princeton defensive end Mike Catapano even assumed that it was Chapple’s job.
“Obviously, we were expecting the starter, Chapple,’’ he said.
Taking back the reins, Winters was surgical, completing 34 of 42 passes for 403 yards and a record-tying five touchdowns, and rushing for another score to lead Harvard to a 56-39 Ivy League victory yesterday in what was a walkover one minute and a hair-raiser the next at Harvard Stadium.
“The thing about Collier is that he’s just relentless,’’ Murphy said. “He doesn’t have a lot of patience like a lot of successful people. He’s always got this sense of urgency.’’
Winters, who became the fourth player in school history to pass for 400 yards, was in Murphy’s ear to get back on the field the week after he pulled his hamstring, but Murphy refused, thinking the injury was too serious. While he was out, Chapple threw for 918 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“We certainly had a decision to make,’’ Murphy said.
But when he checked Winters’ résumé - three-year starter, All-Ivy League, 4-0 against Princeton and Yale - not to mention his sacrifices - “He didn’t have to come back as a fifth-year senior,’’ Murphy said - Winters was the starter on merit.
“He got hurt,’’ Murphy said. “He didn’t get beat out, he got hurt.’’
Feeling no ill-effects yesterday, Winters went to work quickly, rushing for a touchdown on Harvard’s first drive then on the next finding Matt Brown, whose two-handed catch over a pair of defenders led to 29-yard touchdown pass that put the Crimson up, 14-6.
On the sideline, Chapple was at Murphy’s side, an extra pair of eyes, and when Winters came off the field the two quarterbacks were constantly chattering, exchanging what they saw and refusing to let any issues build.
“I’m really proud of what Colton did while I was out,’’ Winters said. “I’m thankful for the coaches having the confidence in me to play me, but I’m really grateful for Colton leading us in this position. He did a terrific job.’’
Harvard has made a ritual of dominating Princeton, taking 14 of the last 16 - seven of eight at the Stadium. The Tigers yesterday shook every last X and O out of the playbook, gambling that if they couldn’t outplay the Crimson then maybe they could outsmart them.
“I think our admissions dean would like you saying that,’’ said Princeton coach Bob Surace said. “[Harvard] put points up on the board so we did have to take advantage of some things that maybe we thought would work.’’
Watching Princeton run flea-flickers, reverses, end-arounds, fake handoffs, student-body rights, onside kicks, and pitch-backs on kickoffs and still lose by 17 was like looking at a smartphone with an app for everything but somehow couldn’t make a phone call.
“We knew that coming in,’’ said Harvard linebacker Alex Gedeon said. “It’s hard to pin down how they’re going to attack you. But the way we play defense, the way we prepared, we should be ready for any of that.’’
The Tigers, who trailed, 42-16, at one point, scored 22 points in a third quarter that gave the scoreboard a workout - Harvard scored 21. Tommy Wornham (21 of 36, 277 yards, one passing touchdown and two rushing) and Chuck Dibilio (22 carries for 135 yards) sparked a rally that threatened to spoil Winters’s return. The Tigers closed to within 42-39 early in the fourth quarter on Wornham’s 1-yard plunge, but their surge couldn’t make up for their mistakes - eight penalties for 95 yards and three turnovers.
When Gideon picked off Wornham with 7:47 left in the fourth quarter, his third forced turnover in three games, it all but buried the Tigers.
Murphy said Winters would be the starting quarterback going forward. Seeing the two quarterbacks Harvard had at its disposal, Surace considered it a pleasant problem for the Crimson.
“It’s a great dilemma to have when you have a couple of guys playing real well,’’ he said. “I’m looking forward to getting to the point where we have that dilemma.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.