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NEW YORK — Coming off two consecutive losses, to Princeton on Oct. 23 and Dartmouth on Oct. 30, Harvard (5-2, 2-2 Ivy) traveled down to New York City knowing it needed to beat Columbia (5-2, 2-2 Ivy) to have any chance of roaring back into the Ivy League title race. It got off to a hot start, with two touchdowns from junior running back Aaron Shampklin propelling the Crimson to a 14-0 lead after the first frame, and cruised to a 49-21 win to quash all of the Lions’ hopes for a conference championship. At 6-2 (3-2 Ivy), Harvard is now just one game back of Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale (who defeated Brown, 63-38, on Saturday to improve to 4-1) in the Ancient Eight.
After sophomore quarterback Charlie Dean, who entered the season as the starter, suffered a season-ending injury, the Crimson turned to junior quarterback Luke Emge, who earned his first career start against Columbia. Emge had performed admirably in relief of senior quarterback Jake Smith in the loss to the Big Green, completing six of his eight passes for 73 yards and leading Harvard on three potential game-tying field-goal drives in the fourth quarter. After saying that, after the Dartmouth contest, he would evaluate all of his signal-caller options, head coach Tim Murphy made the move to Emge. In the victory, Emge torched the Lions for 227 yards and three touchdowns. He was also efficient, completing 17 of his 25 passes, good for a completion percentage of 68 percent, the best mark for a Crimson quarterback this season. His sole interception, an underthrown ball around the left hash marks that Columbia safety Jordan Colbert snagged at the Lions’ 40-yard line, came with the final result all but secure at 42-14.
“I was excited to get out there [and] play with the guys,” Emge said. “[I] had confidence in my game plan, confidence in the [offensive line] and receivers. We have a lot of playmakers, so my focus was just getting the ball to them and letting them make plays.”
Aided by the coaching staff, Harvard’s bevy of playmakers did just that. Shampklin was dialed from the start of the game, taking his three carries for 21 yards on the opening drive, including a five-yard score. Overall, Shampklin gained 75 yards on his 19 handoffs and found paydirt twice. Offensive coordinator Mickey Fein also presented an aggressive passing offense early, which reflected a clear contrast from its previous games, when Dean and Smith predominantly threw short and medium-range passes. However, on the first possession, Emge tossed a long pass down the right sideline that junior wide receiver Kym Wimberly high-pointed in traffic. Throughout the afternoon, Emge repeatedly attempted to throw into the heart of Columbia’s secondary.
The Crimson also tried to catch the Lions' defense off guard with trick plays. It completed two of them in the first half, each going for significant gains that set up touchdowns on each of the ensuing snaps. In the opening quarter, Harvard used the fear of a Shampklin run to set up a wide-open completion to senior wide receiver James Batch. Shampklin took the handoff up the middle before pitching it back to Emge, who launched it downfield. Although he slightly underthrew Batch, no blue jerseys were within five yards of the receiver. He took it down the sideline before he was finally pushed out of bounds just shy of the pylon. Shampklin plunged up the middle for a score on the next play to extend the Crimson lead to 14-0. It was his tenth touchdown of the season: in addition to his nine on the ground, he also took a short pass into the end zone against Dartmouth on Oct. 30.
“I thought our coaches did a great job of game-planning,” Murphy explained. “Having a balanced offense, having a complementary offense, keeping teams guessing, going with some big plays to get some momentum, … the combination of those things today led to a big output.”
A few drives later, the Harvard offense did it again. After receiving the ball on its own 46-yard line after notching a fourth-down stop with a 21-0 lead, Emge manufactured a score in just 34 seconds. The possession started off with another trick play, this time a reverse to sophomore wide receiver Gavin Sharkey, who launched a tight spiral into tight coverage up the right hash marks to Batch. Showing off his natural touch, Sharkey placed it where only his receiver could get it, just over the outstretched hands of the Lions defender. The very next play, Emge lasered a perfectly-placed pass on a shallow post route to junior tight end Adam Shepherd, who came down in the end zone for another touchdown.
“I didn’t make the call. That was [Fein] who did a great job with it, but I did put down an edict that we’re going to run [a certain] amount of explosives,” Murphy said. “We’ve built up a resume, that they haven’t seen those things, and therefore, it’s obviously the perfect time to get after it.”
Meanwhile, while everything broke the Crimson’s way in the early going, Columbia’s missed opportunity on its second drive cost it all the momentum it had gathered by driving down to Harvard’s five-yard line. Defensive coordinator Scott Larkee ’99’s unit had been the fifth-best red-zone defense in the nation, allowing points on just 63.2 percent of its opponents’ drives into the red zone. The Crimson defense held its ground, and after Lions kicker Alex Felkins missed a 23-yard field goal attempt, Columbia never seriously threatened to score again until late in the third quarter.
“[It was] really hard. I think [there were] a couple throws I could have hit there,” Lions quarterback Joe Green said. “It’s kind of tough, but [we] definitely should have come away with seven [points] there.”
Throughout the game, Crimson receivers made tough catch after tough catch. On Harvard's third touchdown, Emge lofted a high ball towards the back right corner of the end zone, trusting his 6’7” target, senior wide receiver/long snapper Adam West, to come down with it. He did exactly that, giving Harvard a three-score lead. Then, on its last possession of the half, the Crimson had a chance to go into the break with a five-score lead. Thanks to some heroics by Emge and Wimberly, it executed a flawless touchdown drive to all but put the game away early.
Columbia looked as if it might avoid conceding a score when it seemed to have Emge trapped in the backfield on a 2nd and 10 near midfield. However, the quarterback ducked to his left, evaded a few would-be tacklers, and broke a few more tackles before finding an opening up the middle for 14 yards, his longest rush of the game. A few plays later, Shampklin bounced around the right tackle to gain a first down on 3rd and 2, and the referees tacked on another ten yards after calling Lions defensive end Mitch Moyer for a personal conduct penalty. Emge made Columbia pay for its mistake, firing a strike to Wimberly’s back shoulder, which he hauled in in tight coverage.
“It was just a good job by our guys, Luke especially, just putting the ball in good spots,” said Wimberly, who led the team with 109 receiving yards, the first triple-digit performance by a Harvard receiver this season. “That is something we work on all day at practice, making those contested catches, and it was just a show today that we can do that.”
Despite its second-largest halftime lead of the season, Murphy refused to let off the gas after the break. After Columbia was forced to punt without earning a first down on its opening possession of the half, Harvard made an aggressive play call at the Lions’ 32-yard line. Facing 4th and 6 and well within junior kicker Jonah Lipel’s range, Emge trotted back out onto the field to attempt the conversion. Columbia entered the game with the nation’s ninth-stingiest fourth-down defense, conceding a fresh set of downs on 27.3 percent of its opponents’ attempts this season. However, Fein designed a quick curl for Wimberly down the left sideline, which kept the drive alive. The next play, sophomore running back Aidan Borguet bounced around the left side and scampered past the pylon, extending the Crimson lead to 42 points.
“We talked about it at halftime. Offense, defense, special teams, we were going to keep the pedal down,” Murphy said. “We had a different type of lead than you expect to have in our league, but we were not taking anything for granted.”
The hosts finally got on the board towards the end of the third quarter, sparked by their two-time Ivy League First-Team return specialist, wide receiver Mike Roussos. After Lions defensive lineman Ben Corniello brought Emge down at his own one-yard line on third down, junior punter Jon Sot’s kick made it only to Harvard’s 40-yard line, where Roussos was waiting for it. The senior found a hole down the left half of Robert K. Kraft Field, taking it all the way down to the nine-yard line before finally being caught by junior cornerback David Spitz. Two plays later, Green kept it himself from six yards out, cutting the Crimson lead to 42-7.
Columbia managed to score on two of its next three possessions as well, forcing Murphy to keep Emge in the game. Starting their drive on their own 29-yard line to begin the fourth quarter, trailing by 35 points, the Lions managed to open up their deep passing game, completing two passes of 20 yards or more in a ten-play, 71-yard drive. On second and goal at the Harvard 11, Green rolled out to his right and fired a strike to tight end Luke Painton. Then, after Colbert’s interception, Lions running back Dante Miller took the first snap 40 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown to cut the Crimson lead to three scores with 10 minutes, 24 seconds remaining in the game.
“Defensively, we saw in that fourth quarter especially, that they really started to pop some plays,” said senior linebacker Jordan Hill, who is serving as the 147th captain of Harvard football this season. “That’s something that we definitely need to work on, more internally than looking at what they were doing, but not allowing those plays to stack up against us.”
Instead of turning to Smith or one of his other quarterbacks, Murphy opted to keep Emge in the game, and he delivered a dagger. Harvard marched slowly and methodically down the field, chewing six minutes, two seconds off the clock in ten plays and traveling 75 yards to the end zone. Although he only threw the ball once, it went for an explosive play, as Wimberly evaded defenders for a 24-yard gain on 3rd and 6. It was Borguet who finally found paydirt, zooming around the right side for a ten-yard touchdown to firmly hammer the nail in Columbia’s coffin. The sophomore led the team in rushing yards, producing 98 yards and two touchdowns on his 15 carries. It was the third time this season that Borguet rushed for at least 80 yards, to go along with an 85-yard performance against Georgetown on Sept. 18 and a 169-yard masterpiece against Lafayette, a game that Shampklin missed with an injury.
Despite the comfortable victory, which improved the Crimson’s record against its conference rival to 63-15-1 (.804), Hill was not satisfied with his defense’s performance. With critical Ivy League matchups against Penn (Nov. 13) and Yale (Nov. 20) on the horizon, and with Harvard back in contention for its 18th conference championship, the captain was focused on the second half, in which the team was outscored, 21-14.
“We didn’t finish the game the right way,” he said. “[The offense] put up 49 points. There’s not much else you can ask for on their side. … You need to be able to finish, in the games that really matter. And against Penn and Yale to finish out the season, those are going to be good games. So, the fact that we won by such a margin isn’t even something that we’re talking about. It’s more the fact that we gave up three scores in the [second half]. That’s crazy. So, just getting back to work tomorrow and preparing for this game next Saturday is our main focus right now.”
The Quakers will enter Harvard Stadium next Saturday tied for sixth in the conference, with a record of 3-5 (1-4 Ivy). For the Crimson to secure a share of the Ivy League title, it will need to beat Penn and then Yale (5-3, 4-1 Ivy) the following weekend in New Haven, Conn. Princeton and Dartmouth must also each lose one of their remaining two games. The Tigers, after falling to the Big Green, 31-7, on Friday night, will face Yale on Nov. 13 and Penn on Nov. 20. Meanwhile, Dartmouth will welcome Cornell to Hanover, N.H., on Nov. 13 before traveling to face Brown on Nov. 20.
— Staff writer Griffin Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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