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No. 19 Harvard football (8-1, 5-1) hosted Penn (6-3, 3-3) at home for a dramatic competition between two contenders for the 2023 Ivy League Championship. The Senior Day competition proved to be a close one through and through, with both the Crimson and the Quakers keeping a close score throughout the game. After three overtimes, Harvard was able to clinch at least a share of the Ivy League title with a score of 25-23.
“First of all, never a dull moment,” said Head Coach Tim Murphy remarking on the game as a whole. “We had so many opportunities that we didn’t necessarily cash in, but at the end of the day, our kids showed their character. ‘Never give up, never ever give up’ has always been our mantra, and obviously today was the epitome of that. So proud of our kids, so proud of our coaches — it was just a great day for Harvard football.”
Penn methodically drove down the field on its first drive, starting with a 13-yard run by Quakers freshman Malachi Hosley. They then had two consecutive plays that led them to Harvard’s 29-yard line, where Hosley ran for 29 yards into the end zone. The play went under review, but resulted in a Penn touchdown and a 7-0 lead for the Quakers.
Harvard’s first drive gained momentum immediately when sophomore quarterback Jaiden Craig hit sophomore wide receiver Cooper Barkate for a 13-yard gain and a first down. The drive covered 68 yards in six plays, ending in a three-yard rushing touchdown by Craig to get the Crimson on the board and tie the game after Canaval’s extra point.
With 10:45 to go in the first quarter, the Quakers got the ball back, but Penn was stopped by the Harvard defense on the drive, unable to get any points on the board and forced to punt 38 yards to the Harvard 27-yard line.
A few minutes later, Harvard got the ball back, but were unable to score. The 33-yard, eight play drive culminated in a 30-yard punt from junior kicker Sebastian Tasko. The rest of the quarter was a wash, keeping the score tied 7-7 throughout the end of the frame. Penn took the ball back at the start of the second, covering 31 yards on the ground and ending the drive with a field goal from 43 yards out to bring the score to 7-10 with 11:13 to go.
Harvard responded on its next drive, marching down the field in a 13-play drive that covered 80 yards, ending when Craig threw an eight-yard pass to Barkate for the touchdown with 5:22 left in the second quarter. However, Canaval missed the extra point, keeping the score at 13-10.
Penn went three-and-out on its next drive, leaving Harvard time to add to its lead. The Crimson took advantage of the opportunity, completing a nine play, 70-yard drive capped off with a two yard run from Craig to bring the score to 20-10 with 1:06 left in the half.
“I fully expect them to enjoy this time and be together,” said Coach Murphy about the game against Penn. “You know we play 10 games and I just want them to enjoy this before we move on. When we move on, it's not gonna be a problem. It will be with a laser-like focus like it always is with Yale no matter what the record, no matter what's at stake.”
The start of the third quarter proved tough for Harvard’s offense, as it struggled to get points on the board during their drives. However, the Crimson defense held strong, keeping Penn’s offense from scoring any touchdowns and holding them to a 23-yard field goal to bring the score to 20-13.
Tensions ran high between the two teams in the fourth quarter, as Penn began to climb their way back into the contest. The Quakers ate up four minutes of clock with a 41-yard, eight-play drive that ended with a one-yard rushing touchdown from Hosley, tying the score 20-20. Harvard then attempted to respond, but failed, as its nine-minute drive ended with a missed field goal by Canaval from 30 yards out.
With 2:15 to go in regulation, Penn had the ball and a chance to win the game with a score. After driving to the edge of field goal range, the Quakers’ 59-yard field goal attempt was blocked as time expired, keeping the score at 20-20 and sending the game into overtime.
“When we had the opportunity to go to overtime, we found it lucky because we had made some mistakes offensively so we were very happy that we had another opportunity to go for the win,” Craig said. “We got bailed out by our defense and then were just able to capitalize at the very end. We bent, but never broke, so very happy.”
Anxiety ran high in the stadium as Penn got the first possession in overtime. However, they were unable to take the ball into the end zone, and the Quakers kicked a 36-yard field goal to take a 23-20 lead, but leaving Harvard a chance to win the game with a touchdown.
Harvard was given the ball, and under the pressure, they were able to execute an eight play, 24-yard drive. On fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line, the Crimson decided to forgo their opportunity to go for the touchdown to win the game, and instead opted for a 19-yard field goal from Canaval, tying the game at 23-23 after the first overtime period.
Harvard started the second overtime period with the ball, but it was unable to put any points on the board as Craig’s pass was intercepted by Penn. Luckily for the Crimson, Penn’s field goal attempt from 36 yards out on its ensuing possession was unsuccessful. After this point, the two teams had to take turns attempting two point conversions, as the score was still tied. The Quakers had another chance to score, but fell short again, as their pass attempt on the three-yard line was unsuccessful, getting swatted away by junior defensive back Gavin Shipman.
On its first two point attempt, Harvard pulled off the play of the season. In a play reminiscent of the Philadelphia Eagles’ legendary “Philly Special” in Super Bowl LII, Craig handed off to junior wide receiver Scott Woods, who then tossed the ball to Barkate on the reverse. Barkate was then able to find Craig in the end zone for the winning two-point conversion, securing a 25-23 victory for the Crimson, and a share of the Ivy League championship. Harvard surged onto the field to celebrate, with Craig pointing to his ring finger as the team swarmed the field.
“Yeah it was pretty deep,” said Coach Murphy about reaching into the offensive’s playbook for the final play. “Again, kudos to our coaches. All of our coaches, offense, defense, special teams and it was a great call by our offensive coordinator Mickey Fein and he did a phenomenal job with it. It's one of those games when obviously when you have first and goal from the one foot line, you never assume anything to just assume you’re gonna get it in.”
At the end of the game, Craig recorded three touchdowns for Harvard, two rushing and one passing. He set a new career high for pass completions with 23, as well as throwing for over 250 yards in one game. His performance earned him the accolade of the NEFW/Grinold Chapter Gold Helmet.
“Kudos to the coaches; play calling was great,” said Craig on his performance. “Everyone did their jobs around me and made it easy on me, from the o-line to the tight ends, running back, receivers. All I had to do was do what the coaches told me to do.”
Junior running back Shane McLaughlin also had a career high in carries, carrying 27 times for 88 yards. On the defensive side, senior defensive-lineman Griffith led Harvard in tackles, recording 10 for a new season high. Senior linebacker Matt Hudson recorded nine tackles, while sophomore safety Ty Bartrum followed with eight.
The win marks the first time since 2014 Harvard has had a 6-0 winning home record. For the program, the win is more than just a victory — it’s a defining moment for the rest of their lives.
“Football, in general, connects you for life,” said Coach Murphy about what he wants the seniors to remember. “It's hard to explain that, because it seems self-serving, but it’s absolutely true. Why does it connect you for life? Because it's so hard. It's just so hard of a sport but when you accomplish something like this, and especially not just what they did but the way they did it, it connects you for life.”
“You know, I've been a head coach for 37 years and some of my guys at the University of Maine are in their 50s and I'm like how the hell did that happen?” he continued. “But again, just proud of these kids and it connects them for life and will certainly motivate them for next weekend.”
Looking ahead to next week, the team is preparing for the most historic game of the year: Harvard-Yale, where the team has the opportunity to secure an outright Ivy League title. The Crimson will travel to New Haven, Conn. to take on the Bulldogs (6-3, 4-2) on Saturday, Nov. 18. The game will kick off at 12:00 p.m. EST in the Yale Bowl.
-Staff writer Nadia Fairfax can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
-Staff writer Jack Canavan can be reached at email@example.com
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