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The Harvard football team has had a record-breaking 150th season. 8-1 in overall play and with over 900 victories in program history, the Crimson heads into the historic Harvard-Yale weekend seeking the outright Ivy League Championship. A notable player amidst this historic season has been none other than sophomore wide receiver Cooper Barkate.
This stretch of Harvard’s football success faltered slightly in the midseason with a loss against Princeton and was also greatly challenged last weekend against Penn. The Quakers proved to be a tough opponent, extending the game into a third overtime. The Crimson managed to come out victorious, securing a 25-23 win and a share of the Ivy League title. Barkate and sophomore quarterback Jaden Craig, led the charge, accounting for all three of Harvard’s touchdowns. Both Barkate and Craig were essential in helping the Crimson succeed in its two-point try in the third overtime.
In NCAA overtime rules, a team alternates two-point attempts in the third period until one can score. With Penn having just missed their first try at the end zone, Harvard pulled out a phenomenal trick play. Junior wide receiver Scott Woods II took the ball from Craig on a sweep across the left side of the field, only to be passed off to Barkate, who threw the winning pass into the endzone to Craig in a perfect recreation of the Philly Special the Philadelphia Eagles ran against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
The season, while an all-time historic one, has not passed without challenges. Barkate has been a key player who has answered the call when the team has faced adversity.
As the Newport Beach, Calif. native explains, “the team definitely lacked a little bit passing the ball through most of the year.”
Despite Harvard’s struggle with its passing game and a recent quarterback switch from DePrima to Craig, Barkate managed to haul in eight catches for a total of 125 yards and a touchdown against the Quakers. When asked what changed in the team’s effective approach against Penn, he couldn’t quite put a finger on it.
“It more so just kind of happened,” the wide receiver said. “The game plan was just for us to play the best we could.”
That being said, he did attribute some of his success in the Penn game to the connection that he has with his roommate, Jaden Craig, Harvard’s new starting quarterback.
“Jaden and I have definitely developed a lot of chemistry over the past couple of years,” he explained.
Looking ahead to the final game of the season, Barkate, Craig, and the rest of the Crimson hope to keep up their momentum and continue to play their brand of football in the Bulldog’s pen.
Despite being a younger member of the team, Barkate currently leads Harvard in receiving yards, notching an impressive 441 yards into the stats book.
Barkate committed to Harvard from Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., a Southern California football powerhouse that has produced NFL stars such as Amon-Ra St. Brown and Bryce Young. Barkate was the Crimson’s highest-ranked recruit in program history and one of only two top-700 players in his recruitment class to choose an FCS school. Turning down offers from Notre Dame, UCLA, and Stanford, Barkate decided to come to Cambridge for Harvard’s prestige in both athletics and academics.
“I am a kid who really values my education just as much as my athletic future,” Barkate reflected. “It's hard to pass up Harvard.”
Despite Harvard and the other Ivy League schools lacking some of the resources and amenities that most of the big FBS schools provide to football players, Barkate does not regret selecting Harvard.
At Harvard, “you're not just a football player, you’re also a Harvard student” Barkate explained. He values the Harvard community as well as his teammates, crediting the team’s success to their sense of camaraderie and friendship.
“There are just so many interesting and cool guys that you would not be able to meet or play on a football team with anywhere else besides a place like Harvard.”
After his four years in Cambridge, Barkate plans to continue his athletic career in the National Football League. But for the time being, he remains focused on the historic rivalry in the final game of Harvard’s 2023 season.
Barkate and the rest of the Crimson are excited for their clash with the Bulldogs at the Yale Bowl, for The Game is famous for having what he called the “traditional, bigger football environment, which is really fun” for both spectators and the competing athletes. He also acknowledges Yale’s talent, implying that the bitter rivalry would likely result in a close game.
Both teams enter the weekend after exciting overtime victories. The Bulldogs beat Princeton 36-28, who handed Harvard its only loss of the year back on Oct. 21.
“I really look at every game the same and I mean, especially in football, if you get too caught up in your emotions and in your head, it's not a great thing,” Barkate said.
The Ivy League title remains up for grabs. Although Harvard has already claimed its share, both Yale and Dartmouth remain in the running for shares. With a victory over The Crimson, the Bulldogs would secure their share, while Dartmouth requires both a Yale win and a triumph against Brown. Barkate and his Harvard teammates look to defend their title by winning their last game for their seniors and securing the sole title of Ivy League Champions.
Harvard will face off against Yale this Saturday at 12:00 p.m. EST at the Yale Bowl in New Haven, Conn. The game will be streamed on ESPNU.
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