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The Harvard football team (1-0) kicked off their 2023 season on Saturday afternoon at Harvard Stadium against the (1-2) St. Thomas Tommies. The game marked the official start of the Crimson’s 150th season, and Harvard came to play, starting off strong and scoring on its first three possessions. The Crimson finished with seven touchdowns in the 45-13 victory, Harvard’s 12th win in its season opener.
“Great start to the season,” head coach Tim Murphy said. “Not sure that we thought that it would be kind of a score like that, but we came out and played great defense and anytime you play great defense going into the fourth quarter, you got a chance to win. In any good program it starts with that.
“We’re really happy how offensively we made some big plays and we’ve got some kids that can run the ball,” Murphy continued. “We’ve got athletic quarterbacks, an offensive line I thought played really well, tough to tell when you’ve never really played, it’s hard to get a good feel. They’re going to be a very good team in their league, maybe the best team in their league, but a very solid start to the season overall, proud of our kids.”
Harvard’s offensive fireworks began on the first play of the season. After taking a handoff from junior quarterback Charles DePrima, junior running back Shane McLaughlin burst through a hole and down the right sideline for a 79-yard touchdown, the Crimson’s longest touchdown run since 2009. The run put the Crimson in good position with a 7-0 lead.
“That was just a really cool moment for the offense in general, to get rolling that well so early,” said DePrima about the opening offensive play for the Crimson. “And Shane, [he’s] a really good friend of mine, of all of ours, he’s been working real hard, been battling injuries, so to see him break away that early, that was really good for him, and definitely got us juiced up.”
On the next possession, Harvard doubled its lead, with a 21-yard rush by DePrima placing Harvard on the St. Thomas 4-yard line. Sophomore quarterback Jaden Craig then took over, running the ball into the end zone for a touchdown, extending the Crimson lead to 14-0.
On the defensive side, the Crimson’s defensive line kept up with the offense. Sophomore defensive lineman Alex DeGrieck forced a fumble on St. Thomas’ following possession which junior defensive lineman Nick Yagodich recovered, putting Harvard in position to score again. The Crimson did just that, scoring three plays later with sophomore running back Isaiah Abbey finding the end zone for a touchdown, extending Harvard’s lead to 21-0.
“I just think that Coach Larkey, our [defensive coordinator] had a great game plan for these guys,” said senior linebacker Matthew Hudson about the defense’s game plan. “We saw all their plays on film, we had a lot of time to prepare for them being the first week of the season, and we’re in the right place climatically to bottle the run up, make plays, and just let our guys, first game out of emotion and just fly around, be physical.”
The defense continued to make big plays for the Crimson in the second quarter, when sophomore safety Ty Bartrum intercepted a pass by St. Thomas quarterback Amari Powell and returned it 96 yards into the end zone. His interception returned for a touchdown was also Harvard’s first since 2021.
“That felt great,” said Bartrum about his interception. “They ran that play a few times that drive and before, and I was just post safety so I was just helping out and it was just right to me. When I saw the grass, I knew it was a lot of grass, and it felt great.”
The rest of the league acknowledged his play on Saturday as well, as he was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week, with a total of eight tackles and a touchdown.
Outstanding secondary play made up only one part of Harvard’s stalwart defensive effort. St. Thomas’ run-heavy offense posed a challenge for Harvard's defense, as running backs Hope Adebeyo and Shawn Shipman combined for 101 yards and Tommies’ only two touchdowns. Limiting longer runs was key to stopping the St. Thomas offense.
“If you don’t stop the run, you can’t stop the rest, it’s that simple,” said Coach Murphy. “You gotta be able to stop the run. That’s momentum, that’s mojo, that’s how you develop physicality. So if you stop the run, you make scoring a lot harder. The team becomes more predictable, you can get after their quarterback. Week to week it’s gonna be different challenges. Not to get off to next week, but next week you got a team that throws the ball as well as anyone in our league, so we’ll cross that bridge starting tomorrow.”
Senior Kicker Cali Canaval finished out the first half of the game with a career best 43-yard field goal with only six seconds left in the first half, making the score 31-0 Harvard. Coming back on the field, DePrima opened the third quarter with a touchdown run. The quarterback reached the end zone with a 69-yard rush, making it the longest touchdown rush by a Harvard quarterback since 2009.
St. Thomas broke through halfway through the third quarter when Adebeyo ran into the endzone, bringing the score to 38-7. However, the Crimson responded with another touchdown on their next possession, when DePrima found senior tight end Tyler Neville for an 18-yard touchdown, pushing the Crimson’s lead to 45-7. The touchdown pass was the first of DePrima’s career, and Neville’s fifth.
St. Thomas got their second touchdown in the fourth quarter with 10:18 left, scoring the last points of the game. At the conclusion of the contest, the Crimson defense had a total of two interceptions, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and nine tackles for loss. Coach Murphy also made history with his 193rd win, extending his Harvard and Ivy League record for most wins as a head coach in history.
Some other players on the Crimson also made history during the game on Saturday. DePrima became the first Harvard quarterback to record 100 yards rushing in a game in 11 years. McLaughlin ended the game with 96 total yards, and senior safety Garrett Sharp had a career high of 12 tackles.
The team was also voted 25th in the Division One FCS Coaches Poll at the beginning of this week, following its win over St. Thomas. The team was unranked last year. The ranking makes Harvard the Ivy League team ranked so far this season, edging out rivals Princeton and Yale who also received votes in the poll.
“The numbers, the math doesn’t lie,” Murphy said. “We have plenty of things to clean up, trust me, we’ll do that, but it was a very very solid opener for us. In terms of just the emotion and the physicality that our kids played with, that was excellent. If we can play with that type of emotion and physicality every week, and continue to get better at the things we need to get better at, then one week at a time we can be a good football team.”
With Ivy League play rapidly approaching, the Crimson plan to build off their momentum while fine tuning small mistakes to operate at full force. Continuing a heavy emphasis on stopping the run will prove pivotal for the Harvard’s success for the rest of the season
“I would just say, we have to be a little better on first down runs,” said Murphy about areas where the team can improve. “Again, we worked a lot of players through the defensive line. It’s a combination of things. Again, we found out our guys can make plays. We found out today our guys will fight. So, we’ll have tons of things to work on. When you have guys that will fight and are really locked in, and you get great leadership, one week at a time, we can be a good football team. We’re not terribly deep, so we’re gonna have to keep doing a good job with that.”
Preparing for the week ahead, the Crimson hope to see strong play from their secondary once again when facing off against pass heavy Brown this week. In their first game of the season, senior quarterback and reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Jake Wilcox powered the Bears to a 29-25 win with 355 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, leading a fourth quarter comeback in the process.
Harvard faces off against Brown (1-0) this Friday, September 22nd at 7 pm at Harvard Stadium.
-Staff writer Nadia Fairfax can be reached at email@example.com
-Staff writer Jack Canavan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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