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Football Thrashes Cornell, 40-3, for 18th Straight Win

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UPDATED: October 10, 2015, at 4:30 p.m.

ITHACA, N.Y.—The Harvard football team trailed for the first time all season early in Saturday’s contest. The deficit lasted for exactly 17 seconds.

After falling behind, 3-0, the Crimson (4-0, 2-0 Ivy) rode an explosive offensive attack and a dominant defensive performance to a 40-3 victory over Cornell (0-4, 0-2). The visiting Harvard squad put the game firmly out of reach by the third quarter and notched its fourth rout in as many contests this year.

Propelled by three touchdown passes from senior quarterback Scott Hosch and 101 rushing yards from senior running back Paul Stanton, the Crimson extended its season-long streak of at least 40 points a game.

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But the Harvard defense stole the show. Cornell managed only 192 yards of total offense and ventured into the red zone only a single time. Quarterback Robert Somborn tossed three interceptions, and his team coughed up a fumble, as well.

“We said that we would stop the run today,” said senior defensive end Dan Moody. “Defensively, that’s our first priority. If we can stop the run and make them one-dimensional, that makes it an easier day for the defense as a whole.”

And stop the run Harvard did. Entering the game, Big Red running back Luke Hagy had rushed for over 100 yards in six consecutive contests. On Saturday, the Crimson defense ended that streak with plenty of room to spare, holding Hagy to just 33 yards on the ground. The run-first Cornell offense floundered as a result, picking up just eight first downs.

The lack of a ground game also forced Somborn to make risky throws downfield. In a testament to the defense’s depth, each of its three interceptions came from different sources—senior Jordan Becerra, sophomore Luke Hutton, and junior Eric Ryan. Harvard immediately capitalized on the miscues of its opponent, scoring 16 points off turnovers.

Meanwhile, the Crimson offense experienced none of these problems. Harvard spread the ball around to its weapons at the skill positions, and different individuals scored each of the team’s five touchdowns.

It all started with the ground game on Saturday. Stanton eclipsed 100 yards for the second-straight week, and has scored in 15 consecutive games.

Hosch tacked on some sizable scrambles of his own. Typically considered a pocket passer, the senior demonstrated his ability when the pocket broke down on several occasions. His 78 yards rushing were more than double the total of Cornell’s Hagy.

“When we can run and throw as an offense, it opens things up,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “We have here arguably the best offensive line we've had in a long, long time, and that combination makes us very tough for people to defend.”

A prolific run game opened space downfield for the passing attack. While Hosch was inconsistent on some of his shorter attempts—he finished 14-of-30—the quarterback experienced greater success on longer passes. All three of the senior’s touchdown passes were on deeper looks: a 47-yard throw to senior tight end Ben Braunecker, a 19-yard strike to junior tight end Anthony Firkser, and a 46-yard spiral to freshman wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley.

With senior wide receiver Andrew Fischer sidelined for the game with an upper-body injury, Hosch seemed eager to target his duo of tight ends.

“We just have two great tight ends with Ben Braunecker and Anthony Firkser,” Hosch said. “Anytime anyone tries to play man-on-man on these guys, they're going to get a lot of targets.”

Braunecker, who led the team with 64 receiving yards, made his presence felt midway through the opening quarter. On the first play after Cornell took an early lead with a field goal, Hosch found Braunecker streaking down the middle of the field for the score.

A different tight end came through two offensive possessions later. After an interception gave Harvard the ball inside the red zone, Firkser reeled in a high bullet from Hosch, dragged one foot, and maintained possession as he tumbled out of bounds for a 19-yard touchdown.

As it has throughout the season, Harvard featured an explosive, quick-strike offense that put up points in a flurry. Three of the team’s touchdown drives took up less than a minute of the game clock.

While the game ended up as a rout, Harvard could have widened the margin even more quickly were it not for missed opportunities inside the red zone. The first came with six minutes remaining in the second quarter, when sophomore Kenny Smart hooked a 34-yard field goal attempt wide left after an incomplete pass to Braunecker in traffic.

The next possession ended in similar fashion, with Hosch’s pass to Braunecker falling well in front of his intended receiver. As the Crimson sideline cried for defensive holding, Smart this time nailed the attempt from 28 yards out.

Two more missed opportunities came in the second half. Hutton’s interception gave Harvard the ball at the Cornell 10-yard line, but the series ended in a Crimson turnover-on-downs. Smart again converted for three points after another drive stalled in the red zone.

But a dominant performance from the Crimson defense ensured that these missed opportunities would prove irrelevant, as Harvard coasted to its 18th straight win. Through four games, this year’s unit seems to be gunning to repeat as the top-ranked scoring defense in FCS.

—Staff writer David Steinbach can be reached at david.steinbach@thecrimson.com.

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