The noise of the crowd swelled to a roar as sophomore running back Aaron Shampklin was yanked down for a loss of one to set up third-and-three. Brown needed a three-and-out, and it looked as though its wish might come true. Then Smith completed a pass over the middle to senior tight end Dan Werner.
The raucous yells quickly dissipated. A shift in momentum had taken place on that simple four-yard toss over the middle. Sure enough, the Crimson kept driving. Another third down, another pass complete, this time to senior Adam Scott. In the same situation three plays later, Smith found Scott again to move the chains — Harvard had reached midfield. Several more plays later, and the Smith-Scott connection put points on the board. Scott had grabbed his fourth pass of the drive and scored his first touchdown of the season to put the Crimson up, 31-17. Silence from the stands.
“[Smith] keeps his poise, he keeps fighting, and I thought this was a step forward for him in terms of how he managed the fourth quarter,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said.
On the road and under the lights, Harvard (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) withheld a second-half surge from host Brown (0-2, 0-1) and triumphed, 31-17. The win is the Crimson’s 86th all-time against the Bears.
Looking purely at the stat sheet, it would be impossible to pin down the type of game Smith had. On one hand, he threw for 251 yards and was 23-of-30, several times completing multiple passes in succession. However, the sophomore also tossed two interceptions when Harvard was within scoring range.
That crucial fourth-quarter drive was exemplary of the second-year signal caller’s improvement from his rookie campaign. He bled 8:05 off the clock and guided his offense 87 yards to fend off a rallying Bears team. The Crimson was three-of-eight on third down conversions outside of this drive but completed the feat four times as it marched toward its final touchdown.
At the outset of the final quarter, Brown released the momentum it had built up in the third and showed that it had life. Smith was finding some holes in the Bears’ secondary, but senior safety Sebastian Dovi made a crucial interception as the Crimson reached the red zone. Brown then quickly turned around and marched 88 yards in 1:08 of clock time, aided by a 55-yard catch-and-run by Jakob Prall. All of a sudden, the difference was just one touchdown.
Prall made the most of three catches, tallying 120 yards. To emphasize how pass-heavy the Bears’ offense is, each of its top four receivers accumulated more yards than Brown’s entire rushing attack did (32).
Dovi’s pick near the goal line was the second of two on the day. To start off the second quarter, Bears cornerback Jorquel Condomina dove to pick off Smith at Brown’s own seven. By the final whistle, Harvard had converted on just one of its four red-zone chances.
While Smith twice under-threw his receivers for interceptions, Bears quarterback Michael McGovern generally threw the ball too deep. The sophomore opened the game on the right foot (five-of-nine, 55 yards on his first drive) but eventually became a bit wild and tossed two picks of his own. In all, McGovern threw for 293 yards but completed just over 50 percent of his passes.
At the outset of the second quarter, Brown appeared to alter its offensive strategy, focusing more on the ground game. Last week, the Bears threw 51 times, and this game 43 of their 60 plays traveled through the air.
Following fives consecutive runs, McGovern went back to the air and hit Livingstone Harriott for two yards. The short completion may have generated a bit of overconfidence, as Crimson senior safety Cole Thompson swooped in on the next play, snagged McGovern’s pass out of the air at the 27, and sprinted toward the end zone for a pick-six. Crimson 21, Bears 3.
The Harvard secondary was not done. On the ensuing drive, Brown advanced the ball to its own 24 before McGovern attempted a long bomb to the left sideline. It was another overthrow, and Wes Ogsbury was there to nab the pass. He zig-zagged back and forth across the field and was finally tackled 21 yards later. The visitors did not score quite as quickly as they did following the pick-six but did put up a three-spot as Jake McIntyre booted a field goal.
“Every time we come down here they come with their best,” captain Zach Miller said. “This is a big play offense, so anything to prevent as many of those as we could was our game plan this week.”
The Bears’ defense regrouped in the third quarter after a rough first half, as it halted the Crimson’s first drive once the visitors had crossed midfield, and it did not allow Harvard to advance past its own 13-yard line on its second series.
On that second drive, which lasted just four plays, Brown’s Jorquel Condomina tackled Shampklin back to the one yard line for a loss of four on the first play. Things did not improve for the Crimson on ensuing snaps. On fourth down, freshman Jon Sot took the field to punt, but the snap came in low and the Bears took over at the three. It took three plays to go a short distance, and McGovern found Jaelon Blandburg in the end zone to cut Harvard’s lead to 24-10.
Once the whistle sounded to close the third quarter, Brown had punted twice, possessed the ball for nearly half the time that the Crimson did, and accumulated 95 fewer yards. But the scoreboard is all that matters, and the Bears won the quarter, 7-0.
Harvard built most of its lead in the first quarter, racking up 168 total yards to Brown’s 83 and closing out the period with a 14-3 advantage. Smith finished a perfect six-for-six passing, spreading out his targets to four different receivers. On the other side, McGovern started out hot as well but was subjected to increased pressure as the quarter wore on, and the Crimson’s Richie Ryan picked up a sack in the process.
“If you can run the ball, you can throw the ball,” Murphy said. “If you can’t run the ball, you’re not only one dimensional but you’re predictable, and I think the biggest difference between this year and last year is we’re better up front and we’ve made a commitment to run the football.”
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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