October 11, 2011

FOOTBALL | Crimson Offense Thwarts Red’s Bid for First Ivy Win

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Junior quarterback Colton Chapple and the Harvard football team (3-1, 2-0 Ivy League) halted Cornell’s (2-2, 0-2) quest for its first Ivy win, as the Crimson scored passing touchdowns on three consecutive possessions in the second half to create separation and earn the victory on a warm Saturday afternoon at Schoellkopf Field, 41-31.

Chapple spread the wealth to his big targets, connecting with senior wide receiver Alex Sarkisian seven times, senior wide receiver Adam Chrissis and junior tight end Kyle Juszczyk five times each and senior wide receiver Chris Lorditch four times. In his third relief game for senior Collier Winters, Chapple totaled 414 yards on 23-of-38 passing for four touchdowns, with one interception.

However, it was Cornell’s starting quarterback, sophomore Jeff Mathews, who began the game on fire. Mathews threw to sophomore running back Grant Gellatly for 12 yards and junior wide receiver Luke Tasker for 16 yards on consecutive plays to open the contest before hitting senior wide receiver Shane Savage for a 42-yard touchdown, putting the Red ahead, 7-0, and rocking student-less Schoellkopf early. Mathews once again did not let a late first-quarter interception bother him, finishing with 322 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-35 passing.

But Cornell was unable to capitalize on its early success. The offense  sputtered, converting on only one third down chance, while the defense could not generate enough pressure on Chapple and failed to contain Harvard’s receivers. On special teams, the Red committed a massive blunder in the third quarter that ultimately changed the complexion of the game.

“We have to be more disciplined and mentally prepared,” said senior defensive back and kick returner Rashad Campbell. “[Harvard] didn’t do anything too fancy, they were just very consistent and more steady.”

Harvard was also more opportunistic. The Crimson turned senior linebacker Alex Gedeon’s red zone pick of Mathews into an 11-yard fade route from Chapple to Chrissis to knot the score, 7-7, with 3:50 left in the first quarter. Soon after, the Red settled for three points from kicker and punter Brad Greenway off its only turnover from Harvard — a Campbell interception of a deflected pass and a wild 62-yard return — which extended the Cornell lead, 17-10, midway through the second quarter. At first, the Crimson appeared to stuff Campbell in a pile, but the cornerback broke loose and sprinted 50 more yards before being brought down.

“[Junior linebacker] Cody Roberts did a great job of disrupting the receiver, so it was a pretty easy interception for me,” Campbell said. “I didn’t know what I was doing at first — I was just spinning around — but I tried to stay alive and make a play with [my teammates] out front blocking.”

The most critical sequence of the game spanned the third and fourth quarters. With 1:53 remaining in the third, and the Red trailing by three and set to punt, Greenway received a poor snap that bounced before him, forcing him to his knees in order to secure the ball. Greenway was ruled down and the play dead, handing Harvard the ball on the Cornell 38 yard-line.

Then, on fourth-and-1 from the Red 29, Crimson freshman running back Zach Boden pushed the pile just enough to gain two yards as time expired in the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth, Chapple hit sophomore Cameron Brate in the middle of the field. The tight end ran the last eight yards of a 27-yard score, increasing the Harvard advantage, 34-24.

“We gave [Harvard] too many big plays and we had mental lapses,” Campbell said. “We have to not make the mistakes — Harvard made far fewer mistakes than us. We have to execute at the moment of truth. We shoot ourselves in the foot … it’s not because we can’t move the ball downfield.”

With the way Chapple was picking apart the Cornell secondary, though, it is unclear whether a mistake-free game from the Red would have been enough. Before the strike to Brate, two consecutive Red wide receiver miscues — a false start by junior wide receiver Kurt Ondash and an illegal procedure on Tasker — forced Cornell into a three-and-out and a quick 42-yard launch from a rolling-out Chapple to Sarkisian on the third play of the next drive. That score gave Harvard the lead for good, 27-24. Soon after, Chapple put the contest away on a 26-yard pitch and catch to Juszczyk, making it a three-score game, 41-24, with 10:56 remaining.

Mathews ended the game by recording his third long touchdown of the afternoon with 2:27 left on a 44-yard throw to Tasker, who finished with four catches for 88 yards and the score. Savage continued his early season success with eight catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns. The senior scored on Cornell’s first drive of the second quarter as well, when Mathews made Harvard pay for a third-down blitz and tossed to a wide-open Savage in the flat, who ran 39 yards for a touchdown to lift the Red to a 14-10 lead.

Gellatly registered 46 yards on the ground and 41 through the air, while senior tight end Ryan Houska ran seven times for 30 yards and a touchdown, with the score coming on a two-yard punch up the middle to give Cornell its final lead, 24-20, in the third quarter.

Although the Red defense provided Chapple with plenty of space and time to throw, the unit was not gashed on the ground. Cornell limited junior running back Treavor Scales to a modest 73 yards on 19 carries, Boden to 39 yards on nine attempts and the mobile Chapple to only 16 yards on 10 tries.

The Red’s season leader in tackles, senior linebacker Brandon Lainhart, had a team-best 14 tackles on Saturday, while sophomore safety Josh Barut tallied 12 and sophomore linebacker Brett Buehler chipped in with 11. Campbell had eight tackles and secured Cornell’s only sack of the contest when he stared down Chapple and dropped him for an eight-yard loss on Harvard’s first third down of the second half. The Crimson sacked Mathews four times.

On the field and on paper, the Red certainly looks better than in past years, Campbell noted, but the team still sits at  .500 and has yet to earn a league win in two attempts.

“I don’t have any worries about the rest of the season — this team is a lot different,” Campbell said.

Original Author: Quintin Schwab