Harvard Football Cruises Past San Diego, 42-20, in Season Opener

Conner Hempel picked up a victory in his first-career start (Thomas Kovtran).

SAN DIEGO -- In Harvard's first trip to the west coast since 1949, the Crimson toppled San Diego by a score of 42-20 before 4,256 fans at Torero Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Making his first-career start, Harvard quarterback Conner Hempel was 25-of-34 for a career-best 345 yards and four touchdowns, while receiver Andrew Fischer had two touchdown grabs and 71 receiving yards on six catches overall. Seitu Smith led Harvard with 89 reception yards, catching four balls from Hempel. On the ground, Paul Stanton, Jr. gained 64 yards on six carries, while adding a touchdown run.

On defense, Zach Hodges recovered two fumbles, including one for a touchdown, and Norman Hayes led the way with 12 tackles and an interception to help the Crimson improve to 14-6 in season openers under Tim Murphy, the Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football.  Harvard scored four touchdowns in the second half, outscoring USD (1-2), 28-7, in the final 20 minutes of action.

The Crimson got on the scoreboard with a 53-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Hodges. With the Toreros driving into Crimson territory, USD quarterback Mason Mills was sandwiched by three Harvard defenders and coughed up the ball. Hodges picked up the ball and ran down the left sideline untouched for the Crimson's first score of the season and first fumble return for a touchdown since 2007. David Mothander, who was 6-of-6 on PATs on the afternoon, added the extra point, as the Crimson went up 7-0 at the 5:22 mark of the first quarter.

The Toreros, who had a 91-6 edge in yards gained early in the second quarter, made it a 7-3 game with a 22-yard field goal by David Last with 13:09 to go in the second frame. Harvard answered with a 10-play, 64-yard drive that culminated in a four-yard TD dash by Stanton, Jr Hempel completed three passes on the drive and also ran for 28 yards on three carries, as the Crimson added to its lead, 14-3, midway through the second quarter.

Mills went 4-5 for 32 yards, as the Toreros got into the end zone on their next drive. Montell Allen dashed past the goal line on a one-yard run, USD made it 14-10 with 3:43 to play. On Harvard's ensuing drive, punter David Bicknell was forced to scramble on a low snap and was unable to get to the first-down marker, giving the ball back to the Toreros at the Harvard 29 with 2:19 on the clock.

Last added another field goal for USD, this time from 30 yards out, as the Crimson headed to the locker room up, 14-13.

In the third, Harvard moved the ball 75 yards on only six plays for a touchdown drive in only 1:44. With the ball at the Harvard 38, Hempel fired a pass over the top to Cameron Brate for 18 yards. On the following play, Hempel led Andrew Berg down the sideline for a 34-yard strike, moving the ball all the way to the USD 10. Hempel then completed the drive with a 10-yard strike through the air to Andrew Fischer for the Crimson touchdown, 21-13.

Hempel continued his torrid start to the second half, completing seven straight passes. With just over 10 minutes to go in the third, Hempel found Seitu Smith wide open for a 52-yard strike. Smith ran toward the goal for the score, but fumbled at the one-yard line and the ball rolled out of the end zone, causing a touchback and giving USD possession.

Trailing, 21-13, USD moved the ball down field on a 33-yard pass by Mills to Cole Naone and a 21-yard strike by Mills to Brandon White, setting up 1st and goal at the 1. On second down, USD running back Joe Ferguson tried to get across the goal line, but Joshua Boyd popped the ball loose and Zach Hodges recovered his second fumble of the day, giving the Crimson possession.

Early on in the fourth, Hempel led Harvard deep into USD territory again, getting to the 10-yard line after a 19 yard pass to Ricky Zorn on the left side. Hempel then found tight end Ben Braunecker across the middle for a 10-yard score, as the Crimson padded its lead, 28-13.

Harvard tacked on another score and began to pull away, as Hempel threw his third TD pass of the game with 9:11 to play. Hempel eluded pressure and lofted a pass to Zorn for a 10-yard touchdown strike, 35-13. After a 50-yard completion for USD by Mills to Reggie Bell, the Toreros quickly got into the red zone on their next possession. Harvard held USD on the first three downs, but on 4th and 10, Mills connected with Bell for a 12-yard score, making it a 35-20 contest with 7:27 to go in the fourth quarter.

In the closing minutes of the contest, Hayes picked off a pass by Mills and returned it eight yards to the USD 33 with 3:45 remaining. On the ensuing drive on 3rd and 7 at the USD 30, Hempel found Fischer, who scurried 30 yards and escaped multiple defenders for another Crimson touchdown, 42-20.

Mills finished the day 27-of-46 for 293 yards and one touchdown, while Bell had seven catches for 101 yards for USD.

Harvard will host Brown in the Crimson's home opener Saturday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. The game will be shown live nationally on the NBC Sports Network.