Harvard Football Outlasts Cornell, 34-24; Crimson Improves to 4-0

Ricky Zorn led Harvard with seven receptions in the 34-24 win at Cornell Saturday (Darl Zehr).

ITHACA, N.Y. – Michael Pruneau threw for a career-high 340 yards in his first-career start, while the Crimson defense combined for six sacks, as the Harvard football team downed Cornell, 34-24, before 8,329 fans at Schoellkopf Field Saturday afternoon. With the win, Harvard improves to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League play, while the Big Red slips to 1-3 and 0-2 in the Ancient Eight.

Pruneau finished 23-of-29 for two passing TDs, while also adding a score on the ground. Ricky Zorn caught seven passes and had 54 yards, while Andrew Fischer made four receptions and had a team-high 64 yards. Fischer also added 86 yards on kickoff returns for 150 yards of total offense. Paul Stanton, Jr. carried the ball 16 times for 72 yards and a TD.

Defensively, Nnamdi Obukwelu and Obum Obukwelu both recorded two sacks apiece, with the former finishing with three tackles for a loss. Eric Medes and Reynaldo each made an interception, while Matt Koran and Khadi Tshishiku led the Crimson with seven tackles apiece.

Cornell QB Jeff Matthews finished the day with two touchdowns and 472 yards on 39-of-56 passing. Matthews's 472 yards was the most for a quarterback ever against Harvard in the Crimson's history. Grant Gellatly was Matthews's favorite target, making 12 grabs for 181 yards and a TD, while Ty Bostain recorded 12 catches for 112 yards. Harvard held the Big Red to -15 yards rushing on 18 carries.

In the middle of the first, Cornell began a drive at its own 20-yard line. Following a false start penalty, which moved the Big Red back to the 15, Eric Medes picked off a pass by Matthews and returned it to the 17. Pruneau moved the chains on second down when he connected with Zorn on a 12-yard pass. On the next play, Pruneau dashed into the end zone on a 3-yard play, as Harvard went up 7-0 with 8:02 to go in the opening frame.

On the Crimson's next drive, Harvard again moved the ball into the red zone. On 3rd and 3, Pruneau failed to move the chains on an option play, but David Mothander nailed a 36-yard field goal to make the score 10-0 in favor of the Crimson with 2:18 left in the first.

The Big Red got onto the scoreboard early in the second quarter on a 20-yard field goal by John Wells. After moving the ball into Harvard territory for the first time, Cornell got inside the Harvard 5-yard line when Matthews made a 34-yard completion to Gellatly. Harvard stuffed the Big Red's rushing attempt on first down, and then Matthews threw back-to-back incompletions, as Cornell had to settle for the field goal.

Cornell got into the red zone again late in the second quarter, but were forced to take another field-goal attempt. Wells went up for the 26-yard boot, but it was blocked by Brian Owusu, who batted the ball ahead. Joshua Boyd pounced on the ball at the Cornell 48, giving Harvard solid field position for its next drive. On first down, Pruneau found Tyler Ott wide open down the right sideline for a 32-yard gain, moving the chains to the Cornell 20. On 3rd and 6, Pruneau ran for the first down, but was pushed out of bound at the 11-yard line, one-yard short of the first down. Harvard decided to go for the field-goal attempt, and Mothander nailed a 28-yard attempt, making it 13-3.

With 11.8 seconds left in the second, Cornell attempted a 32-yard field goal, but this time, Wells missed to the left, as the Crimson took a 13-3 lead into the half.

On the opening drive of the second half, Matthews completed a 50-yard pass play to Gellatly, moving the ball all the way to the Harvard 25. On the next play, Matthews ran for five yards, but Harvard was called for a personal foul and a 10-yard penalty, advancing the drive to the 10-yard line. The Crimson stopped the Big Red on the next two plays, but on 3rd and 9, Matthews made a TD pass to Gellatly, as Cornell made it 13-10 with 12:48 remaining in the third.

The Crimson answered on its ensuing drive, culminating in a 36-yard TD strike from Pruneau to Tyler Hamblin. On 3rd and 7 from the Harvard 42, Zorn made an 11-yard reception, moving the chains to the Cornell 47. Zorn added another reception or a first down on 3rd and 5, this time for six yards, as the Crimson advanced to the 36-yard line. On the next play, Hamblin got passed a Cornell defender, and Pruneau lofted a pass down the field as Harvard went up by 10, 20-10.

The Big Red inched closer late in the third, as Matthews fired a seven-yard pass to Lucas Shapiro for a TD with 5:46 left in the frame. Matthews completed 10 passes on that drive for 75 yards, as Cornell cut Harvard's lead to 20-17.

With Crimson holding onto that three-point lead  entering the fourth, Pruneau made back-to-back 28-yard passing plays to Stanton and Cameron Brate, moving the ball all the way down to the Cornell 14-yard line. After an incomplete pass by Pruneau that was intended for Zorn, Stanton carried the ball three straight times, getting into the end zone on that last try with a two-yard play, as Harvard went back up by 10, 27-17.

Midway through the fourth, Cornell struck again, as Matthews tossed the ball 30 yards to Ben Rogers, getting the Big Red to the Harvard 5-yard line. A few plays later, Matthews ran in for the score with 6:36 left, as Cornell again made it only a three-point game, 27-24.

Harvard put the game away with a nine-play, 81-yard drive that took 3:45 off the clock, capped by a nice catch in the front right corner of the end zone by Brate with 2:52 remaining. Pruneau started the drive with three consecutive completions for a total of 39 yards, moving the ball from the Harvard 19 to the Cornell 42. Following a nine-yard strike to Zorn for a key first down, Pruneau lofted a pass into the end zone, and Brate came down with it, making it 34-24.  

Harvard will play its final non-conference game of the season next week, as the Crimson hosts Lafayette at Harvard Stadium Saturday, Oct. 19 at 1 p.m.