No. 23 Harvard Football Stunned by Princeton in Triple OT, 51-48

Photo courtesy of Gil Talbot
Photo courtesy of Gil Talbot

Ricky Zorn posted 168 yards receiving Saturday, including a highlight-reel catch in the second period. 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Despite a gritty effort and multiple comebacks, the No. 23 Harvard football team could not overcome Princeton Saturday, falling 51-48 in triple overtime at Harvard Stadium. The loss marks the first of the season for the Crimson (5-1, 2-1) and breaks a 15-game undefeated home streak.

Quarterback Conner Hempel threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns, including three to Tyler Ott. Ricky Zorn had a standout day, catching eight passes for 168 yards and a TD strike. Paul Stanton, Jr., ran for 91 yards and two scores. It marked the fourth game this season that the running back has rushed for two-plus TDs.

Princeton (5-1, 3-0) was led by quarterback Quinn Epperly, who passed for 321 yards and six touchdowns. Connor Kelley grabbed two of those TD strikes.      

The back-and-forth contest came down to the third overtime period. Harvard's Andrew Flesher hit a 23-yard field goal, but Epperly found Roman Wilson on a six-yard pass to send the Tigers home victorious. Each squad connected on field goal attempts in the second overtime period to knot the score at 45-45. After Princeton won the coin toss, the Crimson posted a touchdown in the first overtime stanza, as Ott grabbed a 10-yard bullet from Hempel. The Tigers answered in the bottom half of the period with a nine-yard run from Wilson.   

Princeton jumped on Harvard early, scoring on the game's opening drive as Quinn Epperly guided the Tigers 75 yards over nine plays. On second-and-4  in the red zone, Epperly faked the handoff, rolled to the left and found Connor Kelley open in the left corner of the end zone to put Princeton up, 6-0. The Tigers faked the extra point and went for two, but Epperly's pass was incomplete.

Princeton marched down the field on its next possession, but would not be able to convert, as Harvard posted a goal-line stand on fourth down from the 1-yard line. The Crimson defensive duo of Chris Splinter and D.J. Monroe stood up Epperly and regained possession for Harvard with 5:03 to play in the opening frame.

Princeton pushed its lead to 13-0 on its third drive of the day. Epperly and the Tigers raced 43 yards in six plays capped off by Des Smith's jumping, fingertip six-yard catch.

Five seconds into the second quarter Harvard made its way on the scoreboard, pulling within six, 13-7. Connor Hempel connected with Ricky Zorn for a 33-yard completion. Zorn made an impressive grab, as it was nearly deflected by Princeton's John Hill.

From the Harvard 12-yard line, Hempel orchestrated a four-play, 88-yard drive that included a 60-yard TD run by Paul Stanton, Jr. Stanton exploded up the right sideline, escaped a tackle, and found the end zone to knot the game at 13-all while Andrew Flescher's kick lifted the Crimson to its first lead of the day, 14-13, with 10:26 to play in the second quarter.

Princeton reclaimed the lead, 19-14, with three minutes remaining before the half, as Epperly found Kelley who teetered across the line for the 5-yard touchdown. Princeton pushed the score to 21-14 when Smith made a diving catch to complete the 2-point conversion.

Andrew Fischer returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards to start the Crimson drive at the Harvard 44. Seitu Smith II rushed for 10 yards to bring Harvard into Tigers territory. On the next play, Smith pulled down a 9-yard pass to bring the ball to the 33-yard line. On second-and-1, Hempel connected with Zorn for 19 yards moving the line of scrimmage to the Tigers' 14. Stanton's 2-yard touchdown run capped Harvard's eight play, 56-yard drive that knotted the score at 21 as the teams headed to the locker room.

Harvard opened the third quarter with a punt before the Tigers notched its fourth TD of the day. Epperly conducted an 11-play, 51-yard strike that ended with a laser to Matt Costello to put Princeton back on top, 27-21. Bieck hit the PAT to stretch the Tigers lead to seven.

Harvard started its fourth scoring drive of the day at its own 27. Hempel completed a 15-yard pass to Stanton to bring the Crimson three yards shy of the red zone. With a 23-yard throw, Hempel found Ott in the middle of the end zone to even the score at 28.

On Princeton's first-and-10 at its own 38-yard line, Splinter forced an Epperly fumble and Obum Obukwelu recovered to put an end to the Tiger's drive with 37 seconds to play in the third quarter.

With 14:46 remaining in the fourth quarter, Epperly threw four completions in the 69-yard scoring drive that put the Tigers ahead, 35-28. On first-and-10 on Harvard's three, the signal caller found Seth DeValve for his fifth touchdown pass of the day.

Brian Owusu kept the Crimson's hopes alive when he stripped DiAndr Atwater. Jaron Wilson recovered the fumble and returned the ball 19 yards to give Harvard the ball at Princeton's 19 with 4:00 minutes left in regulation. On the fourth play of the drive, Hempel connected with Ott in the end zone and Flescher's kick was good to force the extra frame, 35-35.

The Crimson closes out a three-game homestand next week, as Harvard hosts Dartmouth on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 5 p.m.