Roars emanated from a crowd packed into the bleachers of the Richard Gouse Field at Brown Stadium on Saturday afternoon as the football team (1-1, 0-1 Ivy) attempted an improbable comeback against Harvard (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) — fourth quarter, fourth down, the Bears down by seven with 38 yards to the end zone and 15 seconds on the clock.
With the Crimson’s defensive line charging, quarterback Jake Willcox ’24 threw a pass that sailed just beyond the reach of receiver Graham Walker ’24, hitting the grass just inches in front of the end zone.
The incomplete pass sealed Brown’s fate, with the Bears turning the ball over on downs and allowing Harvard to run out the clock to seal their 35-28 win. Saturday’s contest marked the 11th straight matchup Crimson won over Brown, with Bruno’s most recent victory dating back to Sept. 25, 2010.
The loss came despite an exhilarating final quarter in which the Bears scored 21 unanswered points, reviving a game that seemed all but over when Harvard jumped out to a 35-7 lead early in the third quarter.
“The maturation of this team is really something that is fun to see,” Head Coach James Perry said. “We’ll learn from this and build from it, but I’m really proud of our players.”
The Bears had a difficult first half, struggling on both sides of the ball. The offense compiled just 112 total yards, with kicker Christopher Maron ’25 missing a 45-yard field goal attempt on Brown’s only first-half trip into Crimson territory. Meanwhile, Bruno’s defense allowed three touchdowns, two of them by passes from quarterback Charlie Dean to receiver Kym Wimberly, Jr.
Harvard’s dominance carried into the third quarter, when they pulled off a remarkable flea flicker on the first play of the half from scrimmage, leading to an 81-yard touchdown pass from Dean to receiver Ledger Hatch. The Bears responded quickly and scored for the first time when Willcox tossed a short pass to running back Stockton Owen ’25, who evaded Crimson defenders as he sprinted along the sideline for a 49-yard touchdown.
“That throw to Stockton is a great expression of what we’re trying to do,” Perry said. “Just throw a flair pass. We’ve got good ballplayers; they’ll do good things with it.”
But Brown’s momentum didn’t hold for long, as less than a minute later Crimson running back Aidan Borguet answered with his own long touchdown rush, finding the end zone from 33 yards out for Harvard’s fifth score of the game.
“We know that their backs are good backs,” said Bears captain and linebacker Junior Gafa ’23. “To be able to try and make them one-dimensional and force them to throw the ball around was a big thing for us.”
At the end of the third quarter, it seemed Brown had scored a touchdown on a pass from Willcox to Walker, but a controversial incomplete ruling on the field was upheld after review.
Everything would change for the Bears in the fourth quarter, with their defense holding the Crimson scoreless and their offense converting three touchdowns on a rush by Allen Smith ’22.5 and passes by Willcox to Allan Houston III ’23 and Wes Rockett ’23.
“You don’t need a PhD to figure out yards against those guys don’t come easy,” Perry said. “Then when we did start to move the ball and score … the defense handled that maturely. They knew they needed some stops and they gave great effort.”
Willcox and Rockett also connected on what may have been Brown’s most memorable play of the afternoon: a spinning catch at the sideline with under a minute left in the game.
Rockett was one of Willcox’s top receivers on the day, finishing with four catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. Fellow receiver Hayes Sutton ’23 led the team with seven catches for 44 yards while Walker had five catches for a team-high 51 yards. Willcox ultimately completed 31 of 55 passes for 284 yards, three touchdown passes and one interception.
“It was really nothing special,” Willcox said of the Bears’ second-half turnaround. “We just executed what was called and things started to work out. We settled down a little bit, but we were fighting hard and things just started” to come together in Bruno’s favor.
He added that the team tried not to “go crazy and make the big play all at once,” and instead “play our game and run what’s called.”
“My biggest thing with this group is to not try to do too much,” Perry said. “They've already put the hard work in. They’re very obviously a good football team. They practice like a good football team.”
A series of beneficial calls also aided Bruno in their fourth quarter run, including an offensive pass interference on Harvard. On a separate play, a flag was thrown, apparently indicating a foul on Brown, but was later revoked.
The game marked the second time in a row the Bears have finished in dramatic fashion with a strong late push since the start of their season. In their opener Sept. 16, the team won a double overtime thriller against Bryant University.
Though they came up short this time, the Bears provided a thrilling comeback attempt for the more than 9,000 fans in attendance throughout the game.
To have increased attendance was “awesome,” Willcox said. “We love the support (and) we’re happy everyone’s coming out. (We hope) we can get it like that every game.”
The Bears’ season will continue next Saturday when they face the University of Rhode Island in Kingston at 6 p.m.