The Bears did not go gentle into the night, but when the clock hit zero at Friday’s highly-anticipated showdown at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, it was the Crimson (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) who exited with their eleventh consecutive win against the Brown football team (1-1, 0-1 Ivy).
Despite the loss, the 34-31 final score was the closest the two teams have been since Bruno’s last rivalry victory on Sept. 25, 2010.
“That was a very hurt locker room in there,” said Head Coach James Perry ’00 following the game. “In years past, it (was) kind of like, ‘if you’re close enough, you feel good enough.’ When you have older guys that you can trust like I do right now, I trust that they’ll be proud of their efforts but also be hungry to get better.”
With the lights at their brightest before a packed crowd of over 15,000, two of the Bears’ captains — quarterback Jake Willcox ’24 and wide receiver Wes Rockett ’23.5 — posted career-best performances.
“On offense, we have two captains,” Perry said. “In a big game, they played like it.”
Willcox, fresh off a career-high 357 passing yards against Bryant in Brown’s season opener Sept. 16 which earned him Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week honors, broke his personal record yet again with 364 yards.
After his standout 2022 season was cut short due to injury, Willcox has now thrown for nearly 200 more yards than any other Ivy League passer this year. Following the game, Harvard Head Coach Tim Murphy in an interview with ESPN+ remarked that Willcox “might be the best player in the Ivy League.”
“The stats don’t tell the story about what he brings to this team, (and) I know they’re impressive stats,” Perry said. “He’s exceptionally tough. He’s smart. … I know Jake will come ready to work on Sunday. He’s that type of kid.”
Rockett, Willcox’s go-to receiver, racked up a career-high 147 yards. Of his several sensational catches, a sprawling 51-yard grab in close coverage landed the No. 3 spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.
“In my opinion, he’s the best player on every single field he steps on. Like he showed tonight, he catches everything,” Willcox said of his co-captain. “Off the field, he’s one of my best friends in the whole world, and I think you can see that connection when we’re on the field.”
Rockett praised Willcox for his leadership and skill. “He’s just a gutsy guy,” Rockett said. “He’s a great leader, great teammate. You know he’s gonna put everything out there on the field, and he did again today. He always will. You can count on him for that. He’s just such a playmaker.”
“He’s always looking for us, which motivates you as a receiver,” Rockett continued. “You always know you’re gonna have a chance no matter what — you might have ten seconds, fifteen seconds to get open.”
The highlight-reel reception by Rockett from Willcox came near the conclusion of a first quarter which saw Bruno go up 10-0, with seemingly all the momentum. It was the first time Brown led entering the second quarter against Harvard since 2016.
The Bears got out to a fast start with an interception by linebacker Ethan Royer ’23.5 — the first of his career — before Harvard could earn a first down following the opening kickoff. Playing their trademark brand of fast-paced, substitution-filled offense, Brown promptly scored on an endzone-bound rush from Stockton Owen ’25 and added a field goal by Christopher Maron ’25 before the conclusion of the quarter. Owen finished the game with a career-high three touchdowns.
But Harvard stormed back with a dominant second quarter, scoring two touchdowns and stifling the Bears’ offense to pull ahead 14-10.
On their first possession of the quarter, the Bears made it to Harvard’s 2-yard line on second down, but failed to score after three straight rush attempts, opting against a short field goal attempt on fourth down. On their following possession, a perfect Harvard punt put Bruno all the way back at its own 1-yard line, narrowly avoiding a safety before punting the ball away.
The second half became a dramatic back-and-forth battle, with six consecutive scoring drives, including six straight touchdowns. To rival Bruno’s Willcox-to-Rockett connection, Harvard’s fleet-footed quarterback Charles DePrima got in a groove with receiver Cooper Barkate, who finished the night with a career-high ten receptions for 132 yards.
“He obviously can run. He can run run,” Willcox said of DePrima. “And he made some great throws down the field too. He did what he had to do to win.”
Receiving the ball up by three with just under seven minutes left in the game, Harvard ran out the clock as the Bears struggled to come up with a stop when needed, falling 34-31.
Bruno’s supporters traveling from Providence made their presence felt all night, roaring with every touchdown, howling at close first down calls and waving flags to signal their invasion into Harvard Stadium.
“This is always the game where everybody goes crazy, which is awesome. I love it,” Rockett said. “I think we honestly outnumbered them.”
“I can’t say enough how much that means to us,” Willcox said. “It’s the best feeling in the world when we turn around, especially at an away game, and everyone’s cheering like that.”
“It sounded like a home game,” he added. “I’m very grateful that everyone showed up and hopefully they can keep doing that throughout the year.”
The next two weekends, the Bears will play a pair of home games against nearby opponents Central Connecticut State University and the University of Rhode Island before resuming their Ivy schedule against Princeton Oct. 14.
According to Willcox, fans “can expect (Brown) to keep fighting and playing fast.”
Linus is a sports editor from New York City. He is a junior concentrating in English, and when he's out of The Herald office you can find him rooting for the Mets, watching Star Wars or listening to The Beach Boys.