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Harvard Secures NIRA #1, Ivy Title in Dramatic Win Over Dartmouth

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Harvard Secures NIRA #1, Ivy Title in Dramatic Win Over Dartmouth

Harvard together for the National Anthem from earlier in the season. Alex Goff photo.

Harvard scored at the end of the game to win a key NIRA game on the road at Dartmouth, securing themselves as the #1 seed going into the playoffs.

This was a bit of a slog of a game in cold, wet conditions. While both teams wanted to play some wide open rugby, it wasn't easy to accomplish and as the game progressed it became more of a forwards' game.

Harvard took an early lead as wing Lennox London went over for a try, which set them up for a 7-0 lead. Dartmouth responded with a try from Abby Kayser in the backs and the teams changed ends tied 7-7. Both sides had been defending well, but the conditions also made it difficult to send the ball wide quickly.

In the early going of the second half, Harvard put Dartmouth under pressure. A half-break from flyhalf Brogan Mior set them up to camp out in the Dartmouth 22, and eventually the forwards took it over the line under the posts. The Big Green defenders hung tough, through, and held the ball up. Harvard had a penalty, though and once again pressure the Dartmouth line. Dartmouth's defense was outstanding, however, and when Harvard went wide they stole the ball and kicked clear.

Harvard began to work their way back, mostly passing just once and attacking interior channels. Finally the Crimson sent it quickly through the hands of Mior, Tiahna Padilla, and Olyvia Snyder, who slid in at the corner to make it 12-7.

Dartmouth responded well but the Harvard defense in their 22 was solid and their kicking game meant Dartmouth had to continually reload from midfield. Eventually a high-tackle penalty led to a quick tap and run, but again Harvard got out of if.

Well into the second half a penalty  for Dartmouth led to a lineout and maul for the Big Green, and after a couple of surges to the tryline, including a powerful run from hooker Asi Meni, prop Cindy Taulava picked up, stayed low, and made the line. 

The game was tied 12-12 and it was Harvard that broke the deadlock. A big charge from No. 8 Nikki Ihensekhien almost got her to the line but she was dragged down and the Crimson defenders stole the ball back. Here's where they made a key error. Two players who were outstanding all day, fumbled a fairly straightforward connection as scrumhalf Reese Morgan's pass was has high and Mior, in the pocket to make a kick, couldn't get a handle on it. The ball rolled free in-goal and only a desperate dive from Mior to touch it down prevented a Dartmouth try.

That try game moments later as Ihensekhien picked up from the base of the ensuing scrum and the forwards once again marshaled their resources, with Taulava getting her second of the day under a big pile. It was a big showing from the freshman from the Pleasanton Lady Cavaliers in Northern California, part of a Big Green freshman class coming in from all over.

Harvard led 17-12 with time ticking away. But Harvard was able to retain the restart thanks to a superb play from outside center PK Vincze, who dove on the loose ball to secure it for the visitors. From there Morgan went to work getting the ball out to hard runners left and right. A smart cutback from Mior got them close, and then, with time up, the forwards took it to the line where tighthead prop Neasa McLaughlin picked up and was over.

That tied it all up at 17-17 and Skylar Jordan lineup the difficult kick. Dartmouth charged early, were sent back to the tryline, and Jordan showed she wasn't fazed at all and put the kick over.

Harvard were NIRA #1 and Ivy League champions with the dramatic victory.

It was a hard slog for both teams, with defensive work a premium. Both sides had moments where they could have broken the game open, but neither was soft in defending the tryline. It's very possible these two teams will meet in the NIRA final, as they did last year. If they do, it will be on Harvard's home pitch, and it will likely be about as close.

It was a big forwards game and the conditions forced it to be, said Harvard Head Coach Mel Denham, but it's also fair to say that the forwards, while they worked hard, could always take a phase to reset and catch a breath. Meanwhile scrumhalf Morgan didn't stop and was quick to organize the rucks ans get the ball moving once again, especially late.

"Reese Morgan has so much experience and i thought did an excellent job managing the tempo and locking down defense," Denham told GRR.