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HARVARD — St. Edward plays a tough brand of football, but the Green Wave met their match in the unbeaten Hornets.
No. 2 Harvard controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, took an early lead and won the turnover battle 5-1 to defeat No. 15 St. Edward 40-22 in a Class 4A first-round playoff game at Dan Horne Field Friday night.
Harvard (10-0) scored on 4 of 7 first-half possessions to take a 24-7 halftime lead. That forced run-oriented St. Edward (5-5) to play catch up via the pass, which led to 4 interceptions. Michael MacKenzie and Ben Platt each had picks, and senior Fernando Carrera finished with 2 interceptions, including a 73-yard return for a fourth-quarter touchdown to cap the scoring.
"They played hard and won the line of scrimmage," St. Edward coach Mike Rolando said of the Big Northern East champs. "We had to see if we could go toe to toe with them and we could not. Just not a good game across the board. There was not any one mistake or any one position that didn't play well. It was that they won the line of scrimmage, they moved the ball well and we didn't tackle well."
Harvard limited St. Edward senior DaVontae Elam to 39 rushing yards on 12 carries, but he did have 5 receptions for 62 yards, including second-half touchdowns of 25 and 11 yards.
"They were really a good team and they were well-prepared for us," said Elam who finishes as the school's all-time and single-season rushing leader. "They stopped the run really well. It was really tough, but we never gave up. Our guys fought for everything and we just played our hearts out. Unfortunately, they came out on top."
Harvard jumped to a 7-0 lead on a 55-yard pass from junior quarterback Peyton Schneider to junior Ben Platt, who was wide open up the middle after sneaking out of the backfield.
A second-quarter Green Wave fumble recovered by Sergio Ramirez gave the Hornets the ball at the St. Edward 26 yard line. Senior Jose Mejia rumbled 23 yards to the 3 and Kramer score on the next play. Schneider's point after staked Harvard to a 14-0 lead with 10:38 left in the second quarter.
That forced the Wave to throw the ball, not their strong suit. Though junior Joe Mullen was able to complete 14 of 27 attempts for 205 yards and 2 touchdowns, he was intercepted 4 times by a Harvard defense that limited St. Edward to 74 rushing yards.
"I thought our defense played well," retiring Harvard coach Tim Haak said. "We did a good job of shutting down (Elam) and he's a good kid. We shut down the run and forced them to do something they probably didn't want to do."
St. Edward was limited to 107 total yards in the first half, 72 of which came on Danny Favela's leaping catch-and-run, which trimmed the Harvard lead to 21-7 with 5:10 left in the second quarter.
An interception by Platt at the St. Edward 40 led to a 22-yard Schneider field goal with five seconds left in the second quarter.
The Hornets fumbled to open the second half, but the ensuing Green Wave drive ended with an interception by Carrera at the Harvard 19-yard line.
The Hornets flipped the field by driving 71 yards in 13 plays before settling for a 28-yard Schneider field goal and a 27-7 lead with 2:48 left in the third quarter.
The Green Wave still had hope after Elam capped a 7-play, 71-yard march with his 25-yard scoring reception to make it 27-14, but Harvard answered with a 6-play, 55-yard drive, keyed by Mejia's 32-yard burst. He punctuated the drive with a 3-yard scoring run.
The St. Edward seniors, only the fifth group to lead the Green Wave to the playoffs, lingered on the field and exchanged hugs long after most fans had left.
"We played for our brothers and we've played together for so long," linebacker Will Bothwell said. "There's no other way I'd want it to end than with all of them right next to me on the field. I'll never stop loving these guys. We've taught each other so much and I'm so grateful for them."
"This was a great group of kids, which is why I love coaching at St. Ed's," Rolando said. "This group I've had a lot of fun with, especially the seniors. I'm going to miss them."
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