Chapple, Harvard prepped for Cornell showdown

Colton Chapple has led Harvard to a fast start, but Cornell will test him.
Colton Chapple has led Harvard to a fast start, but Cornell will test him.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

His detailed preparation breaking down the 4-2-5 defensive scheme that Cornell will likely employ in Saturday’s Ivy League clash at Harvard Stadium did not start Monday morning.

Or minutes after shedding his soaked Crimson uniform last Friday night, when he fired four touchdown passes through the driving rain and a beleaguered Holy Cross defense in the first half of a 52-3 rout.

Or even on the first day of preseason drills in late August.

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Colton Chapple was in the film room over the summer, dissecting the Big Red D, along with the formations of every other Ivy League foe.

“I really wanted to get down their scheme, their tendencies,” said the confident yet humble 6-foot-2-inch, 195-pound senior, who has directed Harvard to a 3-0 start (1-0 Ivy), completing 68 percent of his attempts.

“Know a little bit more about their personnel,” he said. “And really be prepared going into game week.”

Harvard coach Tim Murphy says no player on his squad works harder to prepare for an opponent.

“He has become, over the years, a real student of the game,” added offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Joel Lamb, noting that Chapple learned his preparation from last year’s starter, Collier Winters.

And physically he has reshaped his body, and is a step faster than last season.

When Winters (hip) was sidelined for four weeks last fall, Chapple was ready, directing the Crimson to victories over Brown (24-7), Lafayette (31-3), Cornell (41-31), and Bucknell (42-3). He lit up the Big Red for 414 yards and four touchdowns and torched the Bison with five scoring strikes.

And when Winters made a healthy return in the following week’s win over Princeton, the highly competitive Chapple took his stance on the sideline, clipboard in hand.

“From a character standpoint, just top notch,” lauded Lamb. “Handled it all extremely well. And he had been playing so well.”

So while Winters is still around Dillon Fieldhouse, working out for a run at a job in the Canadian Football League next spring, Chapple has taken charge.

Facing a much-improved Cornell defense that has yielded just two touchdowns the past two weeks in wins over Yale and Bucknell, Chapple is at the trigger for a balanced, prolific Crimson attack humming along at 41.7 points per game.

“He’s the catalyst,” said Murphy, while listing the program’s most accomplished signal-callers of the recent past: Winters, Chris Pizzotti, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Neil Rose. “In a very quiet, under-the-radar kind of way, Colton has been just as efficient . . . One of those guys that you want quarterbacking your team.”

Which sets the stage for Saturday’s highly anticipated clash against Cornell and its terrific, 6-4, 221-pound junior quarterback, Jeff Mathews, the reigning Ivy Player of the Year.

Matthews (369 yards per game) paces the Ivy in passing yards, Chapple leads the way in passing efficiency (171.2). Each has seven TD passes and one pick.

From the opposing sideline, Mathews has earned the respect of his fellow signal-caller.

“Very good throwing mechanics, a smart, cerebral quarterback, and he takes care of the football, which is very important when you are throwing the ball 50 times per game like they do,” said Chapple. “He will be playing professionally,” and, quite likely, as a high pick in the 2014 NFL draft.

Mathews is a special player, according to Murphy. “He can make life difficult for you.”

Chapple, for one, believes the Crimson defense, which has racked up an Ivy-leading 13 sacks behind the penetration of ends John Lyon and Zach Hodges, is more than up to the task.

“Our defense really gets after the quarterback,” he said. “Our goal is to stop the run and make them one-dimensional. Up front, that is a battle that we have to win on Saturday.”

Two senior starters, linebacker Joshua Boyd and cornerback Brian Owusu, will likely make healthy returns to the Harvard lineup.

Chapple, meanwhile, will continue to spread the ball around, with pitches to tailbacks Treavor Scales (7.5 yards per carry), Rich Zajeski, or flashy freshman Paul Stanton, working play-action to tight ends Kyle Juszczyk and Cameron Brate, or tossing to receivers Ricky Zorn and Seitu Smith.

“It’s just special to have this group of guys out on the field, I’ve been through four seasons with half of them, we’ve been through a whole lot,” said Chapple. “Having that talent level, as well as that comfort level, is a huge part of the success we have been able to have.”

The Crimson are carrying an FCS-best 12-game winning streak.

“I am really excited for this one, these are the types of games that you want to play in,” said Chapple. “Just taking one game at a time. It’s a league game. But every league game in the Ivy is a big game. We want to control our own destiny.”