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In one of the most attended Middlebury football games to-date, the Panthers tied Harvard, before an audience of 25,000 people. The Harvard Crimson was the dominant force in collegiate football along with their other Ivy League counterparts; Princeton and Yale. The aftermath of this shocking tie rumbled through the nation and cemented Middlebury’s place as a well established and well respected football program.

 

It was a pleasant autumn day in the middle of October, 1923 when the Middlebury football team traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts as heavy underdogs to challenge the mighty Harvard eleven at their home stadium. The spirit of the Panthers going into the game was not going to accept defeat. The players were not scared of Harvard’s reputation as a football powerhouse. Despite Harvard grabbing an early six point lead, the Panthers fought back in the final quarter to tie the score.

Middlebury-v-Harvard

It was surprising enough for the first quarter to be scoreless as Harvard was expected to at least have the lead. By certain accounts of the game, it did not appear that Harvard was underestimating the Panthers; instead the Panthers were playing up to the Crimsons’ level of play rather than Harvard playing “down” to the level of the underdogs. It was not until the second quarter when Harvard advanced well into Panther territory after a fumble recovery. Harvard had possession on Middlebury’s 19 yard line when a Crimson player known as “Cheek” ran in the first score but the kicker, Lee, missed the extra point. At this point, it appeared that Harvard had the momentum going into halftime and that victory was guaranteed. However, when the Panthers emerged from halftime, they appeared revitalized and their courage was renewed. The team spirit seemed even higher than it did during the scoreless first quarter.

Hollquist

The Panthers and Crimson battled in the third quarter, but once again the result was scoreless, however the Panthers were picking up some large gains as the quarter came to an end. Panther player Hollquist, most likely considered a half back in modern football, started the fourth quarter with a 13 yard gain up the middle to put the Panthers within field goal range. On the Crimson 23 yard line, Papke held the ball for Panther placekicker “Marsh” Klevenow, and Middlebury earned its first three points to cut Harvard’s lead in half. The crowd of 25,000 went wild as they watched Marsh’s kick split the uprights, and the Middlebury cheering section was out of control. Just a few plays later, a Harvard running back fumbled on the Harvard 30 yard line. Players from both teams tried to corral the bouncing ball, but the Panthers came out with possession after Joe Novotny finally recovered the loose ball. A few plays later, the ball was placed directly in front of Harvard’s goalposts, and the duo of Papke and Klevenow jogged back out onto the field to make an attempt at another three points. As the ball sailed through the air, even the most optimistic Middlebury supporter was in a state of shock at what was occurring at The Stadium. The small percentage of Middlebury supporters were loud enough to be mistaken for 100 percent of the crowd for anyone that heard the uproar after the kick was successful.

Papke

With the final quarter well underway and the small college in central Vermont outplaying one of the most dominant football programs in the nation in an impressive style, the Harvard stands began their “Fight, Harvard” cheer; a chant that is unheard of except in big, competitive rivalry games such as the contest with Yale known as “The Game.” The Panther defense was impenetrable by the Crimson. In one of their final efforts to break the tie, Harvard sent out their premier drop-kicker, Karl Pfaffman, but even he could not advance the ball past the stifling Middlebury defense. The game came to a close with Middlebury having possession well into its own territory. This was undoubtedly the best game of the season for the Panthers, and possibly one of the most entertaining games a Middlebury spectator would ever hope to see. Middlebury had excelled in every aspect of the game except punting. The Blue line held up the immensely heavier Crimson line on both sides of the ball; plugging holes when the Panthers were on defense, and exploiting them when they were running the ball. Hollquist appeared to be running through the Panther defense at will, but the most credit of the win was to be awarded to the duo of Papke and Klevenow. They were responsible for bringing the Middlebury program to the attention to all of the collegiate football fans as well as humbling the mighty Crimson. Coach Morey, Panther head coach, had solidified his immortality in Middlebury football history with this epic and unlikely tie. The 1925 edition of The Kaleidoscope, the Middlebury College yearbook, describes the spectating that game as nothing short of unforgettable:

“Those Middlebury men and women who were so fortunate as to see the game will always carry with them the memories of the plucky little band of warriors who furnished them with one of the greatest thrills of their lives. Truly, never can they forget that triumph of the Blue and White over the heralded hosts of the Crimson.” (1925 edition of Kaleidoscope P. 146-147)

This game is one of Middlebury football’s greatest achievements and its story should never be forgotten. All starters on offense during this game were inducting into the Middlebury Hall of Fame because of their accomplishment.

 

 

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