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Harvard's Ortiz Dominates in Championship Victory
Senior defensive tackle Josue Ortiz recorded 10 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in Harvard’s 37-20 win over Penn Saturday. The victory gave the Crimson its first Ivy title since 2008.
This was why Josue Ortiz had come back. This made everything worth it.
Having already graduated, the fifth-year senior defensive tackle did not have to return to Cambridge this fall. Coming off a junior season in which he was named first-team All-Ivy and a third-team All-American, Ortiz easily could have felt satisfied with his Crimson career, taken his economics degree, and moved on to the real world.
But there was something burning inside him, pulling him back to Harvard like a magnet.
Ortiz wanted to win another championship.
It had been three years since the senior last won an Ivy League title. That was back in 2008, when Ortiz appeared in only three games and didn’t make much of a contribution to the championship-winning team.
At that point, things just weren’t working out for the defensive tackle, who seriously considered quitting football during spring practices in 2009. But an end-of-year meeting with Harvard coach Tim Murphy motivated Ortiz to keep his collegiate career going. It was a decision that has certainly turned out to be the right one.
Ortiz stayed in Cambridge over the summer of 2009 to work out with the team, during which time he added 15 pounds. His play on the field the following fall reflected his hard work in the offseason, as the junior finished with 35 tackles, two sacks, and was named to the all-Ivy second team.
Then last year, Ortiz broke out and became a star, tallying 7.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss—good for first and second in the league, respectively.
Though the individual accolades came quickly for Ortiz, the defensive tackle’s biggest goal—winning an Ivy title—was thwarted by the Penn Quakers in the penultimate contests of both 2009 and 2010.
But on Saturday, the Crimson finally ended that streak, with Ortiz playing a starring role. Despite being double-teamed constantly, the senior’s 10 tackles, two sacks, forced fumble, and fumble recovery were vital to a 37-20 Harvard victory that clinched the program’s 14th Ivy League title.
“You put all the work in, and this makes it worthwhile,” said Ortiz, who won the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week award for his performance. “This is the pinnacle; this is what you always want to do as a Harvard football player.”
The defensive tackle set the tone early on that this year’s game against Penn would be different than that of the previous two seasons.
On the Quakers’ first play from scrimmage, Ortiz beat his man and sacked Penn quarterback Billy Ragone for a four-yard loss. Two plays later, Ortiz picked up a QB hurry on 3rd-and-14, forcing Ragone to run out of bounds and the Quakers to punt.
On Penn’s next drive, Ortiz again chased down Ragone on third-and-long, but this time finished him off for his second sack of the contest and his Ivy League-leading ninth sack of the year.
“It makes it a lot easier for the guys playing the back end when we have a guy like him rushing the QB and disrupting the offense,” senior cornerback Brian Owusu said.
Early in the second quarter, after Penn running back Jeff Jack was stuffed at the Quaker 24, Ortiz ripped at the ball and forced Jack to lose it. He then recovered the ensuing fumble by himself, giving Harvard great field position that it took advantage of with a touchdown pass on its next play.
“This past game against Penn just showed how dominant of a player he can be,” Owusu said. “He always gets to the ball. He’s just been a tremendous leader for us, he’s one of the guys the D-line looks up to, and he’s one of the best players—if not the best player—in the Ivy League.”
Throughout the rest of the contest, Ortiz’s penetration also played a major role in helping the Crimson limit the Quakers to just 24 yards rushing on the afternoon.
“The line of scrimmage was strictly won by their kids,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. “We struggled more than any time this year to run the football. We became one-dimensional.”
Ortiz has been making teams one-dimensional all season long, anchoring a Crimson defensive line that is widely considered the best in the league and leads the Ancient Eight in run defense.
“It’s his focus and his work ethic [that are most impressive],” said captain Alex Gedeon of Ortiz, who can bench 450 pounds.
But things came close to not ending up this way. The senior remains thankful for the coaches who pushed him to come back after his sophomore season, and who have since helped him fulfill his vast potential.
“God hasn’t blessed me with a lot of the things a prototypical three-technique tackle has,” Ortiz said. “I’m not 290 pounds, but what I have been blessed with, I feel like the coaches have been able to squeeze out.”
Saving his best performance for the biggest game of the year is something Ortiz has become accustomed to, as the tackle has racked up 18 tackles in Harvard’s past two wins in The Game. Last year, he had 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble, and blocked a key punt in Harvard’s 28-21 victory.
With four wins in four tries over Yale during the course of his career, Ortiz has no plans of falling short in his final collegiate game on Saturday.
“You just get so involved in [the rivalry] that you can’t lose to Yale,” Ortiz said. “You will do whatever it takes.”
One thing’s for sure: the Bulldog offensive line was certainly not hoping to hear that this week.
By Scott A. Sherman, The Harvard Crimson