Sophomores Ryan Fitzpatrick and Rodney Byrnes had career games, and senior Carl Morris had another typically outstanding day, as the Harvard football team trounced Cornell, 52-23, Saturday at Harvard Stadium.
The Crimson (3-1, 2-0 Ivy), who took over sole possession of first place in the Ivy League with the win, drove down the field at will all afternoon. Despite a steady rainfall and gusty winds, Harvard racked up 553 yards in total offense, punted only once and had no turnovers.
Leading the Crimson attack was Fitzpatrick, who threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns. Fitzpatrick was also Harvard’s leading rusher, scrambling for 66 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown. His total offensive output was the second most prolific in school history, as he racked up 419 total yards.
“He’s managing the offense well,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy of Fitzpatrick, who was starting his second straight game as captain Neil Rose continues to nurse a sciatic nerve condition.
Morris caught 11 passes Saturday, the thirdmost in school history, for 165 yards. And, on a day when three other Crimson wide-outs also racked up at least 50 yards receiving, Fitzpatrick’s three touchdown passes went to three different receivers.
The last of those strikes came with 11:03 remaining in the fourth quarter, when Fitzpatrick fired a pass that was intended for Byrnes, but instead deflected into the hands of a stumbling Kyle Cremarosa. That score put the Crimson firmly ahead, 45-23.
Although Byrnes did not come up with the ball in the end zone, he made big plays all afternoon, racking up 245 all-purpose yards and scoring two touchdowns.
The most dazzling of those touchdowns came in the second quarter on an 89-yard kick-off return, putting the Crimson up 21-10 with 12:04 to go in the first half.
“[The hole] just opened up,” Byrnes said. “I thought I’d get caught at the end, but I didn’t.”
Byrnes’ other score came on a 7-yard scamper with Harvard leading 31-23 and 2:32 left in the third quarter. The strike was the first of three unanswered touchdowns that sealed the game for the Crimson.
Fitzpatrick, who attributed his sharp play Saturday to improved timing and an increased confidence as he gets more playing time, also hailed his talented receiving corps.
“It makes it a lot easier to put the ball in great athletes’ hands,” he said.
Harvard scored on its first four possessions of the game Saturday, beginning with sophomore Brian Edwards’ first career TD catch, a 23-yard diving grab in the corner of the end zone off a fade.
For all its offensive explosiveness, Harvard only led 24-17 at the half, as Cornell—led by quarterback Matt Razzano and wide-receiver Keith Ferguson—matched the Crimson score for score.
The secondary looked especially weak as Crimson defensive backs were frequently foiled by the talented Big Red receiving core.
Junior cornerback Mante Dzakuma had an especially rough day, getting badly burnt by Ferguson on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Razzano and then flagged for pass-interference to keep a second quarter Cornell drive alive.
In the third quarter, the Big Red offense mounted an 11-play, 63-yard drive, capped by a three-yard touchdown toss to fullback Nathan Archer to move Cornell within eight.
“The defense is a concern,” Murphy said. “But in the second half the defense got its poise and confidence back.”
Cornell failed to convert the extra-point after Archer’s touchdown, as Harvard junior linebacker Dante Balestracci blocked the attempt. The play marked not only a special teams stop, but a shift in the pace of the game.
The Crimson defense did not allow another score for the remainder of the contest. Balestracci led the way with 11 tackles and a key third quarter interception that snuffed out a Cornell drive deep into Harvard territory.
After the game, Balestracci stressed the defense’s role in the Crimson scheme.
“The biggest thing is making plays,” he said, “to get our offense back on the field and give those guys a chance to score.”
And score they did, and swiftly at that. Fitzpatrick, whose 8-yard TD run capped a seven-play scoring drive that consumed all of 1:57 in the first period, steered Harvard to yet another score in under two minutes at the start of the third quarter.
The sophomore darted a screen pass to Morris, who—thanks to a critical block by Cremarosa—eluded nearly the entire Big Red defense for a 54-yard score.
“It wasn’t me,” Morris said about the catch, which highlighted a characteristically brilliant day. “It wasn’t anything more than an incredible block by Kyle Cremarosa.”
At halftime, Cornell’s time of possession doubled that of Harvard. But on this messy day, time of possession did not dictate on-field dominance—talent did.
“Give a lot of credit to Harvard. They are a program with a lot more skill than we have,” Big Red coach Tim Pendergast said. “They deserve everything they are achieving.”
—Contributing writer Sean W. Coughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.