The clock read 5:14 left in the game as Harvard quarterback Neil Rose took the snap and dropped back from Brown’s 9-yard line. The Crimson, having fought back from a 17-7 deficit to tie the game, was looking to go ahead.
As Rose felt the pressure of the Bear’s defense converging on him, he quickly lofted a clean spiral to the right corner of the end zone, where Carl Morris snatched it out of the air and put Harvard up for good.
That thrilling finish to last year’s game against Brown, which Harvard won 27-20, was no doubt a memorable start to the season, but most Crimson players, coaches and fans would welcome a completely dominating performance tomorrow, when Harvard travels to Providence to face the Bears at 1 p.m.
Harvard (1-0) enters its Ivy league opener following a 28-23 season-opening win over Holy Cross last weekend. The Crimson received solid play from senior All-American wide receiver Morris, who had two touchdown grabs and 227 all-purpose yards. Senior quarterback and captain Rose directed the offense, throwing for 240 yards with three touchdowns and one interception before bowing out with a hand injury late in the third quarter. Junior linebacker Dante Balestracci led the defense with nine tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble on his way to earning Ivy Defensive Player of the Week honors.
The Crimson played well but did lack focus on special teams, as it had a punt blocked, and allowed Brown junior wide receiver Ari Confessor to return a punt 85 yards for a touchdown.
Harvard coach Tim Murphy recognized that this facet of the Crimson’s game has room for adjustment.
“No question about it,” Murphy said. “We need to improve on special teams. They need to do a better job than they did last week.”
Brown (0-1) faces some necessary improvements of its own following a 56-42 loss to Towson State. Junior quarterback Kyle Slager threw for 434 yards and five touchdowns, but also had five interceptions, four of them in the decisive fourth quarter. All-American wideout Chas Gessner had yet another stellar game, totaling 168 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
The Bears dug themselves into a 35-14 third quarter hole, which they were never fully able to recover from. Although they managed to tie the score at 42 early in the final quarter, two unanswered scores in 23 seconds by Towson sealed their fate.
Perhaps the most anticipated aspect of tomorrow’s contest is offensive firepower that should be on display with the premier talent of Morris and Gessner.
Both players are All-Americans, and received Ivy League honors last season for their accomplishments. They are currently tied for the national lead in receptions per game with 11. Both are coming off spectacular performances last weekend, and are primed for tomorrow’s contest.
“They have two good defensive backs.,” Morris said. “Our execution is very important.”
On the other side of the ball, the Crimson hopes to contain Gessner with a balanced approach.
“Everyone in our secondary is going to have to defend Chas Gesnner,” Murphy said. “We’re going to mix it up. We’ll use some man, zone, single, and double [coverage]. We need to keep them guessing.”
If last year’s game is any indication, the pair ought to, yet again, have outstanding performance. Morris totaled 101 yards and a touchdown, while Gessner caught 12 passes for a school-record 226 yards, blocked an extra point, and returned a punt for 46 yards.
The Morris-Gessner showdown highlights what is predicted to be an evenly matched contest.
Offensively, the Crimson boasts a potent attack led by Rose, Morris, sophomore wide receiver Rodney Byrnes, and senior running back Nick Palazzo. Brown will most likely focus much of its attention on Morris, but this provides the Crimson with an opportunity to look elsewhere for offense.
“Our passing scheme is predicated on getting the ball to the open receiver, whoever that may be,” Murphy said.
The Crimson will look for its defensive intensity to start up front, where it will need to pressure Slager before he can find open options.
“We need to get a lot of pressure on their quarterback,” said junior lineman Mike Armstrong. “It will have a big effect on the game. They have an All-American receiver, and if their quarterback is on the ground, he can’t get the ball downfield.”
If Armstrong has his way and Slager spends much of tomorrow afternoon eating dirt, then Harvard will be well on its way to overcoming the first obstacle in its quest to repeat as Ivy League champions.