After notching 15 fourth-quarter points and marching his team 71 yards downfield in just 37 seconds despite throwing to a wide receiving corps depleted by injuries, junior quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick faded back in the pocket and waited for an opening in the smothering Penn (9-0, 6-0 Ivy) defense. He found it in senior tight end Matt Fratto, who slipped away from his coverage and came open at the six-yard line, where Fitzpatrick found him with a perfectly placed ball.
But unfortunately for Harvard (6-3, 3-3), as Fratto turned and headed upfield, Lhotak—who bedeviled Crimson blockers all day, recording four-and-a-half sacks and 16 tackles—found him too, planting a game-saving tackle that prevented the completion of Harvard’s fourth-quarter comeback and locked up the Quakers’ second-straight Ivy title.
Penn set the tone in the early minutes of the game by capitalizing on favorable wind conditions and field position to squelch the Crimson offense, building a 22-point lead just 1:36 into the second period.
“This was a team that has jumped on everybody early,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “I said the one thing we couldn’t do is be behind the eight ball after the first quarter and that’s exactly what happened. They jumped out on us.”
With winds that gusted to 30 miles per hour bolstering the Penn defense, Harvard managed just 28 yards of total offense in the first quarter, all of them coming on the ground as Fitzpatrick—who had practiced just twice in the past five weeks due to his hand injury—completed none of the three passes he attempted in the period.
“There was a lot of rust there,” Murphy said.
With senior punter Adam Kingston kicking into the wind, the Quakers began each of their initial drives inside Crimson territory—and they took advantage.
After taking over on the 32-yard line, quarterback Mike Mitchell found wideout Dan Castles for his second straight reception, and a first down and a Harvard personal foul advanced Penn to the 11-yard line. Following two straight incompletions, Mitchell hit wide open tight end Brian Adams across the middle for the opening score.
Following the Crimson’s second straight three-and-out, Mitchell capitalized on his first opportunity, threading a pass through double coverage to Castles, who split the pair of defenders and headed 44 yards for paydirt to take a 14-point lead with 10:13 remaining in the first quarter.
“He’s just an extraordinarily accurate passer,” Murphy said of Mitchell. “All he does is just throw the ball on the money.”
Mitchell’s touchdown pass to fullback Kevin DeSmedt and the ensuing two-point conversion following a botched extra-point snap left Harvard down 22 early in the second quarter and well on its way to a repeat of last year’s meltdown in Philadelphia.
But with the wind finally at its back, the Crimson offense kicked into gear.
Fitzpatrick gave the drive an early burst of energy, spinning left on a broken play and out of trouble, avoiding a sure sack before dashing across the middle of field and inside Quaker territory. Finding junior wide receiver Brian Edwards down the left side of the field in single coverage for his first completion of the game, Fitzpatrick advanced the ball inside the 25-yard line, setting up freshman tailback Clifton Dawson.
With his wide receivers swamped downfield, Fitzpatrick swung the ball out wide to Dawson, who bounced off four defenders for a 14-yard gain. After a short Fitzpatrick rush, Dawson took over, pounding the ball three straight times and punching through the Penn defensive line for a two-yard score on the final carry to pull within 15.
Dawson, who rushed for 108 yards on 25 carries for two touchdowns, became the first freshman in Ivy history to surpass the 1,000-yard rushing mark.