If Harvard coach Tim Murphy had known his team would cough up three turnovers against Atlantic-10 power Northeastern, he’d have prepared for a long afternoon with the squad from across the river. But the No. 19 Huskies handed the ball over five times on Saturday, leaving the opportunistic Crimson with an unexpected statistical advantage in its favorite category.
“There’s no question that turnover ratios are what we are all about,’’ Murphy said. “Quite frankly, I wasn’t happy with the way we took care of the football offensively, but our defense responded with a bunch of turnovers.’’
Harvard (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) punished Northeastern (3-3, 2-1 A-10) for its many miscues, scoring 13 points off turnovers and torching its Boston rival 41-14. Captain quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ended the day early, completing 22 of 37 passes for 206 yards, throwing two touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions before leaving the game less than four minutes into the fourth quarter.
The balanced Crimson attack kept the Huskies guessing all afternoon. Sophomore running back Clifton Dawson broke loose for 111 yards and two rushing touchdowns, bringing his season total to 11 through five games. His 100-yard effort was the second Northeastern has given up all season—the first coming at the hands of Aaron Polanco of Division I-A’s Navy—and Dawson’s 10th in 11 games.
But it was turnovers that ultimately decided the afternoon’s outcome. Early in the second quarter, fans prepared for a shoot out, with the two sides twice trading early touchdowns. With eight minutes still remaining in the opening half, the score was knotted at 14 following a 15-yard touchdown scramble by Huskies quarterback Shawn Brady, and any pretense of a defensive struggle had been destroyed by the two very efficient offenses.
Harvard senior wide receiver Brian Edwards quickly struck back for Harvard, leaping over double coverage and snatching a 13-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to cap a 13-play drive.
Up 21-14, the Crimson again drove to the Northeastern 36 before a Fitzpatrick interception gave the ball back to the Huskies.
But Northeastern was no better at protecting its possession. Junior linebacker Matt Thomas leveled wide receiver Quintin Mitchell, jarring the ball loose just one play into the next series. Thomas’ effort wasn’t wasted, as Harvard moved within field goal range with 24 seconds left in the half, setting up freshman kicker Matt Schindel’s 38-yard field goal to give the Crimson a 24-14 lead.
The late first-half turnover started an unfortunate trend for the Huskies, who came into the game with only five turnovers in their first five contests.
“Turnovers were the major factor in the game,’’ Northeastern coach Rocky Hager said. “Too many times we had opportunities offensively today and failed to do so. Some of the credit should go to the Harvard defense. They did a nice job.”
Brady fumbled a snap on Northeastern’s first series of the third quarter, and Thomas again recovered for the Crimson, this time at the Huskies’ 48-yard line. The middle linebacker sparked the defense all afternoon, finishing the day with the two fumble recoveries, two sacks and six tackles.
Fitzpatrick and company took immediate advantage of the untimely error, striking again within minutes. A 25-yard reverse to Edwards set up Dawson’s one-yard touchdown run, and the floodgates officially opened.
Though Northeastern stormed back, using a 31-yard kickoff return by Shane Hopkins to fuel a drive to the Harvard 16-yard line, a botched fourth-down pass play turned the ball back over to the Crimson.
For the rest of the game, Harvard would dominate on both sides of the ball. On the ensuing possession, the Crimson drove 84 yards in 4:33, with Fitzpatrick throwing for 52 yards and capping the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
“Previous games have been either dominated by our running attack or the passing attack,” Dawson said. “But today we had a nice balance.”
The 38-14 cushion all but sealed it for the home team, and Brady’s fumble at the Huskies’ 20 yard-line—recovered by freshman defensive end Desmond Bryant—was the final nail in the coffin. Schindel booted his second field goal of the game, and Harvard led 41-14 after three quarters.
The Northeastern offense never recovered from its sluggish third quarter, during which it mustered only 64 yards of offense. At the beginning of the fourth, a developing Northeastern drive ended abruptly when senior cornerback Sean Tracy made a diving interception at the Harvard 31. Tracy hassled the Husky offense all afternoon, pacing the Crimson defense with seven tackles.
The Harvard defensive unit held Northeastern to 20 yards on its next two possessions, but the Huskies’ final drive encapsulated the entire game.
After marching 63 yards to the Harvard five-yard line, Brady threw to the endzone, only to watch the ball again fall into the hands of the Harvard defense. Freshman defensive back Steve Williams downed the ball in the endzone, keeping Northeastern scoreless in the second half.
“You gotta make more big plays than the other team, and they did,” Brady said. “You can’t turn the ball over, like coach said, and that’s what we did. You’re gonna lose when you do. We had three fumbles and lost two picks. I mean I don’t think anyone in the country can win that game, and if you can, you’re damn good.”