Out in Front: Football Routs Princeton 39-14

Lowell K. Chow

Running back Clifton Dawson sprints for his record-breaking touchdown against Princeton, his 15th of the season.

For a quarter there, Princeton thought it had a shot.

Two Harvard miscues put the Tigers up 14-3 midway through the first half, as the Crimson beat itself again and again on senseless mistakes.

And then Harvard, undefeated and ranked No. 19 in the nation, quit fooling around.

Those 14 first-quarter points were all Princeton (4-2, 2-1 Ivy) would get before the defense clamped down, sophomore running back Clifton Dawson took off and the Crimson (6-0, 3-0) cruised to a 39-15 win at Princeton Stadium Saturday.

“It just took a bit of time for the offense to start clicking,” said captain quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, “but as soon as we did, we kind of got on a roll.”

Dawson finished with 201 rushing yards and three touchdowns, breaking the Harvard single-season records for rushing TDs with 14 and overall TDs with 15. Despite the presence of the two Ivy tackle leaders—Zak Keasey and Justin Stull, who entered the game with 59 apiece—Princeton was woefully ill-equipped to handle the talented Dawson, who crowned his day with an 80-yard breakaway touchdown run.

“I’m honored to be in the presence of such great backs that we’ve had at Harvard,” Dawson said, “and I think that the fact that I was able to accomplish such a feat midway through the season is a compliment to how well our offensive line has played.”

The Crimson racked up 416 yards of offense while holding Princeton to 204 yards. Fitzpatrick finished 14-of-31 for 172 yards and one touchdown, and senior wide receiver Brian Edwards had his best game of the season with 129 yards on nine catches.

But Dawson was the star, as he has been nearly all season. The sophomore passed the 2000-yard rushing mark for his young career and is three touchdowns away from tying the Harvard record for career rushing touchdowns.

Princeton had no answer for Dawson on either side of the ball. After Tiger running back Jon Veach scorched the Crimson for 285 total yards last season, the defense knew exactly where to hit its Ivy rivals to make it hurt.

“A lot of their big plays came on two plays last year—screen and draw,” senior linebacker Bobby Everett said. “So we focused a lot of our attention on first of all keying those plays, and second of all stopping them. We had someone who was on screen detail every play.”

Harvard held the Tigers’ rushing-by-committee to just 85 net yards, a figure that includes the 41 yards lost on five sacks of Princeton quarterback Matt Verbit.

Both teams were 2-0 in Ivy play entering the game, and the victor would take full control of its own destiny heading into the second half of the season. But Harvard, which topped the Tigers for the ninth straight time, banished any pretense of a close game once the Crimson offense stopped beating itself.

Harvard easily drove the game’s first possession downfield to open the scoring on a 35-yard Matt Schindel field goal. But then things started to get messy. On the Crimson’s next possession, Harvard drove into Princeton territory before a fourth-and-20 situation sent junior punter Mike King out on the field with a chance to pin the Tigers deep. But junior Erik Grimm’s snap flew a good two feet over King’s head as he tried in vain to get a hand on the ball. It bounced behind him past midfield where Tiger defensive back J.J. Artis fell on it at the Crimson 35 to put Princeton in striking distance of the endzone.

Even then, the Tigers went to fourth-and-6 without getting much closer to a score. Instead of trying for a field goal, though, Princeton sent wide receiver Monte McNair into the right corner of the endzone where he beat his double coverage to haul in Verbit’s 31-yard pass to put the Tigers up 7-3.

On the next play, Edwards fumbled on an end-around at the Harvard 22-yard line. The ecstatic Tigers recovered the ball and tailback Brandan Benson punched it in two plays later for a 14-3 lead.

But it was the last glimpse of the endzone the Princeton offense would get as the Crimson rallied from its gaffes and penalties to score on three straight second-quarter possessions.

“We’ve never been a dominant team,” Murphy said. “We’ve just been an extremely resilient, mentally tough football team, and I think that was the case today.”

Dawson scored first on a two-yard run to close the margin to 14-9 after freshman kicker Matt Schindel’s point after failed. Schindel recovered to send his kickoff deep into Tiger territory where the Harvard defense thrice snuffed Princeton in the backfield. The Tigers botched their ensuing punt, leading to a 14-yard illegal-kick penalty that set the Crimson up at the one-yard line. From there, it was an easy trip past the goal line for Dawson’s second touchdown and a 15-14 Harvard lead after the two-point try failed.

Freshman safety Doug Hewlett’s interception and return on Princeton’s next drive gave the Crimson excellent field position to close out the half. Fitzpatrick found sophomore wide receiver Corey Mazza sprinting across the endzone in man coverage for a 10-yard completion to put Harvard up 22-14.

“We made some adjustments at halftime, but by that time we couldn’t get the momentum back in the game,” Princeton coach Roger Hughes said.

The defense shut out the Tigers for the rest of the game, allowing just 23 net rushing yards, blocking a punt and cutting off a potential Princeton scoring drive when junior Mike Finch intercepted the ball at the goal line. Following that play, Dawson broke for his 80-yard run to cap the Crimson scoring and officially bump Princeton from the ranks of Ivy unbeatens. Harvard and Penn, which beat Yale 17-7, both remain undefeated at 3-0 in the league.

“We had our opportunities early in the first half, and we jumped up on them and took advantage of some mistakes they made,” Hughes said. “And then we turned around and gave them the ball with great field position, and you just can’t do that with a great team.”

—Staff writer Lisa J. Kennelly can be reached at kennell@fas.harvard.edu.