The Crimson (7-0, 4-0 Ivy) squeaked by Dartmouth (0-7, 0-4) 13-12 on Saturday, narrowly avoiding having its title quest upended for the second straight year by the heavy underdogs from New Hampshire.
If Harvard goes on to complete its first perfect season since 2001, it will in part have the poor design of Dartmouth’s Memorial Stadium to thank.
Trailing 13-12 in the fourth quarter, the Big Green took over possession at its own 36-yard line with 1:02 to go in the game. Quarterback Dan Shula, making his first career start, promptly drove his team down the field and into Crimson territory. With the officials inexplicably stopping the clock after a nine-yard completion to receiver Andrew Hall—one in which Hall remained in bounds and did not gain a first down—it appeared as though the extra time might allow Dartmouth to drive deep enough to attempt a game-winning field goal.
But after two more completions brought the Big Green down to the Crimson 36, Shula’s inexperience and the stadium’s quirky clock placement ended any hopes for Dartmouth of a repeat of last year.
With the game clock located directly behind him, Shula completed a one-yard pass to running back Chris Little out of the backfield in the left flat. But sophomore safety Ryan Tully pounced on Little, driving him to the turf at the 35-yard line. That kept him in bounds—and the clock running. The Big Green, seemingly unaware of how few seconds remained, methodically tried to set up and allow Shula to spike the ball in order to stop the clock and try a field goal. Instead, Shula spiked the ball just after time ran out. After a moment of indecision for the officials, they ruled that time had expired and Harvard had won.
“When the clock’s behind you it’s tough to get a read on [how much time is left],” said Shula, who in his first career start completed 19 of 37 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. “I just tried to get to the line...and we tried to get up on the ball as fast as we could and clock it, but I guess we were just a second too slow.”
On the preceding possession, the Crimson had a chance to put the game away but failed on a crucial fourth down, giving Dartmouth new life. With 1:08 left in to play, Harvard had a fourth-and-1 at the Big Green 35. After calling a timeout, Crimson coach Tim Murphy elected to go for a first down rather than punt.
But with sophomore running back Clifton Dawson on the sideline due to a muscle strain in his side that he sustained earlier in the game, senior running back Nick Carrington got the call and couldn’t convert, as his own lineman tripped him up behind the line.
“We just didn’t get it done,” said Murphy of Carrington’s run. “We make it and the game’s over, because they have no timeouts left, and we can just run out the clock.”
Carrington may have to be the one to get the job done if Dawson’s injury proves serious. The Crimson back, who has been one of the preeminent runners in the country this season, left the game early in the fourth quarter with a muscle strain to his side. After lying uncomfortably on his hands and knees following a play, Dawson gingerly walked off the field and did not return.
Murphy said Dawson would be re-evaluated today and his status for next week is not known.
Even with Dawson, the Harvard offense struggled to put points on the board. After scoring at least 34 points in each of its first six games, the Crimson’s quick-striking offense looked dormant against the Big Green.
Through his three quarters of play, Dawson was limited to 69 yards on 21 carries with a long of only 12 yards. Fitzpatrick had his second highest passing output of the season, with 300 yards in the air on 25-of-41 passing, but only found the endzone once.
That one touchdown came in the second quarter and put Harvard up, 10-0. Following a poor punt by Dartmouth that gave the Crimson good field position at the Dartmouth 37, Fitzpatrick hit Dawson with a 27-yard pass over the middle down to the Big Green 20-yard line. On the very next play, Fitzpatrick found senior receiver Brian Edwards—who finished the day with 124 yards receiving—all alone in the back right corner of the endzone to give Harvard a two score lead.
But that would be the only Crimson touchdown of the day. Harvard had little trouble breaking midfield, but once in Dartmouth territory the offense sputtered.