The Crimson set the stage for the matchup of league unbeatens by defeating Columbia 38-0 at Harvard Stadium on Saturday.
“We’ve pointed to [the Penn] game all year,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “This is exactly what our goal has been—to be in the championship game.”
With the Philadelphia road trip looming, the Crimson (8-0, 5-0 Ivy) easily dispatched the weaker Lions (1-7, 1-4).
Though Columbia had only one win on the season coming into Saturday’s game, memories from last year’s meltdown prevented Harvard from getting overconfident. In the 2003 contest in New York, the Crimson threw two interceptions in the last two minutes to set up the Lions’ game-winning touchdown and effectively dashed its hopes of a share of the Ivy championship.
This time, Harvard made sure that no late comeback would be possible, scoring on its first two drives and taking a 21-0 first-half lead on a special teams touchdown by senior wide receiver Brian Edwards.
In the second quarter, Columbia’s third consecutive three-and-out drive culminated in a punt. Edwards—a punt returner known for never calling a fair catch—allowed the twisting ball to drop to the field. The Lions, expecting Edwards to let it roll, let down their guard and were left standing as the Crimson receiver scooped the ball at the Harvard 19 and ran untouched into the endzone for an 81-yard score.
“The wind today was kind of swirling, so I was having trouble tracking the ball in the air,” Edwards said. “But luckily it took a good bounce, and I was able to pick it up.”
Sophomore running back Clifton Dawson keyed the Crimson’s first-half offensive surge. On Harvard’s first possession, Dawson carried the ball eight times for 36 yards, capping the drive with a two-yard touchdown up the middle.
With those six points, Dawson brought his tally for the year to 96 and broke the record for points in a season set by Charlie Brickley ’15 in 1912.
“It’s always great to achieve individual success,” Dawson said. “But it’s a great testament to how well our offensive line has played.”
After straining a muscle in his side against Dartmouth last week, there was a question as to whether the Payton Award candidate would be available against Columbia. But Dawson started and continued to add to his resume, reaching 1,000 rushing yards on the season early in the third quarter on a 15-yard run up the middle.
“I said in a team meeting a week or two ago,” Murphy said, “that I honestly felt that Clifton had been probably the most consistent and productive player in all of [Division] I-AA football over his first 15 games.”
While Dawson had a good outing, it was junior reserve tight end Jason O’Neill who had a career day.
O’Neill finished the day with two touchdowns on three catches. Before the contest against the Lions, however, the tight end had never caught a pass in his collegiate career.
O’Neill’s first score came on the Crimson’s second drive of the game. With third-and-goal at the Columbia 1-yard line and 22 seconds left in the quarter, Harvard called a timeout. As the teams lined up, the Lions showed blitz, expecting a rush attempt from Dawson. That left O’Neill wide open in the left corner of the endzone. The resulting touchdown put the Crimson up 14-0.