Fitzpatrick, Mazza In Midseason Form

Back At It
David E. Stein

Captain and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, shown in earlier action, was healthy for the first time since last October and impressive in limited action during Friday's annual spring game at Harvard Stadium.

Four months before the Harvard football team opens its season against Holy Cross, the Crimson faithful got a glimpse of what their team might bring to the table for the 2004 campaign.

In a game marred at times by the expectedly sloppy play of spring, the white-clad Harvard offense, led by captain Ryan Fitzpatrick and freshman receiver Corey Mazza, beat the defense 20-9.

Fitzpatrick and the first-team offense showed their ability to strike quickly, as the quarterback connected with Mazza on two touchdown strikes, including a 10-yard slant that Mazza broke for an 88-yard score.

Two Harvard defenders missed tackles on the play and then watched as Mazza outran the entire secondary, exposing a defensive weakness that the Crimson will have to address when it reconvenes this fall.

Despite a dearth of receiving options, Harvard’s air attack came out flying with Fitzpatrick and Mazza already in mid-season form. The freshman, now the most experienced receiver for the Crimson, finished the day with five catches for 163 yards.

But the game also contained the inevitable mistakes of spring. Fitzpatrick was picked off by junior linebacker Bobby Everett in the end zone, and during one sequence in the fourth quarter sophomore receiver Corey Waller—who is vying for playing time in Harvard’s heavily depleted receiving corps—dropped passes on consecutive plays that both would have resulted in big gains.

BIGGER IS BETTER

In his last game action, Fitzpatrick was putting on a heroic display in the Crimson’s 37-19 victory over Yale.

Playing with a torn meniscus, the junior hobbled through the game, leading Harvard to victory with his arm, but barely resembling the scrambling quarterback that had confounded defenses throughout the season.

Now, six months later, he’s all healed and back making defenses look bad.

Over the winter, Fitzpatrick bulked up—he now weighs in at 223 lbs. according to Harvard coach Tim Murphy, up from a listed 210 last season—hoping the extra muscle would make him more stable and durable in the pocket.

But any opposing defenses thinking that the extra weight might slow Fitzpatrick down were disproved on the very first series from scrimmage.

On a play-action-pass, Fitzpatrick quickly felt the pocket close in around him and dashed through an opening in the middle of the line, side-stepped two defenders, and sprinted down field before sliding to safety 20 yards later.

It was a welcome sign for the Crimson, despite the no-contact rules in effect for the game, and exactly what the coaching staff wanted to see from a quarterback who can be just as dangerous with his legs as with his arm.

Fitzpatrick, who commanded the first team throughout much of the first half before being given the rest of the game off, completed the day with 149 yards on 4-of-10 passing and 49 yards rushing on seven carries.

RUNNING BACK ROTATION

Fitzpatrick and the Harvard offense put up some early points despite playing largely without the team’s leading rusher from a year ago, freshman Clifton Dawson.

Dawson—who gained 1,187 yards last year on the ground—played the first down of the game but was then held out of action for the rest of the game.

“This was a decision of the coaching staff,” said Dawson of his limited playing time. “I think the coaches’ decision was made to prevent my injury.”

With Dawson on the bench and sophomore Ryan Tyler seeing most of his time at wide receiver, junior Nick Carrington took most of the snaps at running back with the first team. Carrington finished the game with 43 yards on 14 carries.

Freshmen Raffael DeLuca and James Velissaris also saw time in the backfield, with DeLuca leading the team in rushing with 83 yards.

DEFENSIVE DIARIES

While at times the Crimson’s high powered offense made the defense look a step slow, there were some good signs for a defensive unit that will be charged with replacing some key players.

Replacing Dante Balestracci at linebacker will be one of the main tasks for Harvard next fall. But for one game at least, the Crimson appeared to have at least two viable options.

Freshman Dylan McCrory played with the first team throughout the first half and looked to be in sync with his linebacker mate, Everett. Meanwhile, sophomore Gary Garcia looked equally impressive, frequently breaking through the line on blitz packages to disrupt the quarterback.

“This spring went well for all the linebackers,” McCrory said. “As for replacing Dante, you can’t replace a guy like him, as a player or a leader.”

Up on the line, Harvard is looking for someone who can play opposite sophomore Erik Grimm at defensive end. Sophomore Doug Bennett appeared to fit that mold perfectly on Friday, as he saw time with both the first and second teams, recording six tackles and three sacks, including a safety.

In addition to the safety, the defense put points on the board when sophomore defensive back Keith Howell returned a fumble for a touchdown.

KICKING COMPETITION

Harvard will head into the fall with three kickers vying for the starting job next season, hoping to find someone who can finally put an end to the Crimson’s recent kicking woes. With Adam Kingston graduating, it appeared that sophomore Jim Morocco—who was 2-of-4 on field goal attempts last season—would have the inside track on the job. But if anyone is in the lead right now, it would be freshman Derek Case, who connected on field goals of 22 and 28 yards yesterday and nailed an extra point with little difficulty.

“I think it is absolutely imperative that this team finds someone they can rely on every time they line up to kick,” Case said. “And I think we as a group have made huge strides this spring in providing the team with that need.”

Morocco also made an extra point on Friday, although his was slightly less convincing as it glanced off the crossbar before going through the uprights. Freshman Doug Britton, who did not see action on Friday, will also be part of the competition.

—Staff writer David H. Stearns can be reached at stearns@fas.harvard.edu.

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