Facing a 21-0 deficit barely 10 minutes into the game and a 31-10 disadvantage at the half, the Crimson (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) rallied in the final two quarters to narrowly top Brown 35-34 and claim a crucial win to open the Ivy season.
“We have one adage we live by, and as corny as some people think it is, it’s, ‘Never, ever give up,’” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy. “I’m just so proud of our players from a character standpoint for how they turned that thing around.”
By halftime, the Bears (1-1, 0-1) had already amassed 451 yards of offense, on pace to shatter the record for most yardage by a Crimson opponent. But Harvard charged out of the locker room looking nothing like the shell-shocked team of the first half.
The Crimson received the kickoff and promptly put together a purposeful downfield drive to the Brown 35-yard line. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick lofted a perfect pass to sophomore wide receiver Corey Mazza near the right sideline. Mazza, with a good six-inch advantage over Bears cornerback Rashad Collins, easily pulled down the ball and tumbled into the endzone to cut the deficit to 35-17.
“I think when the ball’s in the air it’s just whoever wants it more,” Mazza said, “and I think all the guys on this team, looking around at them, second half, you knew that we wanted it more.”
“We knew—especially the seniors, the guys up in the offensive front—we knew, that in that second half we needed to score at least four touchdowns, three touchdowns, to keep us in the game,” Fitzpatrick added.
It was the swing in momentum that Harvard needed. On the ensuing Bears possession, the Crimson held the Brown offense to three-and-out for the first time the entire game. Unlike the first half, when everything had gone right for the Bears, suddenly everything began to swing Harvard’s way.
“The defense really helped us out, as far as we were able to get some points on the board early and they were able to come up with some big stops,” Fitzpatrick said. “And that’s when you knew that the momentum started to shift and be in our favor.”
After failing to score on its next series, the Crimson punted deep to Collins on his own 12-yard line. Sophomore Dylan McCrory charged in to level a decisive hit on Collins, causing the ball to squirt free back towards the Brown endzone. A cadre of players arrived on the scene, but it was junior Gary Garcia who pounced on the ball at the Bears two-yard line and gave control of the game back to Harvard.
“That’s a huge play,” Murphy said. “That was basically a freebie for us, for the offense…that was a huge field position thing.”
“It really came down to special teams,” said Brown coach Phil Estes. “We just fell apart right there.”
With Harvard down to the one-yard line, Fitzpatrick faked the handoff to Dawson, who dramatically lunged over the heap of players into the endzone while Fitzpatrick rolled out right searching for a receiver. As a Brown defender dragged him to the turf, the Crimson captain flipped the ball underhand to junior fullback Kelly Widman for an apparent score.
But before Harvard could even rejoice, the play was called back due to an ineligible man downfield. Fitzpatrick’s next pass attempt to junior wide receiver Ryan Tyler fell incomplete and the Crimson had to settle for a 22-yard field goal to get within 11 points.
Still, the tide had definitely turned. The rejuvenated Harvard defense kept Hartigan and DiGiacomo in check on the Bears’ next possession, and the ball was once again in Fitzpatrick’s reliable hands. On second-and-five from the Crimson’s own 20-yard line, Fitzpatrick handed off to Dawson who broke through a mass of linemen, escaped several ankle tackles, and careened down the field 80 yards for a touchdown. Dawson finished the day with 142 yards and three TDs.
Fitzpatrick kept the ball for the ensuing two-point conversion, scrambling left and barely into the endzone to bring Harvard within three.