THE COMMISH: Crimson Survives Ivy Gut Check

BEAR CAGE
Lowell K. Chow

Running back Clifton Dawson couldn’t quite push the ball beyond the goal line before being gang tackled by Brown’s defense. Though he had three touchdowns on the day, Dawson and the Crimson settled for a field goal.

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—It was gut-check time for the Harvard football team.

At 1:45 on Saturday afternoon, the Crimson jogged off the field stunned. Staring at a 31-10 halftime deficit to Brown, Harvard’s Ivy League title dreams were very much in doubt only two quarters after the Ivy season officially began.

But whatever the Crimson was missing in the first half, it found in the cramped locker room underneath the bleachers in Brown Stadium. When Harvard stormed out for the second half, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Co. were a completely different bunch than had left the field just 20 minutes earlier.

Perhaps it was the realization that their Ivy League immortality was on the line? Perhaps it was a core group of seniors desperately wanting to save their final season in crimson? Or maybe it was the sheer embarrassment that they were getting manhandled by—of all teams—Brown?

Whatever the reason, Harvard came out in the second half and showed that all the pre-season hype was legitimate: this team is for real.

You can say that now for sure. Why? Because, this past weekend, the Crimson played as poorly as a football team can possibly play. For 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon, Murphy’s Law was in effect. And even with the calamity of errors, Harvard found a way to win.

Harvard coach Tim Murphy said he felt “numb” watching his team play in the first half—but nauseous might have been just as accurate.

The Crimson defense gave up 451 yards of total offense in the first half—a figure that most offenses would be proud of for an entire game. It allowed receiver Jarret Schreck, who is generously listed at 5’9, to catch everything in sight and mount up 194 yards receiving in the first half alone. Quarterback Joe DiGiacomo—who is not known as a top Ivy quarterback—picked apart the Harvard secondary with pass after pass down field.

And while the defense struggled, the Harvard offense couldn’t stay on the field long enough to give its beleaguered brethren a much-needed rest. With the Bears packing the line of scrimmage to stop sophomore running back Clifton Dawson, Fitzpatrick and his receivers struggled to find a groove.

Bad defense and sluggish offense combined with a Brown team on top of its game, and it would be reasonable to expect the Crimson to completely fall apart.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

“We have one adage we live by,” a clearly drained Murphy said after the game. “And as corny as some people think it is, it’s never, ever give up.”

Harvard didn’t give up and did just enough to pull out the game in the second half. But what’s important for the Crimson now is not to forget everything that went wrong. The Bears gave every team in the league a blueprint of how to attack the Harvard defense. Unless the Crimson addresses what went askew on Saturday, this may not be the last time that Harvard is forced to come back from the verge of defeat.

Brown proved that this year’s edition of the Crimson is not a perfect team. Even in the second half, as Harvard staged its comeback, there was reason for concern. The Crimson mounted up 104 yards in penalties, including one that negated an acrobatic touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to junior fullback Kelly Widman. And while the secondary play improved dramatically, Bears receiver Thomas Balestracci dropped two very catchable passes, one of which would have gone for a touchdown and could have turned the momentum back in Brown’s favor.

The Crimson proved that its title hopes will not be extinguished without a fight. This team is talented and determined, and if it learns from the near disaster on Saturday and goes on to fulfill its goals, we may all look back at this game as a turning point in the season.

When asked if getting a test like this so early in the season was good, Murphy replied, “Only if you’re on the side we’re on.”

Harvard survived the scare. Now it just can’t ever forget it.

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

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