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Playing From Behind Not an Effective Strategy

Harvard football may be slow to get rolling, but once it lumbers into motion, it has a lot of momentum backing it up.

Sometimes, however, it takes more than momentum to get to the top of the next hill.

Saturday’s game against Lehigh confirms that the Crimson has a pacing problem. In its first two games, the team showed itself to be late bloomers, ceding Holy Cross and Brown first-quarter leads before working the deficit off.

Start slow and fall behind, before sucking it up, rallying from behind, and finishing with a strong fourth quarter to win the game—it’s a recipe for the kind of football that gives fans their money’s worth, for the unfolding of a little drama on a hundred-yard stage.

That’s assuming, of course, that Harvard can rally from behind. On Saturday, the Crimson fell behind against an opponent that demanded four quarters of top-notch play, and Harvard’s slip-ups, miscues, and fragmented offense just didn’t meet muster.

"I thought it was developing the way the last two games developed in the second half. We fought our way back, made some mistakes, really felt the momentum turn," Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. "Obviously, that was short-lived."

It’s a pacing issue that has been two games in the making and that the third opponent game-planned against.

Lehigh knew what was coming.

"We talked all week about how Harvard was a team that started slow but really finished the game really well," Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said. "That was a problem we had against Delaware and VMI [but] we continued to score and answer their scores in the second half."

"[Harvard] dominated the fourth quarter in their first two games and dominated it last year. From me right on down to the sports medicine people, our whole staff, we were not going to let up," Lembo said. "There was no thought process to being unethical and trying to run up the score. Our thought was ‘We got to keep the pressure on them.’"

This isn’t just about the team’s comeback from a massive deficit last year against Brown.

Two weeks ago, Harvard was down 21-20 in the third quarter to Holy Cross—a team that just wasn’t up to snuff against the Crimson offense—before Harvard put 11 on the board in the fourth quarter.

Last week, the Crimson fell behind 16-0 to the Bears in the first quarter, came within a touchdown by halftime, and tied the game up in the third quarter.

Injuries took a heavy toll on the home team, leaving it without the consistent skill in the line of Brian Lapham or a secondary capable of shutting down the short pass. When big plays were needed for a big rally, Harvard was without a big play threat like Corey Mazza downfield.

Without the same pass threat to defend against, the Lehigh defense stacked up the line against junior tailback Clifton Dawson and kept sophomore quarterbacks Liam O’Hagan and Richard Irvin under pressure.

At the end of the day, Lehigh was a more competent opponent than either Holy Cross or Brown. They didn’t get worn out and they weren’t forced to play stupidly.

Harvard made catastrophic screw-ups that turned the tide—"Turnovers [that] took a relatively competitive game and turned it into a rout," as Murphy said.

Lehigh didn’t, and they never gave the Crimson a much-needed shot at redemption.

—Staff writer Samuel C. Scott can be reached at sscott@fas.harvard.edu.

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