Return Game Struggles; Wide Receiver Tyler Returns

In three weeks, Harvard has four fumbles on kick and punt returns

TY-RELESS
Jessica E. Zbikowski

Senior Ryan Tyler carries the ball after one of his three receptions. The veteran wideout returned after missing two weeks with a shoulder injury.

Harvard’s struggles on kick and punt returns have gone from pesky to peculiar. The Crimson has four special teams’ fumbles in the past three games—two on punts and two on kickoffs.

“Four times in the past three games we’ve had that same thing,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “Prior to that, we haven’t had it four times in our entire tenure, 12 years. So ‘go figure’ is the best way I can put it.”

The mistakes came despite a personnel change at returner. Sophomore Steven Williams, who had three fumbles in the past two games, was replaced by backup running back Neil Sherlock.

It didn’t make much of a difference for the error-ridden Harvard return team. After a reverse on Princeton’s first play from scrimmage gave the Tigers a 72-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead—the extra point was missed—the Crimson gave the ball right back when the kickoff bounced off freshman Glenn Dorris’ chest. Princeton’s Jay McCareins recovered at the Harvard 33-yard line.

“We struggled at times on our kicking game today and we paid the price,” Murphy said.

TYED UP

The Crimson’s wounded receiving corps got a boost Saturday with the return of senior Ryan Tyler.

Despite missing the past two games with a shoulder injury, Tyler was still tied for the team lead in receptions with 14, thanks to injuries to starters Corey Mazza and Rodney Byrnes.

Saturday, Tyler had just three receptions but all were for substantial gains, including a 52-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Liam O’Hagan in the fourth quarter to give Harvard a short-lived lead.

“Ryan’s a great leader out there,” O’Hagan said. “He showed it with that long catch he had.”

Mazza had been possible to return this Saturday, but reaggravated his torn ankle ligaments in practice this week and is likely done for the season.

IT’S BEEN A WHILE

The win marked the first time Princeton has beaten Harvard in nine seasons. The last Tigers win was a 14-3 victory at Harvard Stadium in 1995.

Though the Princeton seniors were happy with their win over the Crimson, it was less of an upset than it had been for Cornell, which beat Harvard two weeks ago.

“Beating Harvard is more of a big win for the program than for us,” Princeton linebacker Justin Stull said.

McCareins’ fourth-quarter kickoff return for a score to put the Tigers up for good was also something of a milestone. It was Princeton’s first kickoff returned for a touchdown since 1992.

Prior to Saturday, Harvard had not allowed a kickoff to be returned for a touchdown since 1995.

“It was just plays here and there which made the football game, and certainly that was a big one,” Murphy said.

FOURTH AND THREE

Fullback Kelly Widman nearly had his third touchdown in two weeks early in the first quarter when O’Hagan found him wide open in the middle of the endzone for a 13-yard completion. The play was negated, though, by a holding call on Harvard, and the Crimson was forced to settled for a field goal instead of the go-ahead touchdown. “Any time you get a touchdown called back against a quality team it’s going to come back to haunt you,” Murphy said...Both Dawson and Brown’s Nick Hartigan are in the top five in the nation in rushing. Hartigan is second and Dawson is fifth...McCareins, who is second in the nation in interceptions per game, did not have a pick in Saturday’s contest. He did, however, recover a fumbled kickoff on the Crimson’s first possession of the day.

—Staff writer Lisa J. Kennelly can be reached at kennell@fas.harvard.edu.

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