The 55-7 final score wasn’t the only statistic that the Harvard football team held by overwhelming margin at the end of its game at Columbia on Saturday. The Crimson led or held its own in a few crucial categories—rushing (227 yards to the Lions’ minus-18), total offense (435 yards to 201), and third-down conversions, for example (4-of-8 to 7-of-18).
But while the Lions led on passing and dominated on kickoff returns, they rarely had either momentum or field position, thanks to a severe and chronic case of butterfingers.
Over the course of the game, Columbia turned the ball over five times—three times on interceptions, twice on fumbles—in addition to punting five times and failing to convert on fourth down twice—and Harvard scored two of its touchdowns on defense.
“I don’t know how many turnovers we had—I think we had five turnovers,” said Columbia coach Bob Shoop as he thumbed through final statistics after the game. “When you have five turnovers and a punt returned to the 10-yard line against a pretty good team and you give them a short field, you’re going to lose points.”
Hormann had four interceptions on the season until Saturday. Collectively, the team had thrown seven picks and lost 11-of-16 fumbles.
On the first drive of the game, the game’s master narrative was briefly inverted. Freshman punt returner Andrew Berry fumbled on the Harvard 32-yard line, the first time after kickoff that the Crimson had touched the ball. Fortunately for Harvard, Columbia went three-and-out—losing one play to a fumble recovered deep in the backfield.
“We had our opportunity early in the game. When you get the ball first-and-ten on the 32, at some point you’ve got to capitalize a little bit on the momentum,” Shoop said.
Only two plays after Harvard went up by a touchdown, Hormann was picked off by junior safety Danny Tanner on the Harvard 45-yard line, setting up a Crimson possession that ended six plays later with an O’Hagan quarterback draw for two yards and a touchdown.
In his defense, Hormann wasn’t getting any protection in the pocket. Harvard’s pass rush minced the Lions line, and Hormann was sacked five times.
“I think Craig [Hormann] was rushed on a couple throws. The one I remember, I don’t think his mechanics were very good, the ball got away from him and sailed. He was pressured on the other ones,” Shoop said.
On Columbia’s next possession on second-and-eight from its own 46-yard line, Hormann threw long downfield, and right into sophomore cornerback Doug Hewlett—tied for second in the Ivies in interceptions—who eked three more yards out of the return. This time the Harvard offense didn’t capitalize on the opportunity, punting nine plays later.
Trailing 21-0 following a touchdown pass from O’Hagan to freshman wide receiver Alex Breaux, Columbia squandered yet another opportunity. Backed up by penalties for holding on the kickoff and false start on the first play, Columbia lined up on the four-yard line. Hormann came under pressure, and again the ball flew foul—senior linebacker Rob Balkema snagged it and took it back eight yards for a touchdown.
The interception return for touchdown was the team’s first since safety Ricky Williamson ’05 ran a pick back from Harvard’s own endzone in The Game in 2004.
On third-and-seven from the Columbia 47, Hormann came under major pressure and lost control of the ball as Balkema sacked him. Linebacker Matt Thomas scooped up the ball and barreled 31 yards for yet another Harvard score, putting the Crimson up 41-0.
On Columbia’s first play after the half, sophomore Keith Howell stripped the ball from tailback James Cobb on the Columbia 19-yard line. Senior tackle Wainwright Wint dove on top of the loose ball, and a quarterback sneak and pass to sophomore receiver Matt Legace from sophomore Richard Irvin gave Harvard a 48-point lead.
Both teams tried to make more interceptions than they did. Sophomore quarterback Liam O’Hagan threw several dangerous passes where the only thing separating a safe incompletion from a pick was the ineptitude of the Lions’ secondary. Columbia had an ongoing problem pulling in passes, dropping at least half a dozen catchable tosses on which the Crimson secondary couldn’t follow up.
It’s a lesson that Harvard has learned the hard way this season—the Crimson committed six turnovers in its 49-14 loss to Lehigh on Oct. 1, the most of any Ivy team this year.
“You’re not going to beat any team with five turnovers, when you lose the turnover margin one to five,” Shoop said.