Guided by freshman signal caller Liam O’Hagan, the Crimson’s first string handily defeated the second unit, 34-14, Saturday at Harvard Stadium to wrap up its formal offseason practice schedule.
With his yet-to-matriculate challengers Richard Irvin—currently a freshman at Tulane—and high school senior Jeff Witt looking on from the sidelines, O’Hagan proved himself more than competent at the helm of Harvard’s high-powered offense, completing 13 of his 21 attempts for 202 yards and four touchdowns, offset by just one interception.
“I know it wasn’t a complete-game-type scenario, but I thought he played really well,” sophomore wideout Corey Mazza said. “He did a lot of really good things that people who aren’t around football a lot don’t really appreciate—making reads, making checkdowns. He did a lot of the cerebral things that Fitzy was able to do, that made Fitzy a great quarterback.”
Prior to halftime, when several likely skill-position starters were lifted to avoid injury on the rain-soaked pitch and the Crimson’s play calling took a decided turn for the conservative, O’Hagan orchestrated five trips to pay dirt against just one drive ended by a punt. Though his throws downfield were hampered by the weather and lacked Fitzpatrick’s velocity, the overwhelming majority of O’Hagan’s attempts were well timed and perfectly placed, dropping directly into his receivers’ hands just beyond the reach of an opposing cornerback.
And more often than not, those hands belonged to Mazza, with whom O’Hagan connected five times for 88 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a 37-yard toss behind the coverage along the right sideline with 5:14 to play in the first quarter.
“I thought [O’Hagan] was poised,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “He understands the basics of the offense...We still need to have more competition and more depth at quarterback, and we’re going to get that with the kids we have coming in, but I thought Liam took a big first step in trying to win this job.”
BYRNES, BABY, BYRNES
Junior Rodney Byrnes, sidelined in 2004 for academic reasons, showed no signs of rust in his homecoming, recording four catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. He also returned the day’s opening kickoff 42 yards to set up the opening score.
“It’s good to see Rodney Byrnes and Corey Mazza make plays because that’s what they should do,” Murphy said. “When plays present themselves, they should make plays and they did today, and that was good to see.”
With both sides scoreless 2:28 into the first quarter, Byrnes slipped through the secondary, then hauled down O’Hagan’s play-action pass for the 29-yard touchdown. He would also log a 53-yard reception—the longest for either side on the day—late in the second quarter.
Though the precise permutation of the Crimson’s receiving corps remains up in the air, Byrnes will likely replace senior Brian Edwards alongside Mazza and junior Ryan Tyler, with freshman Joe Murt, who was injured for Saturday’s contest, as the probable fourth option.
“We’re in much better shape than we would have been if Rodney hadn’t been coming back,” Mazza said.
ONE ON TWO
Whether any of Saturday’s showings will be indicative of future performance remains unclear. Breaking from tradition, Murphy stacked his “Crimson” squad with the first-string units on both sides of the ball, with the second teams assigned to the “White” side.
The change was made to accommodate ESPNU, which broadcast the game.
Murphy told The Crimson in early April that his defense had held the upper hand in practice as the offense struggled to cope with key injuries and departures, and it appeared Saturday that attempts to close the gap between the two sides had come up short, prompting the lineup shakeup.
“ESPN, you know, they had a game down at Mississippi State that ended up 7-0 and it really wasn’t a great game for TV,” Murphy said. “So obviously, we were very fortunate to have them here. It’s an honor to have them come. They could televise just about anybody and they did our game. So we thought it would add a little bit more excitement and playmaking to the game, and it did.”
FOURTH AND FOUR
Freshman Steve Williams scored White’s first touchdown, returning a kickoff 88 yards. Junior cornerback Keith Howell appeared to have Williams in his grasp at the Crimson 20, but Williams slipped the ankle tackle then burst across the goal line...Sophomore Clifton Dawson rushed for 64 yards on 12 carries. He did not play in the second half...2005 captain Erik Grimm and sophomores Mike Berg and Sam Workman were particularly effective on the defensive line, tossing in two tackles for a loss apiece and four combined sacks...Harvard’s graduating seniors were presented with their Ivy League championship rings during a special halftime ceremony.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at email@example.com.