It would have been tough to script a more gut-wrenching loss than Brown’s 21-point collapse to Harvard last season. But a double-overtime defeat after leading 16-0 in the first quarter comes pretty close.
In the league opener for the teams picked to finish 2-3 in the Ivies, No. 15 Harvard (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) overcame a sloppy first half to outlast the Bears (1-1, 0-1) 38-35 in two overtimes in front of 11,134 at Harvard Stadium.
The game-winning score came on sophomore kicker Matt Schindel’s 29-yard field goal—his second in the extra frames—after Brown kicker Steve Morgan missed wide left on a 42-yarder on the Bears’ possession. The Crimson has now won 13 in a row dating back to last season, the longest active winning streak in Division I-AA.
“We certainly don’t necessarily, at that early stage in the game, do things the easy way,” Murphy said. “But our guys gave an extraordinary effort, and the net result is that we’re 2-0.”
It was a different setting and a different Harvard quarterback from last year’s matchup, when the Crimson erased a three-touchdown deficit to win 35-34 in Providence. But even Harvard coach Tim Murphy called the similarities “eerie.”
Like last year, Brown grabbed an advantage early in the game, racking up big gains on play-action. With All-American running back Nick Hartigan the Crimson’s defense’s number-one target, quarterback Joe DiGiacomo was left free to find receiver Jarrett Schreck in single coverage. Which he did, as usual, with success—the longtime Harvard-killer had nine catches for a whopping 223 yards and two scores.
“I don’t know if any single player has played better against us since I’ve been in the league,” Murphy said.
But, like last year, running back Clifton Dawson was the difference-maker for the Crimson. The junior finished with 34 carries for 189 yards and three touchdowns, including a three-yard run to tie the game at 32 with 15 seconds left in regulation.
Sophomore quarterback Liam O’Hagan overcame a pair of interceptions to finish 17-of-34 for 208 yards and a touchdown, along with two key scrambles on the Crimson’s final drive in regulation.
“All I’m going to grade him on is how he fought and how he led,” Murphy said. “He gave us a great effort in terms of toughness.”
With Brown up 32-25 on a 34-yard touchdown pass from DiGiacomo to Schreck, Harvard took over on its own 18-yard line with 4:03 remaining in the game. A pair of rushes by Dawson got the Crimson to the Harvard 29, but not without a casualty. Junior wide receiver Corey Mazza went down with an injured ankle after getting tangled up with Dawson as the tailback dove for the first down in traffic, and had to be helped off the field.
With the Crimson’s leading receiver out of commission on the most important drive of the game, O’Hagan turned to his other targets—and his own legs.
Combining short passes to wideouts Ryan Tyler and Danny Brown with handoffs to Dawson, O’Hagan moved Harvard into Brown territory. Then, facing third-and-five on the Bears 41-yard line, O’Hagan saw a hole open up and broke for a 17-yard scramble and a first down.
He added another 12-yard rush to put the Crimson at the three-yard line with 21 seconds remaining and set up Dawson’s third touchdown.
“I started out slowly, made some poor decisions, but I was just trying to get a feel for the game and a feel for the defense,” O’Hagan said. “Once I put the ball in Clifton’s hands, Ryan Tyler, all these great playmakers that we have—once that happened, when I could do that, we marched down the field.”
Much of the pre-game speculation had been focused on Hartigan, a large, bruising tailback who, like Dawson, is on the Payton Award watch list. The 6’2, 220-lb. back had 115 yards on 29 carries, but managed only four yards per carry and rarely broke for a large gain for a day that his coach Phil Estes deemed “average.”
“He just seemed to get snagged,” Estes said. “It was those couple you thought he was going to break and then all of a sudden they’ve got him by the end of his foot...We never got that going.”
His Crimson counterpart had a far greater impact, which was made apparent in the first quarter, when the junior left the game on the third series. Holding his side in pain, Dawson left the field for a span as the Crimson offense sputtered and the Brown defense breathed a sigh of relief.
Fortunately for Harvard, his absence was brief. Dawson returned at the start of the second quarter to power the Crimson to its first scoring drive, capped by his four-yard run to put Harvard up 16-8 after a successful two-point conversion.
“We don’t necessarily game-plan for any specific player,” said Brown linebacker Zak DeOssie. “[But] obviously it was a lot easier without him in there.”
Still, the Crimson was hardly dominant offensively, remaining behind until a nine-yard touchdown by Mazza tied the game at 22 in the third quarter. Nor was the outcome certain until Morgan’s seventh and final field goal attempt of the day—five of which he made—missed the uprights.
Only then were Estes and the Bears left, like last year, with nothing but an 0-1 Ivy record to show for their pains.
“We needed to win that game in regulation,” Estes said resignedly. “We should have.”
—Staff writer Lisa J. Kennelly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.