The Crimson, which scored over 30 points nine times last season en route to a 10-0 record, cleared that mark easily this afternoon, posting a 41-27 victory over Columbia in a preseason scrimmage at Harvard Stadium.
While the high-powered offense was familiar, the players at its helm were most definitely different. Sophomores Liam O’Hagan and Richard Irvin—a transfer from Tulane University—are competing to replace recently graduated Ivy League Player of the Year Ryan Fitzpatrick, who enters this season as the third-string quarterback for the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams.
In a press conference at the Murr Center yesterday, coach Tim Murphy acknowledged that his team “will have to replace a legendary quarterback” and added that he thinks Fitzpatrick “will be a starter in the NFL someday.”
However, Murphy thinks his team will still have a solid quarterback this season.
“I'm confident that [O’Hagan and Irvin] will be successful,” Murphy said.
If Saturday’s scrimmage was any indication, Murphy might be right.
O’Hagan, who played the first and third quarters, threw for 201 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted on the Crimson’s first drive on a fourth down in Columbia territory with Harvard just out of field goal range.
Irvin threw for 286 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown strike to junior tight end Matt Farbotko that came just one play after freshman linebacker Eric Schultz recorded the Crimson’s lone interception of the afternoon.
On the whole, O’Hagan took the field with the first-team offense six times, while Irvin did so just three times. O’Hagan and junior wide receiver Corey Mazza, who led his side with seven receptions for 98 yards, connected twice for scores in the first quarter. Both touchdowns came on drives that began in Lions territory.
O’Hagan also led the opening drive of the second half, which ended with junior Clifton Dawson’s longest run of the day, a 37-yard scamper to the end zone.
Irvin led Harvard on both of its field goal drives, including a well-executed 85-yard hurry-up sequence at the end of the first half. Sophomore place-kicker Matt Schindel finished 2-for-3, hitting from 36 and 26 yards before missing from 25.
Murphy said Friday that he plans to name his starting quarterback by next Sunday, thus giving the first-stringer at least a week’s worth of practice before the season-opener against Holy Cross on Sept. 17.
Harvard trailed 21-20 at the half after getting burned for three passing touchdowns by the Columbia tandem of sophomore Craig Hormann and senior Joe Winters, who are in a fight to replace departed Lions quarterback Jeff Otis. The Crimson will likely get a boost in the secondary with the return of All-Ivy cornerback Gary Sonkur, who sat out the scrimmage with a pulled hamstring but expects to return by the start of the season.
Although the Crimson defense allowed only two field goals in the second half, the 27 points was more than the unit allowed in all but one game last year: the 35-34 come-from-behind victory against Brown. The Bears were also the only team to lead Harvard at halftime last season.
Senior captain Erik Grimm, who said Friday that “[the defense’s] first goal is to be the number one scoring defense in the league,” described his unit as “flat in the first half.”
Overall, though, he was “pretty happy” with the performance.
“In the second half we came out with more enthusiasm,” Grimm said.
While Dawson finished with 56 yards on eight carries, the Crimson was led on the ground by sophomore Charles Baakel, who had 65 yards on 10 carries.
Dawson, who also caught five passes for 55 yards, said he was happy to work on other facets of his game.
“Pass blocking is high on my priority list, and the team’s list,” Dawson said.
He added that although it took the Crimson “a while to adjust to the speed of the game,” he was happy with the performance of the offense.
Junior James Cobb led the Lions in rushing with 48 yards, while senior Brandon Bowser, who led his team last year with 583 receiving yards, had five grabs for 33 yards. Columbia must entirely replace its ground attack from last season after graduating three senior running backs.
O’Hagan’s final touchdown pass came on a three-play drive that started near midfield and was caught by junior tight end Dan Lane, who also had the drive’s first catch.
Harvard won last year’s regular season meeting in Cambridge 38-0. The Crimson visits New York Nov. 5.
–Staff writer Gregory B. Michnikov can be reached at email@example.com.