Senior running back Clifton Dawson and a dynamic offensive line had no problem parting the Big Red waters on Saturday. On the opening kickoff, Dawson went untouched for 93 yards and a score.
A dominant first half and another record-breaking performance by senior running back Clifton Dawson were all that the Harvard football team needed to beat Cornell by a score of 33-23 on Saturday, delighting the 13,287 fans in attendance at Harvard Stadium.
Dawson wasted no time setting the tone for the Crimson (4-0, 2-0 Ivy) returning the opening Big Red (1-3, 0-2 Ivy) kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown.
The score was the first of three on the day for Dawson, who surpassed Brown’s Nick Hartigan as the all-time Ivy League leader in total touchdowns (56) and points scored (338).
“[The kickoff return] was just a well executed play,” said Dawson, who finished the game with 97 rushing yards on 18 carries. “I wasn’t touched at all.”
But Cornell responded immediately, using Madden-esque five-receiver sets to keep the Crimson off-balance on its opening drive. Four consecutive completions by Big Red quarterback Nathan Ford set up a four-yard touchdown run by running back Luke Siwula.
A Cornell field goal with eight minutes left in the first half put the team up 10-7, giving the Big Red its only lead of the game.
Harvard answered when junior quarterback Chris Pizzotti hit junior wideout Corey Mazza in the corner of the end zone to give the Crimson a 14-7 lead.
Mazza, who caught six passes for 99 yards, led a group of nine different Harvard players who caught at least one pass in the game.
“I know I’m very comfortable throwing the ball to whoever’s out there,” said Pizzotti, who was 15-for-24 for 231 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “I mean, [we] have so many options it’s really tough for defenses to defend us.”
The touchdown marked the beginning of an unanswered 23-point scoring tear by the Crimson.
Junior kicker Matt Schindel nailed a career-long 42-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter, making the score 17-7.
On Harvard’s next possession, a 25-yard run by junior wide receiver Matt Lagace off a reverse advanced the ball to Cornell’s 32-yard line. Pizzotti and Mazza connected again for a 28-yard pass, leaving Dawson to saunter into the endzone from four yards away. A blocked extra point kept the Crimson at 23 points.
After forcing the Big Red to go three and out, Harvard’s offensive assault continued. The squad marched down the field again, finishing off a 10-play, 71-yard drive with another Dawson touchdown run.
The score gave the Crimson a 30-10 lead going into the second half.
“I thought they took it to us in the first half,” Cornell coach Jim Knowles said. “We challenged our guys at halftime and I thought they responded.”
At the start of the third quarter, both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Harvard’s defensive front relentlessly attacked the line of scrimmage, keeping Siwula at bay for much of the period and sacking Ford three times. But the Crimson offense could manage only a field goal after halftime. With the score 33-10 heading into the fourth quarter, Cornell made things interesting with a late comeback attempt.
The Big Red began the quarter by capping off an 80-yard drive with a 5-yard scramble into the endzone by Ford.
Cornell displayed some trickery on the ensuing kickoff, attempting an onside kick with 12:15 left in the game. Harvard did recover, but gave the ball right back after a blocked Schindel field goal attempt.
The Big Red rumbled into Crimson territory again, this time only to be stopped by freshman cornerback Derrick Barker, who started in place of sophomore Andrew Berry.
Barker picked off a Ford pass on the 16-yard line for his first career interception.
“He got thrown into it as a freshman today and he responded,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “He’s got big shoes to fill with Andrew Berry out but he was poised, he played with maturity, and he came up with a big interception.”
Cornell added another touchdown on 27-yard pass from Ford to wide receiver Zac Canty with just over three minutes left in the game, but the two-point conversion attempt failed. After recovering an onside kick, the Big Red’s comeback hopes ended when Ford’s pass on fourth down fell incomplete.
Though Harvard’s offense stumbled through the second half, its explosive start to the game proved to be enough to put away Cornell.
“I think our entire offense wanted to get off to a fast start,” Dawson said.
“He gave us a great emotional lift,” Murphy said of Dawson’s early efforts.
The Crimson’s seven total sacks against Ford included three by junior defensive end Brad Bagdis.
“The secondary was giving us the time we needed,” Bagdis said. “When you have five or six weapons like Mike Berg and the Bryant brothers that are making the quarterback leave the pocket or step up in the pocket, it makes it a lot easier to get to them.”
Though Harvard struggled at times, the team still proved why it’s at the top of the Ivy League pecking order. The latest AP-FBC Division I-AA Poll had the Crimson ranked No. 15 in the nation. No. 24 Princeton remained the only other Ivy League team in the Top 25.
“I thought it was a very solid, workmanlike effort,” Murphy said. “To be 4-0, we’re just very happy at this stage of the game.”