It was the first time the Harvard football team had taken the field since its unforgettable triple-overtime triumph over Yale. Almost five and a half months later, the season begins anew—with a few notable names missing.
Despite no playing time for sophomore signal-caller Liam O’Hagan, junior running back Clifton Dawson, captain Matt Thomas, or junior defensive tackle Michael Berg, the Crimson saw its first game-situation action of the year at the team’s annual Spring Game on Friday afternoon in front of a sparse crowd at Harvard Stadium.
Technically, the second-team White squad “defeated” the first-team Crimson 21-13, but the revamped format this year actually saw all the offensive players don road white jerseys while the defense wore home Crimson. While the score mattered little, the game offered important insight into some of Harvard’s early question marks—including an offensive line which is graduating five seniors.
“It got ugly a little bit today, it really did,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said, referring to an offense that was penalized 11 times for 60 yards. “We showed some of our inexperience and didn’t have a great deal of poise, but we’re going to be putting juniors and seniors on the line. It’s not going to be just freshman and sophomores, so I’m very confident that group will come around.”
The game itself was without some of its stars, mostly for precautionary reasons. O’Hagan has almost fully recovered from an offseason hand injury and could have played if necessary, while Berg and Dawson—who sits just 1,008 yards away from the all-time Ivy League rushing record—simply took the day off.
At quarterback, a strong performance came from sophomore Chris Pizzotti, O’Hagan’s backup. Pizzotti went 20-of-40 for 192 yards and two touchdowns with the first team offense, while second-team duties were shared by sophomore Richard Irvin and freshmen Jeff Witt and Andrew Hatch. While Hatch was four-of-four with a touchdown and showcased his scrambling ability in limited action, Irvin and Witt combined to go only 8-for-21 for 106 yards and four picks.
“Chris Pizzotti has really done an outstanding job and probably is a little bit ahead of where we thought he would be,” Murphy said. “We didn’t go into the spring anticipating he would be working with the first team, but that’s the way it worked out, and I think the silver lining is that he’s really prepared himself to compete for the job next year.”
The Harvard defense had constant pressure in the backfield all day long, notching nine sacks on the afternoon. Freshman Brenton Bryant had three and freshman Peter Ajayi earned two against the quarterbacks, who wore green jerseys to minimize contact. Freshman linebacker Matthew Thomas had a 62-yard interception return that set up the game’s first score. Three plays later, Pizzotti hit freshman Alex Breaux for a 10-yard touchdown.
WAITING TO RUSH
The Crimson running game was paced by freshman Randy Ojukwu, who carried 17 times for 118 yards and an 18-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The bulk of other rushing duties were handled by sophomore Noah Van Niel and freshman Michael Doerner. Dawson’s backup, sophomore Charles Baakel, also sat out the game, so the three running backs were essentially competing for time on the third team next season.
“Chuck Baakel is a very solid second,” Murphy said. “I think the third-team tailback is going to be between not only guys like Randy and Mike, but we [also] have three pretty solid freshmen coming in at that position.”
Junior wide receiver Corey Mazza was back in action after missing eight games last year due to an ankle injury suffered early in the season. He had three catches for 27 yards, but the best receiving performance of the day came from wideout Matt Lagace. The sophomore, who had nine catches for 103 yards and a score, saw a great deal of time with the first-team in a role that could continue in the fall.
“Matt Lagace has probably made more progress than anybody,” Murphy said.
Breaux, who caught four balls for 31 yards and the opening touchdown, sees the position as one of Harvard’s strongest.
“A lot of the younger guys like Danny Brown just played awesome today,” Breaux said of the junior wideout, who had six catches for 89 yards and a score. “With the wide receivers we’ve got, I think we’ll be in a really good position to put a lot of points on the board,” Breaux added.
ON THE LAMBS
Five new assistant coaches dotted the Crimson sideline, the most high-profile being offensive coordinator Joel Lamb ’93. Harvard fans can thank Lamb’s wife in part for getting the former Yale quarterbacks coach to return to his alma mater.
“I actually tried to hire him one time before, and he said, ‘Coach, I can’t do it, my wife’s the head field hockey coach at Yale,’” Murphy remembered.
So who became the new field hockey coach at neighboring Boston College? Ainslee Lamb.
“It’s funny how things work out,” Murphy said.
—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.