For almost 28 minutes on Saturday, the Harvard football team looked like it was about to turn in its first scoreless half of the season. With just over two minutes to play in the second quarter and the Crimson ready to start a drive from its own 12-yard line, two zeros sat idly on the scoreboard at Harvard Stadium. Only one had come close to changing earlier in the half—and only once—when a Penn field goal on the team’s second drive of the game bounced off the right post.
Not content to go into halftime tied, however, sophomore tailback Cheng Ho took a handoff right on the drive’s first play, cut back left, and raced 37 yards for the longest play of the game.
It was exactly the spark the Crimson needed, and six plays later, Harvard scored on a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Against a team coming off of a 7-0 shutout win against Princeton last week, the importance of the late drive and score in the Crimson’s eventual 23-7 win cannot be understated.
“I think they caught us a little bit out of position,” Quakers linebacker Joe Anastasio said. “That first run really sprung their drive, and they just took advantage.”
The momentum from the drive carried over into the second half, as Harvard scored twice in the third quarter before Penn could run two plays from scrimmage.
“Just putting in a score pretty easily at the end of the first half was just huge confidence-wise, and then coming back, we really wanted to establish the line of scrimmage in the second half,” senior quarterback Chris Pizzotti said. “On the first drive [of the second half], that’s what we did.”
WHO’S ON FIRST?
After scheming against Quakers running back Joe Sandberg—the Ivy League’s second-leading rusher entering the weekend—all week in practice, the Crimson defense seemed surprised to see Sandberg leave the field gingerly after carrying the ball on game’s first play. He’d return for another play later in the quarter, but he sat out the bulk of the game with a knee injury.
Sandberg’s injury paved the way for Penn freshman Michael DiMaggio, who gained 71 yards and a score on the afternoon. But the switch at tailback didn’t change the defensive philosophy for Harvard, which held Quakers rushers to an average of just 1.8 yards per carry.
“We just stuck to the scheme,” junior linebacker Matthew Thomas said.
The lack of experience at running back might have had a big effect on Penn’s passing game. The two Quakers quarterbacks combined to go 14-for-35 for just 125 yards and an interception.
“The toughest part for me was picking up blitzes today,” DiMaggio said. “Personally, that gave me some confusion. They just changed a lot of outside linebackers…It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.”
The Crimson strengthened its place as the most penalized team in the conference on Saturday, getting flagged 10 times for 95 yards.
If not for the penalties, Harvard might have pitched a shutout, as the team gave up just 71 offensive yards in the second half (compared to 73 penalty yards). The Crimson was whistled three times on Penn’s lone scoring drive, including a pass interference penalty in the endzone that was followed by a Quakers score two plays later.
“It was a strange game, a strange game in that regard,” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said of the penalties. “We play a lot of very aggressive coverage, and I guess, if you play enough of that, you’re going to get those once in a while. We’ve seen our fair share.”
With the win, Harvard became the first team in Ivy League history to win at least seven games in seven straight seasons. This is the third season during that stretch in which the Crimson has gone undefeated at home…This was Harvard’s only home game all year in which a defensive back didn’t come away with at least two interceptions. Sophomore linebacker Conor Murphy caught the game’s only pick late in the fourth quarter…Penn is the first team that has failed to break 200 yards against the Crimson defense this year. The Quakers managed just 198 yards of offense, and just 17 in the fourth quarter…With his second-quarter touchdown, senior wideout Corey Mazza tied Carl Morris ’03 for first on the Crimson’s all-time touchdown receptions list with 28. Last year against Penn, Harvard great Clifton Dawson ’07 broke the league’s all-time rushing record.
—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at email@example.com.