Just ask Liam O’Hagan. Two years ago, a solid preseason earned O’Hagan the No. 1 QB job after just two offensive series in the Crimson’s season opener, and he ended the season as the most productive quarterback in the Ivy League, with the second most total yards by a Harvard signal-caller in a single season in team history.
But last year, a five-game suspension to start the campaign thrust an unprepared O’Hagan into the fray on Week 6, and he ended the season where he began it—on the bench.
On Saturday against Holy Cross, however, the senior quarterback once again benefited from the full slew of spring, summer, and preseason workouts, serving as one of the lone bright spots during the Crimson’s 31-28 season-opening loss to the Crusaders.
Perhaps more important than what O’Hagan did on the afternoon, completing 19-of-30 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns while picking up 65 yards and touchdown on the ground, was what he didn’t do.
“To come out here in our first game and have zero turnovers against a very good football team, I thought was a major accomplishment,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said.
Throughout the afternoon, O’Hagan looked poised and comfortable in the pocket, getting sacked only once and having just four passes broken up all afternoon.
“I thought he made great decisions today,” Murphy said. “In terms of field generalship, [it’s] arguably the best game he’s played.”
When asked what the difference between his performances this year and last was, O’Hagan cited the extra reps and the added preparation that comes with a full preseason’s worth of work.
“I’d have to say that it definitely makes the game easier, having spring practice and camp and everything,” he said.
O’Hagan helped take some of the pressure off sophomore running back Cheng Ho in his first career start, running or passing on 41 of Harvard’s 70 offensive plays. Six different receivers got in on the action, and his timely carries—including a touchdown on a key fourth-down conversion in the second quarter—helped the Crimson to a 14-0 first-half lead.
He looked especially precise on his first touchdown pass, a 35-yard strike that fell perfectly into the outstretched arms of senior wideout Matt Lagace, who reached the endzone without breaking stride.
“We had a lot of good things [happen], and I’m proud of my guys,” O’Hagan said. “I think we did a really good job all week, and I was ready to go. The team was ready to go.”
But late in the fourth quarter, with Harvard clinging to a 28-24 advantage and only one more first down separating the Crimson from its sixth straight season-opening win against Holy Cross, it was not O’Hagan who Murphy called on.
Instead, it was Ho, who ran the ball for nine yards on three consecutive carries before Harvard punted the ball away to a Crusader offense poised to orchestrate the winning drive.
“We just didn’t slam the door shut when we could,” O’Hagan said. “We had a few opportunities to do that. We just didn’t get it done today.”
It will be the big plays surrendered by the Harvard defense that will be remembered from Saturday, and not the big-time play of O’Hagan.
“Big plays will kill you and they did today,” junior linebacker Glenn Dorris said.
But it wasn’t because of the quarterback, who, despite the loss, played mistake-free football for the first time since putting up 28 points during a win last year against Dartmouth.
Still, just a little bit more was needed. One more stop on defense, or one more first down, and O’Hagan would have one more win to his credit as a starter.
“A few plays here or there, we could have made a difference and won that game,” he said.
—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at email@example.com.