Saturday Night Lights

Crimson, Bears hit prime time for Ivy opener as Harvard Stadium hosts first night game in team history

IT'S IN THE BAG
Crimson file photo

Captain Brad Bagdis (81) leads the Crimson into the team’s first-ever game under the lights at Harvard Stadium. The defense, which allowed four touchdowns in last week’s loss to Holy Cross, will look to wrap up a Brown team that scored 28 points of its o

After months of planning, complaints from religious observers and local residents, and a schedule-change, it’s finally here.

For the first time in the 133-year history of Harvard football, the Crimson will play a home game under the lights when Harvard (0-1) hosts Brown (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow night in the Crimson’s home opener at Harvard Stadium.

Announced in May, the game was initially scheduled for tonight, but the Department of Athletics moved it to tomorrow night in response to a slew of complaints last month. Most centered on the conflict with the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur and the additional strain a night game would place on the Allston community, where the stadium is located.

Whatever the date, the game’s historic appeal remains, marking the first regular-season use of the stadium’s almost year-old lights for regular season football competition.

But for the Crimson, it’ll be a bittersweet night.

That’s because Harvard enters the game following a dramatic 31-28 loss to Holy Cross in the team’s season opener last week. It’s the first time the Crimson enters its game against the Bears winless since 2000. And after last week’s defensive breakdown that led to the game-winning score by the Crusaders with just 19 seconds to play, Harvard coach Tim Murphy made finishing drives a point of emphasis during the week’s practices.

It’ll be especially important against Brown, following the Bears’ surprising success moving the ball in the team’s 28-17 win over Duquesne last week.

The Bears were one of just three Ivy League teams that managed a win in Week 1, and the victory came on the strength of quarterback Michael Dougherty’s three touchdowns and the performance of running back Dereck Knight.

Knight ran for 208 yards on 33 carries in his first collegiate start, earning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts.

“They have another good quarterback, and any time a running back runs for 200 yards, that gets your attention,” Murphy said.

The Dukes, however, aren’t exactly a powerhouse, making it difficult to assess exactly what kind of Brown team the Crimson will see tomorrow.

“It’s not easy to talk about a team when there’s only one game under their belt, and they haven’t played a team you’re that familiar with,” Murphy said. “But having said that, they appear to be more athletic, more experienced, much better on defense, compared to a year ago.”

In last year’s Harvard-Brown game in Providence, the Crimson dominated the ground game on the way to a 38-21 pounding of the Bears, the seventh-straight win against Brown.

But with an improved Bears defense and a Harvard rushing attack that will look to sophomore running back Cheng Ho in only his second career start, the gameplan could be a little different this time out.

“We’re trying to keep a balanced offense as much as we can, and I think we showed that last week against Holy Cross,” senior receiver Matt Lagace said.

The Crimson was led a week ago by senior quarterback Liam O’Hagan, who passed for 264 yards and scored three total touchdowns in a turnover-free performance.

Ho performed well, too, gaining 116 yards on 24 yards on his way to a single score. Both of his two career touchdowns have come against Brown.

But it was the defense’s inability to provide a stop at the end that was the most lasting takeaway from Holy Cross. The Crusaders tested the Crimson secondary all afternoon and took Harvard’s vaunted defensive line out of the game, something that should change this week with Knight and co. in town.

“Deep down, those guys in the trenches are just sick of chasing the quarterback and never getting to him, so I think everyone would like to see them run the football,” Murphy said. “But Brown always does a good job mixing it up, they’ll do a great job with the play action pass, and they’ve given us problems.”

What also might be a problem for the Crimson is the logistical change that comes with a night game. The team adjusted its last pre-game practice yesterday to 7:30 p.m. to mirror game conditions, but it’ll take more than that for the players to feel completely comfortable with playing a game seven hours later than normal.

“Saturday’s torture for football coaches, night games are just torture,” Murphy said. “Why? Because, as coaches—and I think players—we’d play the thing at 9 o’clock in the morning if they’d let us, because, you just want to play. So to have to sit and watch games on television—you don’t enjoy them—it’s agony.”

The players, however, seem less worried about having to shift their game-day schedule.

“I’m unbelievably excited, and I think I echo the guys’ sentiments,” captain Brad Bagdis said. “It’s kind of like a return to high school on Friday nights, and there was nothing like playing under the lights. I personally didn’t think it would happen this year, but we’re all very, very excited about it.”

The campus as a whole seems more excited, too—there’s a pep rally scheduled for tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. in front of the John Harvard Statute in Harvard Yard, with a tailgate outside the stadium scheduled to follow.

“To think over the 104 years the stadium’s been erect, there’s never been a night game, is crazy,” Lagace said. “I think everybody on the team is excited to get into league play, too. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with a victory on Saturday, but it will be nice to get into a different environment, and the first night game…it’s going to be incredible.”

—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at mglenn@fas.harvard.edu.

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