The non-conference loss to the Predators drops the Crimson’s record to 1-2, its worst start to the season since 1998.
Harvard’s defensive stats were the kind that make any coach proud.
No third down conversions allowed. Less than half as many total yards given up as the opposing defense. Fewer than half as many first downs, too.
By any statistical measure, the Crimson defense played well enough to win in Saturday’s 20-13 loss to the Mountain Hawks, keeping the high-flying Lehigh offense out of the endzone all afternoon and only allowing two field goals. There was just one problem—the offense and the special teams each surrendered a touchdown.
“It’s very surprising, that you win a football game and you don’t score an offensive touchdown, don’t convert a third down,” said Mountain Hawks head coach Andy Coen. “That doesn’t happen very often, but it happens sometimes, and it happened today.”
Every time the Lehigh offense got close to the endzone, the Harvard defense closed things up. The Hawks entered the red zone just three times, and after making a field goal on the first visit, the next two trips ended in a missed kick and a fumble caused by senior safety Doug Hewlitt inside the Crimson 5-yard line.
“We did everything but finish the game, we did everything but put the ball in the endzone,” said Harvard head coach Tim Murphy. “Our defense played heroically.
“We need to be in sync...to beat good teams,” Murphy added.
It seemed like déjà vu for fans watching the Crimson on Saturday. Last week against Brown, a big hit on senior quarterback Liam O’Hagan—which may or may not have resulted in a mild concussion—knocked him out of the game and pressed senior Chris Pizzotti into action, while against Lehigh, O’Hagan’s inability to slide on a scramble midway through the third quarter caused another injury that relegated him to the bench for the remainder of the game.
“He hurt his shoulder,” Murphy said. “I would say it would be very doubtful that he’d be able to play next week right now, but we’ll have to see in a couple of days.”
Pizzotti’s performance in relief actually provided a spark for the Harvard offense. He was 18-for-28 for 252 yards and the lone Crimson touchdown of the afternoon, all in less than a quarter and a half of action.
Still, his fumble with less than a minute to play was the difference.
“It was a blitz through the middle, and I was just trying to throw the ball away, but the kid came and stripped it from me,” Pizzotti said. “I was trying to throw the ball away, but the referee said it came out.”
Murphy was quick to come to his quarterback’s defense after the game.
“I feel bad for Chris because he played really well, and he did everything he could to help us win the football game,” he said. “It’s very frustrating for it to have to come down to a play like that.”
With sophomore Cheng Ho nursing a shoulder injury of his own on the sideline, Harvard reorganized its options at running back, calling on freshman Gino Gordon to make his first collegiate start. He struggled early, but began to find space late, finishing the game with 69 yards on 20 carries.
“I just felt more into the game,” Gordon said of his nine carries for 39 yards on a single drive late in the contest. “It was just more me getting a feel for the speed of college football, because this is my third game.”
Senior Charles Baakel also got his first significant time of the year, gaining 25 yards on eight carries, while junior Randy Ojukwu saw the first significant playing time of his career, picking up eight yards on four tries.
“Our line did a good job,” Murphy said. “We wore them out a little bit so we could run the ball a little bit, and just didn’t finish it.”
The Crimson has now lost four of its last five games dating back to last season, and starts the year with two losses in its first three games for the first time since 1998...Harvard has allowed just one third down conversion in its last two games. Brown and Lehigh went a combined 1-for-23 on third down tries the last two weeks...Sophomore Patrick Long, who was 2-for-4 on field goal tries Saturday, is now 3-for-7 in his career.
—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at email@example.com.