With the numbers two through four receivers on the depth chart out for a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of the whole season, senior quarterback Chris Pizzotti was forced to look to new faces and new plays to get the job done offensively against a solid Cornell defense—the Big Red entered Saturday’s matchup leading the league and second in the nation in tackles for loss and was limiting rushing attacks to 37 yards per game.
Pizzotti found early help from freshman Adam Chrissis who made his catches count, taking his first collegiate grab—a screen pass on a Big Red blitz—67 yards to the end zone for the first score of the game. The rookie ended the day with two catches for 72 yards.
“No, [my first catch] wasn’t bad at all,” Chrissis said. “It was really a lot easier than I thought it would be... my blockers and my line and the receivers downfield made it really easy. And with Matt Luft, chasing a guy for 50 yards while I just kind of cruised into the end zone. It was awesome. It was definitely a team touchdown.”
On Harvard’s next drive, the freshman posted his first collegiate run, a 21-yard dash on an end around. And only one quarter later, he added his first collegiate rushing touchdown with a 22-yard scamper on a reverse. Prior to Saturday, Chrissis’ only minutes of his young collegiate carrier had come last weekend after sophomore wideout Chris Lorditch sprained his ankle.
“We did what we said we had to do,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “Number one, do a great job protecting the football…Two, some young guys are gonna have to step up with our wideouts down…I’m very proud of how our young receivers stepped up in a big game.”
With only slightly more experience behind him, sophomore Levi Richards—who had one carry and two receptions entering Saturday’s matchup—stepped up his game to contribute to the new-look effort.
The sophomore notched three catches for 33 yards and a touchdown, the latter coming on a 21-yard nab after he beat the safety to free himself up in the end zone.
At the end of the day, the newbies contributed 65 of Harvard’s 142 rushing yards and 105 of its 281 passing yards for a total of 170 combined yards. With junior Matt Luft adding four catches for 139 yards, the top three wideouts were able to run all over the secondary.
“We knew they had one guy out, but that Luft was so good, and we really focused on him,” Cornell coach Jim Knowles said. “But then, you know, Harvard’s going to have somebody out there to make more plays. Not much you can do, you gotta cover them all. They’re talented offensively.”
With that much inexperience lining up, Murphy was forced to turn back the pages of his playbook to find a simpler plan of attack.
A team used to draw plays and runs up the gut—with the occasional option to keep things interesting—suddenly threw reverses and end arounds at a Big Red defense that had nearly no film to work off of.
The offense ran an end around three separate times to three separate guys—Chrissis, Richards, and sophomore Gino Gordon—for 43 yards, and then threw a reverse into the mix for good measure—a play that ended in the Crimson’s fourth touchdown.
“Even though we lost three guys, at least our young guys have speed, so those are natural types of plays, very simple to try and get them the ball,” Murphy said. “Especially trying not to do a lot of intricate things…Our whole philosophy is that we have a big cookbook and we just try to take little things from game to game.”
—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.