Eight years Brown has been waiting for its chance to be on the winning side of a nailbiter against Harvard.
In 2004, it was a strong Crimson team that put together a 35-34 comeback victory; in 2005, it was a 38-35 double overtime win; and last year Harvard shut down a potential game-winning drive late in the fourth to take the W, 24-17.
But with 1:03 left in the game and Harvard down two with a two-point conversion from the one-and-a-half yard line to go, it was the Bears that finally came up with the big play, stopping junior Ben Jenkins’ rush to give Brown (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) its first win in eight years over the Crimson (1-1, 0-1 Ivy), 24-22, at Brown Stadium in front of 5,618 fans.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Brown coach Phil Estes said. “Sometimes it’s a little bit disbelief. You know you want to make sure it didn’t cross the goal line. You keep looking, was there a flag? You want to believe it all, I mean it wasn’t until the last snap [that I believed].”
Harvard had just completed a 15-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a 3-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Liam O’Hagan to an open Matt Luft in the back of the endzone. O’Hagan’s entrance also signalled the end of an impressive outing for starting signal-caller Chris Pizzotti, who completed 25-of-45 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns to go with no interceptions.
The starter began the game on a tear, completing nine of his first 10 passes for 163 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown strike to junior wide receiver Matt Luft and a 17-yard score to sophomore tailback Gino Gordon. Luft had four catches for 99 yards in the first quarter alone and finished with 10 catches for 148 yards.
But it would be the end of the first drive that would cost Harvard. After the first touchdown, junior place kicker Patrick Long’s PAT hit the bottom of the uprights and fell back onto the field. While he made good on his second attempt, the two quick scores gave the Crimson just a 13-0 lead with seven seconds gone in the second frame.
“Things didn’t start out very well [for us], but incredibly, it’s also that one thing that you can find that ray of light,” Estes said. “And that was that missed extra point, [that] was huge, because you say to yourself, that will come back to haunt them.”
It would not have hurt the Crimson so badly had it not been for the numerous blunders of the second and third quarters.
Brown got on the board early in the second to cut the lead to 13-7 with 10:30 remaining thanks to a 25-yard connection from quarterback Michael Dougherty to receiver Buddy Farnham, and after that things got sloppy. Senior cornerback Andrew Berry fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff, and although junior defensive back Derrick Barker picked off the pass on the Bears’ first play, Gordon fumbled on his next run, giving the Brown first and goal from the five. The Bears capitalized on a three-yard rush from Bobby Sewall.
Harvard went into the break down a manageable 14-13, but things only got worse in the third frame.
Gordon fumbled the ball on the first play from scrimmage, just the first of three Crimson fumbles in the quarter—Harvard recovered one, and the other was wiped out of the scorebook due to a Crimson penalty.
Harvard found itself down 21-16 to start the fourth frame after a Bears touchdown and a 27-yard field goal from Long, and although the Crimson held Brown to just a 38-yard field goal in the fourth, the eight-point difference—rather than what would have been seven with the PAT—would prove to be more than Harvard could overcome.
“The bottom line is that we cannot put the ball on the ground,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “We have to take care of the football. We were—it’s only the first game—but we were last in the league in turnover ratio in our first game. We got a victory against a good team. I said to our guys, you’re not going to survive that again against a good team. And we didn’t.”
Harvard failed to score on six straight drives spanning the second and third quarters and scored just the field goal from 14:53 left in the second until 1:03 remained in the fourth. Whether it was the weather, a mental lapse, or Brown was just better, the Crimson simply did not play consistently.
“We execute pretty well to start the game, but then we didn’t really get ‘em up in the second and third quarters,” Pizzotti said. “So we have to fix some things, come back with them next week…I think the second quarter, they adjusted their defense a little bit…but still, execution on our part.”
—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at email@example.com.