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You want to blame Ryan Fitzpatrick for not throwing the ball in the end zone. You want to blame Matt Fratto for not getting out of bounds to kill the clock. You want to blame Coach Murphy for not devising a strategy to get two plays out of the seven seconds left on the clock.
And if you did, you’d be way off.
Harvard didn’t lose the game on the final desperation drive. The Crimson blew its opportunity to claim victory over Penn long before that.
Trailing 29-7 early in the third quarter, Harvard took over on the Quaker 47-yard line. Fitzpatrick deftly drove the team to the Penn four-yard line before injuring his knee on a desperate scramble—a move that prompted an appearance by backup quarterback Garrett Schires. Coach Murphy—who apparently hadn’t watched the Columbia debacle last weekend—decided to let Schires attempt two pass plays on third and fourth downs, resulting in an incompletion and a sack, respectively. This prompts the question—on fourth-and-goal from the eight, which is the lesser of two evils: having Schires pass or having any one of your numerous place kickers attempt a field goal?
After Penn’s punter stepped out the back of the end zone for a safety, Harvard once again got the ball in great field position at the Penn 45-yard line. Schires remained in the game while Fitzpatrick’s leg was undergoing observation. (Knowing what we do about Fitzpatrick’s toughness, his temporary absence from the game must have meant that his leg had fallen off below the knee, and doctors were working furiously to reattach it.) After three plays and a net loss of one yard, the Crimson punted away its second golden opportunity of the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Chris Raftery’s no-look one-handed interception—aided by his Barry Bonds-sized elbow pad—set Harvard up at the Penn 48 trailing 29-16.
The Crimson once again could not capitalize, driving to the Quaker 25 before Fitzpatrick was intercepted on a fourth-and-10 desperation heave.
Harvard wasn’t done graciously declining scoring chances quite yet. Midway through the fourth, the Crimson started on its own 19-yard line facing a 32-16 deficit. Seven plays later, Harvard found itself with a first-and-goal at the Penn six-yard line. Fitzpatrick—consumed with a burning desire to communicate an audible to his wideouts—never saw the shotgun snap which hit him in the hip. But Penn’s Kevin Junge did, and he recovered the fumble to end the Crimson threat.
A miraculous strip of Quaker running back Sam Mathews and a poor decision by Penn coach Al Bagnoli to pass on third down instead of bleeding the clock afforded Fitzpatrick an opportunity to be the hero.
Despite a furious effort that saw him masterfully negotiate 71 yards in just 44 seconds, Harvard came up six yards short. It was a display of clock management which should serve as the model by which others should be taught. And yet the perfect drive ended before the miracle could be completed. If you’re looking for somewhere to pin the loss, I’d suggest you don’t look to that final drive.
Four second-half opportunities deep in the Quaker end of the field. Four chances to prove that the Crimson could spot Penn 22 points and still make it a contest in the second half. And four auspicious drives that ended in complete failure. If you’re looking for a quick answer to the question of why Harvard lost, that’s the stat you should be pointing to.
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at email@example.com.
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