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WORCESTER, Mass.—It didn’t take long for junior quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to make his mark in the Harvard record book.
Tallying 471 yards of total offense in Saturday’s game against Holy Cross, Fitzpatrick supplanted former record holder and teammate Neil Rose ’02-’03, whose 449 yards against Dartmouth in 2002 now rank as the second most proficient single game offensive performance in Crimson history.
“He’s one of those guys who knows the offense so well that he’s very difficult to defend,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “Even when they covered the receivers well, he’d scramble for yards.”
And that is something that Rose was never really able to do.
While Fitzpatrick threw for 359 yards and scrambled for 112, Rose gained his yards almost exclusively through the air, recording just six yards on the ground.
Playing catch with his favorite receiver, Rose found Carl Morris ’03 21 times for 257 yards on his way to setting additional records in completions—36—and passing yards—443.
In his performance, Fitzpatrick attempted just 27 passes, connecting on 20, while distributing his passes among six separate receivers.
While the Crimson offense seemed unstoppable, the special teams proved to be anything but.
Sophomore kicker Jim Morocco started the afternoon on the wrong foot, missing a 29-yard field goal early in the first quarter to leave the score knotted at zero.
And it all went downhill from there. Morocco was pulled after having his second extra point effort of the afternoon stuffed by the Crusaders’ defensive line, barely floating the ball into the end zone and never threatening the goal posts.
His replacement, senior Adam Kingston, fared little better.
While kicking with the wind, Kingston forced several Holy Cross touchbacks, sending the ball out of the end zone on two occasions.
Kicking against the wind, however, Harvard decided to squib its kickoffs short of primary Holy Cross deep return threat Ari Confesor to avoid surrendering territory.
The attempts to hold the Crusaders to poor field position backfired miserably, as each return advanced the ball to at least the Holy Cross 40-yard line, with one return brought all the way to the Crimson 35. Had Kingston kicked the ball out of bounds for a penalty on each kickoff, the Crusaders would have been relegated to their own 35.
“Obviously some aspects of the kicking game were good and some need to be improved,” Murphy said.
Attempting a field goal of his own, Kingston—with plenty of leg—booted a 23-yarder wide right. His final extra point effort of the afternoon soared wide as well.
But the critical special teams error was not one which squandered easy points, but the one that handed over seven.
On a low snap, Holy Cross broke through the line of scrimmage as Kingston prepared to punt the ball away. Senior wide receiver Nick Larsen fully extended his arms and blocked the kick, which was returned to the 15-yard line, setting up another Crusader touchdown.
Mixing It Up
Holy Cross sophomore quarterback John O’Neill entered Saturday’s game against Harvard with a 177.71 efficiency rating.
It wasn’t nearly that high when he was pulled in the second quarter for fellow sophomore Brian Schiller.
With heavy pressure from the Crimson front four and the secondary jamming the receivers, O’Neill was incapable of delivering touch passes with even the slightest accuracy, lofting balls far beyond the reach of his intended targets.
His right knee, hampered by a lingering injury sustained in the season opener against Lehigh, just couldn’t take the pressure.
But Schiller’s entrance into the game breathed new life into the Crusaders. Switching to a four-wide receiver set and operating out of the shotgun, he marched his squad 80 yards down the field in 10 plays in under 90 seconds to pull to within 17 at the half.
His accuracy and mobility in the pocket caused problems for the secondary all afternoon.
Avoiding the pass rush on the first series of the third quarter, Schiller rolled out of the pocket and away from danger to find junior wide receiver LeRoy Knight two steps behind his coverage downfield for a touchdown that narrowed the gap to just 11 points at 27-16.
Down 21 early in the fourth quarter, he struggled to will his team to victory, scrambling left, cutting back across to the right, then all the way across field again to the left before floating a pass 34 yards downfield to Larsen, who leapt high into the air to pull down an improbable reception.
But Schiller’s magical touch would not last.
After Crimson junior linebacker Bobby Everett corralled an interception off a deflected pass midway through the fourth quarter, the air was taken out of Holy Cross’ sails and the Harvard victory was sealed.
The Brothers Balestracci
Harvard fans are used to watching captain Dante Balestracci dish out punishing blows to opposing quarterbacks in the backfield and those who are foolish enough to challenge him across the middle.
But it was another Balestracci who finally reined in Fitzpatrick and put an end to his streak of 193 pass attempts without an interception—Dante’s younger brother Mark, a sophomore defensive back for the Crusaders.
“It was good to see him play,” Dante Balestracci said. “Obviously you don’t want them to make that interception, but if anyone had to make it, I’m glad it was him.”
Holy Cross fans and players alike were not as thrilled to have their quarterback sacked by Mark’s older brother.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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