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Harvard senior wide receiver Brian Edwards has not been able to put up the same kinds of Herculean numbers that he put up early on last season so far in the Crimson’s 4-0 2004 campaign. The constant double teams that the senior has faced this season have allowed sophomore wide receiver Corey Mazza to receive single coverage almost every time he lines up opposite of Edwards. That was particularly evident on Saturday against Cornell as Mazza caught nine passes for 194 yards, a career best.
“There’s a symbiotic relationship between (Mazza and Edwards),” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said. “Edwards was double teamed a lot of the time and Mazza, by virtue of his athletic ability, was able to make some plays.”
Despite being held to just three catches for 48 yards, Edwards was able to make play after play with his legs, head, and even his arm. The senior from Los Gatos, Calif., was put in to return kickoffs against the Big Red opposite of junior Corey Waller because of the continued absence of the other regular kick returner—senior cornerback Gary Sonkur—who missed his second game in a row with a shoulder sprain.
It didn’t take Edwards long to remind Harvard coach Tim Murphy of his explosiveness in the kick return game. After Cornell took a 14-6 lead midway through the second quarter with a bruising seven play, 78-yard drive punctuated by Andre Hardaway’s 10-yard scoring run, Edwards lined up opposite of Waller on the ensuing kickoff. Cornell kicker Trevor MacMeekin booted the ball to the middle of the field and Edwards and Waller both converged on it.
“The right returner called it and I grabbed it at the [last second],” Edwards said. “I thought the last guy had an angle on me going down the sideline but I was lucky enough to make it to the endzone.”
Edwards’ touchdown allowed the Crimson to take back the momentum from the Big Red and they would later take a 21-14 lead into halftime. But Edwards and Mazza had just gotten started.
After Cornell retook the lead 24-21 in the third quarter on an 80-yard touchdown pass from quarterback D.J. Busch to wide receiver Chad Nice, Mazza and Edwards would not be outdone. With Edwards double-teamed again, Crimson quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found Mazza alone down the sideline for a huge 34-yard gain that left the Crimson on the Cornell 21.
“We made some big plays in the passing game,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve got a lot of great players on the offense. It takes a lot of pressure off of me when Brian and Corey are making great plays.”
On the very next play after Mazza’s catch, Crimson running back Clifton Dawson took a toss from Fitzpatrick going left, then handed it off to Edwards on a reverse. Edwards then shocked everyone and threw it to Mazza in the back corner of the endzone with 2:15 left in the third quarter to give Harvard the 27-24 lead, which it would not relinquish for the rest of the game.
This weekend, Harvard goes up against Northeastern—one of the better teams in Division I-AA. Northeastern boasts a strong defense led by senior All-American Liam Ezekiel. Ezekiel has racked up an unbelievable 61 tackles through five games, and will undoubtedly be keyed up on Dawson.
“Liam Ezekiel is probably the best linebacker in I-AA football,” Murphy said. “He’s a highly ranked pro prospect and he’s a guy that can embarrass you real quick if you don’t block him.”
So Edwards and Mazza will probably again be counted on to make the plays in crunch time. And Murphy knows that’s why you recruit playmakers.
“Our whole offense is based on complimenting each other,” Murphy said. “We’re averaging 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing every game, so that makes us tougher to defend. If you blitz and try to take away the running game, we’re going to take advantage of it throwing the football.”
—Staff writer Robert C. Boutwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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