AOTW: Williamson Leads Big Play ‘D’

Lowell K. Chow

There weren’t many chances for Harvard defenders to turn in big plays against Holy Cross on Saturday. But on the few occasions that the Crusaders threatened to crack the stalwart Crimson defense, Ricky Williamson was just downright selfish.

One of several new faces to dot the Harvard defense, the senior safety took care to announce his arrival on the field, forcing a game-changing fumble deep in Crimson territory sandwiched by a pair of interceptions.

“[Williamson] has handled his whole career with such class and dignity, waiting for his turn,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “It’s great to see him show people what kind of athlete he is.”

The converted tailback wasted little time distinguishing himself on the field, seizing the momentum for the Crimson with a first-quarter interception that set up Harvard’s first scoring drive.

With the score knotted at zero and the Crimson offense stumbling out of the gate, linebacker Matt Thomas wrapped up Holy Cross quarterback John O’Neil mid-release, sending the ball high and well off-target—and Williamson backpedaling in pursuit.

“I thought I was Brian [Edwards] out there fielding a punt the way it floated up there,” Williamson said. “Really the only thing I was thinking about was, ‘I’m jumping for this ball,’ because I was sure there were receivers behind me getting ready to do the same thing, but I was lucky enough to come down with it.”

One quarter later, though, it was Williamson, all by himself. And luck had nothing to do with the outcome.

Holy Cross’ defense had clamped down to force a Harvard punt from the end zone and the Crusaders were driving deep inside Crimson territory. O’Neil found receiver Sean Gruber ahead of his coverage running a slant across midfield. The two connected and Gruber appeared to be headed for paydirt, a score that would have drawn Holy Cross within a touchdown at 14-7.

But Williamson caught the Crusaders’ speedster, and, as he brought him down just short of the goal line, punched the ball out of his grasp and into the waiting hands of Keith Howell for a touchback.

Two plays later, the Crimson was up 22-0.

“No question [it was a turning point],” Murphy said, “because it essentially was a 14-point swing. It goes right down to the goal line and then we get the fumble in the end zone and we come back with a touchdown at the other end. I think that was the straw that broke [their back].”

And though the game was already safely out of reach midway through the third quarter, Williamson didn’t hesitate to gobble up one final big play for the Harvard defense.

Again under pressure, O’Neil looked toward the sideline as linebacker Bobby Everett dragged him to the turf by his shoulder pads.

The pass didn’t wobble, but Williamson didn’t have any trouble figuring out what to do with it.

“It’s another one where we had great pursuit from our linebackers and defensive line,” Williamson said. “The quarterback didn’t really have any options, so I was just sitting there reading his eyes. He threw it right at my chest and I held on to it.”

And he probably will the next time, too. His teammates probably have just one request.

Ricky, share.