“We love Clifton! We love Clifton!”
The affection could not be more deserved. Fresh off a season in which he shattered virtually every Harvard rushing and scoring record, running back Clifton Dawson has begun his junior campaign by continuing to confound opposing defenses. The most recent victim was Brown, whose defense Dawson shredded Saturday for 189 yards on 34 carries in what essentially amounted to three quarters of work, leading to Ivy Offensive Player of the Week honors.
After sustaining a slight hip injury on the second drive of the game, Dawson left the field for the remainder of the first quarter.
“Brown is a hard-hitting defense,” Dawson said, “and on one of the earlier plays I took a hit. But I took a moment to gather myself. There was nothing that would keep me out of the game.”
Dawson’s determination to remain in action would be crucial to the Harvard comeback, as Brown’s “hard-hitting” defense took full advantage of his absence.
“We don’t necessarily game-plan for any specific player, we just call the plays according to down and distance and whatnot,” Brown linebacker Zak DeOssie said. “[But] obviously it was a lot easier without him in there.”
Easier would be understatement. With Dawson out of the game, the Bears routinely dropped six or seven defenders into coverage, pressuring sophomore quarterback Liam O’Hagan into two interceptions. Harvard’s trademark balance was also affected, with the Crimson throwing nine passes while running just three times without Dawson.
When Dawson finally returned to the field with Harvard trailing by 16 at the beginning of the second quarter, the Crimson offense—whose first four drives had resulted in two punts and two interceptions—was resurrected. Dawson was immediately rewarded with four consecutive runs that encompassed the final 17 yards of the drive and his first touchdown of the day.
From there, the Crimson would go on to play turnover-free football with a far more balanced attack. Dawson totaled three touchdowns in the 38-point outburst, the last tying the game with just 15 seconds remaining in regulation, while amassing 253 all-purpose yards.
Dawson also continued his forceful assault on the Harvard and Ivy League record books. His performance against Brown marked the 15th time in 21 career games that he has rushed for over 100 yards, and the 10th time for over 150 yards. With 342 yards so far this season, he is just 242 yards out of second place on the Crimson’s all-time rushing leaders list, and a mere 517 out of first place.
Last week against Holy Cross, Dawson became the Harvard leader in career rushing touchdowns, and he is just 10 points away from becoming the all-time scoring leader in Harvard history, a record that has lasted 91 years. Most impressively, Dawson is well on pace to break the all-time Ivy League rushing record.
But don’t worry, Harvard fans, the records aren’t a distraction. You’d never know they were even close by talking to him.
“My focus is not on the records,” Dawson said. “Each time I set out to play my first goal is to win the game, and the records that do fall I don’t usually know about until later on.”
Maybe it’s that unselfish, winning attitude. Maybe it’s the toughness and extraordinary production game in and game out. But whatever created Harvard’s love for Clifton Dawson, Saturday’s cheers showed that it’s definitely here to stay.