The eruption from the home side, and the jubilation of the players on the field, was easily understood—the Randolph-to-Harrison connection with just 19 seconds remaining gave Holy Cross a 31-28 win on Homecoming Day in front of 10,942 partisans at Fitton Field in Worchester, Mass.
For the Crimson, meanwhile, the pass spoiled an otherwise sterling late-game effort by the defense. After giving up 24 unanswered points on four straight drives spanning the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third, which turned a 14-0 Harvard lead into a 24-14 deficit, the Crimson defense stiffened and stopped Holy Cross on four consecutive drives in the third and fourth quarters. When junior linebacker Glenn Dorris took down Randolph for a fourth-down sack with 1:49 to play and Harvard clinging to a 28-24 lead, some Holy Cross fans headed for the exits.
But an ineffective three-and-out by the Crimson and three timeouts by Crusaders head coach Tom Gilmore forced the team to punt, setting up the winning touchdown drive from the Holy Cross 23-yard line with 1:19 left on the clock.
“It never should have come down to the defense” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “We should have been able to pound it out, get the first down. They had no timeouts left, we can run the clock out.”
Despite that, the Harvard defense appeared to be on the verge of making a fifth straight stop. On first down from his own 34-yard line, Randolph threw over the middle, only to hit Dorris between the numbers. After briefly appearing to secure the pick, Dorris dropped the ball, allowing the eventual game-winning drive to continue.
“I think I caught the wrong interception,” Dorris said, referring to a fourth-down interception he made earlier in the fourth quarter. “That last play, I missed it. I feel terrible.”
Just as Dorris’ team-leading seven tackles were overshadowed by the final drive, so too was the solid performance of senior quarterback Liam O’Hagan and the retooled running game. O’Hagan looked sharp, completing 19-of-30 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns while also running for 65 yards on 11 carries. He was particularly efficient on Harvard’s two second-quarter touchdown drives, working off play action and designed runs to march the Crimson 92 yards for a 7-0 lead, capped off by a perfectly thrown 35-yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Matt Lagace. Starting at the Harvard 40 on the next drive, O’Hagan completed a pair of key passes and then punched in the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to give the Crimson a 14-0 advantage.
“I thought he made great decisions today,” Murphy said. “In terms of field generalship, [it’s] arguably the best game he’s played.”
Sophomore running back Cheng Ho, shouldering most of the load after the departure of Clifton Dawson ’07, ran for 116 yards on 24 carries, including a 47-yard touchdown scamper that gave Harvard a 28-24 lead with 12:10 remaining in the game.
“I have to take a look at the film, but I thought he played a very solid football game,” Murphy said. “The bottom line is, he competed like heck, and he obviously made a big run.”
That said, the inability to convert on a third-and-three in the fourth quarter, a conversion that would have permitted Harvard to run out the clock, was a huge letdown on an otherwise successful day.
“I think the bottom line is we had our chances to finish them off, and we didn’t finish them off,” Murphy said. “We all need to work a little bit more in the crucial run situations, the situations where they know we’re going to run. That’s where we need to take the next step to be physical enough, and execute enough to get first downs.”
Dorris was the brightest star on a Harvard defense that did not look like the intimidating unit it was expected to be. His sack was the only one of the game for a team that averaged 4.3 per game last year, and the secondary was repeatedly exploited by Holy Cross’ four and five-receiver sets.
Randolph finished the day 29-of-54 for 339 yards and four touchdowns, and added 33 yards on the ground on six carries.
“We gave up some big plays in the first half, and that definitely hurt us. That’s one thing we never like to do is give up big plays,” Dorris said. “We eliminated those in the second half, but we gave up one big play in the second half and it was the one that killed us in the end.”
—Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.