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It may be 144 days until Harvard football kicks off its 2008 season under the lights of Harvard Stadium against Holy Cross, but its never too early to gauge how the team is going to look.
Saturday witnessed the formal close of the team’s spring practices with the annual spring Crimson-White game that pits the first-string offense against the first-string defense and likewise for the second lines. Harvard’s second offense got out to an early 19-0 lead over the first offense, ultimately claiming a 19-14 victory.
“Well, it was pretty typical,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “I mean, you start the first practice or two and you look around and say, ‘How the heck are we ever going to win a game?’”
Despite showing symptoms of offseason rustiness, the Crimson offered signs of depth in new places, particularly at running back. Sophomore Cheng Ho and freshman Gino Gordon combined for 84 yards on 20 carries, but the real surprise came from sophomore Ben Jenkins, who managed 19 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown. Jenkins seems to have made a seamless switch from defensive back to running back.
“[Jenkins is] good, he’s legit,” Murphy said. “We’ll have overall a better group of guys at running back this year than we had last year, because you’ll have a more experienced Cheng Ho and Gino Gordon and then you’ll have a guy in Ben Jenkins who’s pushing both those guys.”
Jenkins’ touchdown came late in the third quarter when he punched it into the endzone from the one-yard line to put the first offense on the scoreboard. A successful kick from sophomore Thomas Hull put the score at 19-7.
Next season, Harvard will be relying heavily on a pair of fifth-year quarterbacks, Chris Pizzotti and Liam O’Hagan, but with neither of them dressed for action on Saturday, freshmen Cameron Ely, Matt Simpson, and Collier Winters took over passing the pigskin.
“Cam and Matt are still really raw,” Murphy said. “They don’t really understand the offense yet, which is predictable.”
Ely went 1-of-3 for 20 yards, while Simpson went 17-of-27 for 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Simpson got the scoring started when he connected with freshman Chris Lorditch for a 22-yard touchdown. After a Patrick Long extra point and two field goals, Simpson connected with freshman Anthony Rotio on a short three-yard pass to extend the lead to 19-0.
Winters was 14-of-29 for 134 yards and one touchdown, which came late in the fourth quarter on a seven-yard pass to sophomore Mike Cook.
“Collier, by virtue of having Liam hurt the whole season, getting real reps every single day with the varsity, is so far ahead of [Ely and Simpson] just on knowledge and experience,” Murphy said. “He may not be tall, but he can play. So we’ll have next year three real good quarterbacks, and I can’t remember the last time we said that.”
Winters’ primary obstacle was junior defensive end Sonny McCracken, who dealt the sophomore three sacks, leading the Crimson’s first defensive unit. McCracken finished the night with nine total tackles.
McCracken was able to penetrate the offensive line due in large part to some reshuffling of the offensive line because Tom Rodger and Zach Copple have been out of school.
“I found that it was a little more challenging than I think it’s going to be, and part of it is there’s two guys that weren’t there, who are out of school,” Murphy said, referring to Rodger and Copple. “The really interesting development has been Alex Spisak. We moved him to give us some depth and competition at center and then two weeks in to spring ball, he’s won the job.”
“Spisak is definitely one of the strongest guys on the team,” Ho added. “He was awarded one of the most improved player awards last night. We’ll have Tom Roger and Zach Copple and Alex Spisak, and some young guys stepping up, and, as a back, I’m excited.”
But even with a solid offensive line, losing seniors Corey Mazza and Matt Lagace to the Italian Football League and graduation, the defending Ivy League champs are looking for some new wideouts to fill in for the lost duo and fill out the offense.
“[Junior Alex] Breaux’s done a great job,” Murphy said. “And then there are two freshmen who have done good things and will be right in the hunt and probably right in the overall mix from the beginning, and that’ll be Chris Lorditch and Levi Richards. So, if you count them out, it will go, [sophomore Matt] Luft, Cook, Breaux, Lorditch, Richards. If we can keep those five guys healthy, we’ll be solid.”
Staying healthy was jeopardized on Saturday, as Luft was carted off the field midway through the game with a dislocated, but not fractured, thumb.
“It’s a painful, ugly injury but it’s one that heals pretty fast,” Murphy said.”
But Saturday proved that the two freshmen can fill in, as Lorditch had seven catches for 92 yards, pulling in the first touchdown from Simpson, and Richards reeled in four catches for 42 yards.
—Staff writer Dixon McPhillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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