Crimson Football Falters in Season Opener

A Cold Winters
Robert L. Ruffins

Despite holding a 14-3 advantage early in the second quarter, Harvard gave up 27 straight points and turned the ball over three times to fall on the road in its 2011 season opener.

WORCESTER, Mass.—At the 14:27 mark of the second quarter, Harvard was in complete control.

Senior quarterback Collier Winters had just capped a 22-play, 72-yard drive by hitting junior tight end Kyle Juszczyk for a seven-yard touchdown pass.

Up 14-3, the Crimson, who had limited Holy Cross to just 23 yards in the first period, looked set to blow out its intrastate rival in its opening game of the season.

But suddenly, everything began to change.

Three quarters and 400 yards later, the Crusaders had earned a 30-22 victory, with myriad mistakes and untimely turnovers costing the Crimson a chance to start its season off on the right foot.

First, there was the blown coverage on the opening play of Holy Cross’ ensuing drive, in which Ryan Taggart found Josh Hauser wide open behind the Harvard secondary for a 68-yard touchdown pass—the Crusaders’ longest completion in three years—to cut the Harvard lead to 14-10.

On the next Crimson possession, the squad couldn’t get anything going, and junior Jacob Dombrowski came out to punt on fourth-and-15 from his own 46. But Harvard coach Tim Murphy called a fake punt on the play—a surprising call from a usually conservative coach—and Juszczyk’s ensuing 14-yard scamper left the Crimson just shy of a first down.

“Even though it was close, anytime you go aggressive and you don’t make it, it’s on me,” Murphy said. “It’s my mistake.”

Holy Cross quickly took advantage of its strong field possession, as Taggart completed passes of 20 yards to Jon Smith and 32 yards to Mike Fess, setting up a one-yard touchdown rush by the QB on third-and-one to give the Crusaders a 17-14 lead.

On the next Holy Cross possession, Taggart found Fess wide-open after another Crimson blown coverage for a 54-yard gain to the Crimson 26, and after a 15-yard completion to Charles McCall, kicker John Macomber added a 27-yard field goal to put his squad up, 20-14.

“[Taggart] played well,” said captain Alex Gedeon, who led the team with 13 tackles. “He got the ball out quick. We knew he could quarterback coming in, and we tried to get in the passing lanes but we had trouble doing that all day.”

The Crimson offense struggled to get anything going in the third quarter, with a number of penalties by Harvard’s young offensive line helping to stall drives. The defense stepped up to keep the Crimson in the game, with senior cornerback Matthew Hanson knocking away a Taggart pass on fourth-and-4 from the Harvard 26 to prevent the Crusaders from scoring again early in the period. But a Macomber 37-yard field goal near the quarter’s end put Holy Cross up, 23-14, heading into the fourth.

The Crimson started to make some noise early in the final period. After a strong kick return by freshman Seitu Smith II gave Harvard great field position, Winters brought the team down to the Holy Cross 8. But on third and goal, the senior was intercepted by Crusader cornerback Andrew Zitnik, who jumped an out-route and took the pass 97 yards back to the house. The ensuing kick gave Holy Cross its 27th consecutive unanswered point.

“I thought [Winters] played well,” Murphy said. “Sometimes when you get behind, you press and you try to make big plays, and I think that’s what happened on the pick.”

Despite the costly mistake, Winters refused to let his team go down without a fight.