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Cross-town showdown highlights D

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Harvard D drops Huskies, 28-20, in battle of top offenses

Jeremiah Mason, Brian Edwards
Crimson wide receiver Brian Edwards ’05 and Northeastern’s Jeremiah Mason ’05 struggle for control of a rogue ball. (Staff photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

With two such highly explosive football teams, Saturday’s (Oct. 4) match-up between Harvard and Northeastern had all the makings of a scoring free-for-all. After all, the cross-town showdown featured two of the nation’s most offensively potent teams in Division IAA football (lest you forget, the Huskies racked up 72 points in their season opener, while Harvard has tallied not too paltry totals of 52 and 43). But once the rain settled, the scoreboard told a much different story.

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Collecting seven sacks, two interceptions, and a recovered fumble, the Crimson defense effectively capped the hi-octane Husky offense just long enough to earn a 28-20 victory. To be sure, Northeastern provided more than a little scare in the waning moments, notching two touchdowns to pull within eight points. But Harvard killed the late Husky drive, snatching an onside kick before the Crimson offense (409 total net yards) took over to run out the final minute of the game.

From the get-go, the Harvard D wasted little time creating opportunities for the offense, forcing and recovering a fumble on the opening kickoff. With the Crimson taking over on its own 21-yard line, senior quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and company quickly manufactured a five-play, 21-yard scoring drive to give the Crimson a 7-0 lead. Northeastern made inroads with a 44-yard field goal at the 5:58 mark, but the comeback proved to be short-lived as Fitzpatrick – delivering another spectacular performance with a game high 93-rushing yards – capped a 76-yard march with a six-yard run into the end zone, giving Harvard a 14-3 advantage.

Two sacks by senior linebacker Dante Balestracci and a spine-bending interception by Gary Sonkur ’05 kept Northeastern at bay for the remainder of the first half. Meanwhile, on third-and-15 with 1:29 remaining in the second stanza, Fitzpatrick found junior wide receiver Brian Edwards 16 yards deep for a touchdown to further outdistance the Huskies 21-3. Edwards finished the day with 180 receiving yards, a career high. For his efforts, the California native was named Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week, along with Columbia quarterback Jeff Otis.

Opening the second half, the Huskies managed another impressive field goal when Miro Kesic connected on a 42-yarder to cut the lead to 21-6, but Harvard responded with a two play, 49-yard scoring drive to pull ahead by 22 points.

The Crimson appeared home free in the fourth quarter after senior Benny Butler intercepted a pass from Northeastern’s Shawn Brady. Yet the Huskies’ monster linebacker Liam Ezekiel – an Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year candidate – responded on the very next play with a pick-off of his own. Northeastern capitalized with two quick touchdowns to cut the lead to 28-20. But with a minute remaining, Northeastern’s explosive play came too late.

Off to a 3-0 start for the second time in the past three seasons, Harvard has been picked as a top-25 team in the Sports Network Division I-AA poll (No. 23) and in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll (No. 24). The Crimson face Ivy rival Cornell in Ithaca on Saturday (Oct. 11) at 1 p.m. Check for broadcast info.