Heading into halftime down just 15 points this past Saturday (Nov.15) against a sharp Penn squad, the Harvard football team could have considered itself the luckiest team in all of football. Later in the fourth quarter, down eight points and threatening to score and possibly tie the game in the closing moments, the Crimson appeared to be the sport’s feistiest team as well. Harvard’s last-ditch effort, however – a 60-yard drive in the final seconds – fell six yards short of the end zone, as the Quakers held on for the 32-24 win.
On a day when the Quakers looked every bit the part of the nation’s No. 8 team, scoring three touchdowns on their first four possessions, coach Tim Murphy’s team struggled to get an offensive set going, netting a mere 40 passing yards in the entire first half. In the end, the late Crimson rush – preceded by a few choice plays, including Chris Raftery’s outstanding coverage (and a subsequent interception, which literally fell into his lap), and freshman tailback Clifton Dawson’s record-breaking day – couldn’t beat out Penn’s proficiency.
With the victory – the team’s 15th straight – Penn (9-0, 6-0 league) nabs its 10th Ivy League Championship, while Harvard (6-3, 3-3 league) drops its third straight game for the first time in five seasons.
Orchestrated by quarterback Mike Mitchell, the efficient Quaker offense established a 7-0 lead on a 5-play, 32-yard scoring drive at the 12:04 mark of the first quarter. Penn went up 14-0 on the first play of their second possession when Mitchell deftly threaded the ball through a pair of Harvard defenders to hit Dan Castles 44 yards deep. The Quakers continued to pile it on in the second quarter, building a 22-point lead following a 7-yard touchdown reception and two-point conversion.
After a rusty first quarter, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 (17 of 34 passes for 250 yards) showed signs of life in the second, directing a 65-yard scoring drive, capped by a handoff to Clifton Dawson who crossed the goal line unscathed on a 2-yard run to cut the lead to 22-6. The speedy first-year tallied 108 rushing yards on the afternoon to become the first freshman in Ivy League history to amass over 1,000 rushing yards in a season. With a total of 1,003 yards in the 2003 campaign, Dawson joined just four other players in Harvard football history to reach that milestone.
Up 22-7 at the start of the third quarter, Penn immediately opened play with a commanding scoring drive, covering 91 yards in six plays, to extend its lead to 29-7. Harvard remained steadfast throughout the quarter, however, pushing the Quaker defense to the 4-yard line before a pair of Penn sacks – the first of which sidelined Fitzpatrick – ended the Crimson threat.
With Penn back on the ball, linebacker Bobby Everett ’05 dished it right back, stripping the ball from Mitchell. Recovered on the Harvard 1-yard line by the Quakers, and soon finding themselves in a fourth-and-23-situation, Penn opted to take a safety rather than risk a blocked punt to make it 29-9 to close out the quarter.
Down 20 to start the fourth quarter, the Crimson took to the field a rejuvenated team. With Fitzpatrick back at the helm, Harvard forged a 70-yard scoring drive capped by a 5-yard catch-and-run-touchdown to Matt Fratto ’04 to pull within 13, following the extra point.
After connecting on a 35-yard field goal to extend its lead to 32-16, Penn appeared poised to run away with the win, but not before the staunch Crimson defense again stripped the ball: this time courtesy of Dante Balestracci ’04. Teammate Benny Butler ’04 grabbed the loose ball, advancing 35 yards before being stopped at the 1-yard line. Dawson scored on the very next offensive set, and following a successful two-point conversion, Harvard pulled within 8 points with just 2:19 remaining.
After failing to recover the onside kick, Harvard held Penn to zero yards in three straight plays. Taking over with just 44 seconds left, Harvard’s final drive, which included three pass plays of 18, 17, and 19 yards, had everything but time. Harvard got as close as the 6-yard line, before the clock struck 0:00.
The Crimson travels to New Haven for its season finale on Saturday (Nov. 22) for the 120th playing of “The Game.” Yale, coming off a 27-24 double overtime win against Princeton, stands at 6-3 (4-2 league).