Harvard football coach Tim Murphy managed to find a silver lining in all those yellow flags his team earned on Saturday afternoon (Nov. 10). Of course, in dispensing the visiting Penn Quakers, 23-7, to keep the Crimson unbeaten at home and in league play, 6-0 (7-2 overall), those 10 penalties for 95 lost yards tend to lose a bit of their bite.
“There were a lot of flags today. It was a strange game, very strange in that regard,” Murphy said after the contest. “I will say that on some of the occasions where we’ve had the most flags we’ve played particularly well. I don’t know exactly what that means other than we’re an aggressive team.”
Coach is right. With the exception of two games, all season long Harvard has had the dubious distinction of outpacing its opponents in penalties earned, including an 11-to-six disadvantage in the Crimson’s season-opening loss to Holy Cross. In that contest, the Crusaders prevailed by a narrow margin, 31-28. Against Columbia on Nov. 3, the Crimson were whistled for 14 fouls (to the Lions’ paltry four) en route to a 23-17 win. Strange, indeed.
And though Murphy pledged to review the Penn tape to get to the bottom of all those maddening infractions, the team’s sheer ability to weather the hail of hankies, and to capitalize on others’ mistakes (including four fumbles and seven penalties against Penn) speaks to this Harvard team’s resilience. After all, the 2007 Crimson squad have quietly captured their past six games to help the program become the first in Ivy history to win at least seven league games in seven consecutive seasons. In these wins, Harvard has collectively outscored its opponents by 164 to 82, thanks in no small part to its superb defense against the run. And now, following Yale’s 27-6 win over Princeton, Harvard will battle the unbeaten Bulldogs (9-0; 6-0 league) for the Ancient Eight title Saturday (Nov. 17) in New Haven, marking the first time in 39 years these two teams have been undefeated whilst vying for the Ivy prize. Last time that happened, Harvard “won,” 29-29.
“We’re just happy to be in this position,” Murphy said. “People more or less left us for dead at 1-2. To be in this position, quite frankly, we’re very grateful for.”
Meanwhile, against Penn at the stadium, a scoreless opening quarter marked by three-and-out situations established the defensive tenor of the afternoon. With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, however, Harvard broke the stalemate with a hurried 88-yard march to the end zone. Quarterback Chris Pizzotti ’08 capped the seven-play drive with a 20-yard pass to Corey Mazza, who trotted into the end zone unscathed to give the Crimson the go-ahead score. The reception, meanwhile, marked the senior’s 28th career touchdown catch, tying Carl Morris’ ’03 record.
In the first five minutes of the second half, the Crimson tacked on a touchdown and a 30-yard field goal courtesy of sophomore Patrick Long to take a 17-0 advantage. Penn finally responded late in the third stanza when it capitalized on a Harvard facemask penalty and a pair of pass interference calls to construct a 10-play drive lasting nearly four and a half minutes. Michael DiMaggio capped the Quaker possession with a dash into the end zone from two yards out to cut the lead to 17-7, following the extra point.
Harvard’s stingy defense, however, banned the visitors from a repeat score, as the Crimson limited the Quakers to just 71 rushing yards in the second half. Both defenses, meanwhile, were stellar in third-down situations. On the afternoon, the Quakers thwarted 12 of Harvard’s 15 third-down attempts, while the Crimson allowed Penn to convert just three of its 18 tries.
After nine minutes of scoreless football in the final quarter, Crimson tailback Cheng Ho ’10 broke the impasse with a 20-yard plow straight down the middle to set up the 23-7 final, and subsequently, this Saturday’s storybook showdown for the title at the Yale Bowl.