The Harvard football team knows drama. They’ve lived it all season. Counting Saturday’s (Oct. 18) win against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, three of Harvard’s first five games this season have been decided by three points or less. And up 24-10 at the half, the game looked to be headed toward an easy victory — one that would avenge last year’s 13-20 loss. But that wouldn’t be dramatic enough.
Led by senior quarterback Chris Pizzotti’s 181 passing yards and two touchdown passes, Harvard went into the half with 230 total yards of offense, and seemed to be in control. But in the second half, big defensive stops by the Lehigh defense destroyed the Crimson’s momentum, holding them to a single field goal.
Fighting all the way back from the two-touchdown deficit to within three points, Lehigh sacked Pizzotti on consecutive downs, forcing the Crimson to punt the ball with just over 3:08 remaining. With Crimson punter Thomas Hull ’10 sending his kick a disappointing 26 yards, the Mountain Hawks started their final possession at their own 38-yard line.
Driving down the field to the 33 yardline, Lehigh converted on fourth-and-1, putting the Mountain Hawks in range of a game-tying field goal. Then, coming out of a timeout with just over a minute to go, Lehigh took their shot at the end zone. Mountain Hawk quarterback J.B. Clark almost connected with wide receiver Sekou Yansane in the back of the endzone for what looked to be the game winner, but Harvard All-American cornerback Andrew Berry ’09 made a spectacular last second strip, causing the ball to fall incomplete. Two plays later, Crimson defensive end Peter Ajayi ’09 hunted Clark down and made a play on the ball, which popped out and landed in the hands of Harvard linebacker Glenn Dorris ????09, sealing the dramatic win for the Crimson.
“We preach to our kids to expect adversity. It’s going to come,” said Thomas Stevenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football Tim Murphy. “You just don’t know when it’s going to come, and what form it’s going to come in, but we have to embrace that challenge. And that’s when you find out what your true character is. I think it was evident today that that’s the way our kids are. They never give up.”
“Lehigh did a great job,” said Ajayi, whose fumble forcing sack saved the day. “We respect them throughout, but at the same time we believe that if we execute, we have the ability to make a big play at any time, and turn things around.”
Last year’s loss against Lehigh came on a Harvard fumble — with 30 seconds left in the game — that was returned for a touchdown. It was Harvard’s second heartbreaking loss of that season, and dropped them to a 1-2 record.
Murphy admitted that the bitter taste from last year’s loss gave his team extra fire. “I think it gave us a significant amount of motivation. … It was a really devastating loss in terms of how it happened. Last year we didn’t allow an offensive touchdown, and [still] didn’t get out of there with a victory. So from our standpoint, we really wanted to set things right. Our kids play for pride no matter what, but there’s no question that we felt we needed to win this game for a lot of reasons.”
Pizzotti — who completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns — was named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week for the second time this year, and moved up to third place all-time in career passing yards (4,689), fourth in pass completions (345), and fourth in passing touchdowns (29).
Pizzotti will continue his assault on the Harvard record books when he leads the Crimson to Princeton (2-3; 1-1) Saturday (Oct. 25) to face the Tigers.