Taut and Suspenseful
In a shootout between the defending champions of the Ivy and Patriot Leagues, the football team fell to Lehigh, 36-35, in the final minute of play. The loss ended an 11-game Harvard winning streak; a week earlier, a strong Penn squad had snapped Lehigh's string of 26 regular-season victories, the longest in the nation. Led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick '05, who had played key roles in the team's first two games, all-Ivy wide receiver Carl Morris '03, and tailback Nick Palazzo '03, the Crimson's high-output offense pounded Lehigh for three quarters, and the Crimson held a 35-21 lead as the final period started. But after a 29-yard Lehigh field goal, Harvard lost the ball on an errant pitch from Fitzpatrick to Palazzo, who had scored three of the team's five touchdowns. The costly turnover changed the momentum of the game, and Lehigh cashed in with a pair of touchdowns by shifty speedster Jermaine Pugh—the last with 48 seconds remaining in the game.
This year's team seems fated to live dangerously. In its opening game against Holy Cross, Harvard held an 18-point lead in the final period but gave up two late Crusader touchdowns, one on an 85-yard punt return by Ari Confesor, a fleet wide receiver. With more than five minutes to play, the Crimson offense killed the clock with a lengthy ground drive to preserve a 28-23 victory. At the controls was Fitzpatrick, who came off the bench when Neil Rose '02 ('03), the team's record-setting quarterback and captain, took a high hit in the third period. Fitzpatrick kept the drive alive by running for two of three vital third-down conversions; the other came when Morris, in a surprise move, lined up at quarterback and rolled out for a 10-yard gain.
With Morris performing his usual class act as a receiver, Harvard has displayed a formidable passing game. Rose completed 19 of 22 aerials in the Holy Cross game, three of them for touchdowns. The most spectacular was a 60-yarder to Morris that put the Crimson up, 14-0, in the first period. In the third period Morris somehow materialized at the Crusaders' goal-line and gleefully hauled in a long, wobbly option pass thrown by sophomore split end Rodney Byrnes. ("I was a quarterback in high school," the insouciant Byrnes affirmed during a postgame press conference, explaining that he'd had to execute the trick play with his gloves on.)
In the first of five road games on this season's 10-game schedule, Harvard fell behind Brown, 18-7, but bounced back to take a 19-18 halftime lead and escape with a 26-24 decision—its third straight over the feisty Bruins. With University of Arizona transfer Kyle Slager at quarterback, Brown scored on its first three possessions, but missed each of its point-after attempts. When a sciatic nerve condition sidelined Rose in the second quarter, Fitzpatrick came on to direct three consecutive touchdown drives that obliterated the Bruin lead. Built like a running back (6 feet, 3 inches; 200 pounds), he carried 20 times for a game-high 131 yards rushing—the most for a Harvard quarterback since Jim Kubacki '77 gained 154 at the start of the 1975 season. Fitzpatrick also completed 10 of 16 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. When his team needed a first down, he usually ran for it himself, picking up nine in the course of the afternoon. "Fitzpatrick was the difference in the game," conceded Bruin coach Phil Estes.
Brown scored again in the third quarter, missed once more on a two-point conversion try, but nearly regained the lead in a taut and suspenseful final period. With almost five minutes left, ace receiver Chas Gessner caught a fourth-down pass that would have put Brown on the Harvard three-yard line—only to have the play called back because of offensive pass interference. Crimson defensive end Brian Garcia '04 spiked Slager's next pass attempt, and when an ensuing Harvard drive stalled out at midfield, punter Adam Kingston '04 delivered a perfectly placed kick that was whistled dead at the Bruin two-yard line. The Crimson defense kept Brown's back to the wall, and the ball went over to Harvard as time expired.
Tidbits: Harvard's winning streak stands as its longest since the seasons of 1912-14, when coach Percy Haughton's squads won 22 straight.
Made to be broken: With each catch, the redoubtable Carl Morris sets new Harvard records for career receptions and career yardage. In the Holy Cross game, Morris had 11 catches for 240 yards. He also returned a punt; threw a key block that enabled Fitzpatrick to pick up the final first down of Harvard's clock-killing drive; and took the first quarterback snap of his college career. ("We wanted our best athlete to have the ball," Harvard coach Tim Murphy said later.) For his efforts, Morris was named the Sports Network's National 1-AA offensive player of the week.....Having made nine tackles, forced a fumble, and been credited with a quarterback sack against Holy Cross, linebacker Dante Balestracci '02 was named Ivy League defensive player of the week. Like Morris, he was a first team all-Ivy selection last year.
On the hoof: Senior running backs Nick Palazzo and Rodney Thomas give the Crimson a balanced offense. Palazzo, Harvard's rushing leader in each of the past two seasons, scored the team's first two touchdowns against Brown. He also caught a pass to open the scoring against Holy Cross.
Ball security: During last year's 9-0 season, Harvard committed only nine turnovers, the fewest of any NCAA Division 1-AA team. It had just one against Holy Cross; in the Brown game, neither team had a single turnover.
Stiff competition: With Harvard barely into the second week of its season, this year's nonleague opponents—Holy Cross, Lehigh, and Northeastern—had a combined won-lost record of 8-1. Lehigh's opening game, a 37-26 win over Buffalo, was played August 28, one day before Harvard squad members reported for preseason drills....Nationally ranked Northeastern, due to visit the Stadium on October 19, flattened four of its first five foes....Down the road, the Crimson will face a couple of fast-starting teams, Penn and Yale, in its final games. Penn opened its season by drubbing Lafayette, 52-21, and edging Lehigh, 24-21; Yale, coming off a dismal 3-6 season a year ago, thrashed San Diego, 49-14, and Cornell, 50-23.