One for the Books
De profundis: Whatever else the football team may accomplish this fall, its second-half comeback in the season's Ivy League opener at Brown Stadium was a monumental endorsement of the tautological old saw that it's never over until it's over. Down 31-10 at the half, Harvard tamed Brown's potent offense, reeled off 25 unanswered points to take a fourth-quarter lead, and, with a little help from the football gods, prevailed in a 35-34 squeaker.
Winless against Harvard since 1999, Brown had taken a 52-14 beating at the Stadium a year earlier. But the upwardly mobile Bears had finished in a four-way tie for second place in the Ivy standings, and this season's Crimson squad appeared unprepared for the fury of the new-model Bruin offense. After only 11 minutes of play Brown had built a 21-0 lead, pulling off two spectacular touchdowns — a 53-yard breakaway by sophomore quarterback Joe DiGiacomo and an 83-yard pass from DiGiacomo to split end Jarrett Schreck — and a short one by all-Ivy tailback Nick Hartigan, set up by a 49-yard pass from DiGiacomo to Schreck. A Harvard field goal by freshman Matt Schindel and a touchdown by sophomore speedster Clifton Dawson reduced Brown's lead to 21-10, but another Hartigan touchdown and a 24-yard field goal — Brown's first successful three-pointer since the fourth game of the 2002 season — had the Bears up 31-10 at halftime.
Harvard's chances of getting back in the game seemed vanishingly small. Brown had scored on five of its six possessions and had amassed a whopping 451 yards in total offense. The all-but-unstoppable Hartigan, last year's Division I-AA rushing leader, had picked up 129 yards on 21 carries, and DiGiacomo had passed for 237 yards. Only once in the course of the 1,173 varsity football games played since 1873 had a Harvard team erased a halftime deficit of 21 points. But the defense stiffened, the offense shifted into high gear, and the Crimson clawed its way back.
On the opening drive of the second half, captain and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick made good on four straight passing attempts, the last of them a 35-yard toss to sophomore wide receiver Corey Mazza, who finished the game with nine receptions for 140 yards. Brown went three-and-out on its first possession of the half, and forfeited its next by fumbling a punt on its own 12-yard line. Harvard cashed in with a 22-yard field goal, and at the start of the next offensive series Dawson burst off tackle and raced 80 yards for a score. Harvard coach Tim Murphy then made a shrewd call, directing Fitzpatrick to try for a two-point conversion. The nimble quarterback's dash to the end zone closed the gap to 31-28 and provided the eventual one-point margin of victory.
As the final period opened, a one-yard touchdown by Dawson — his third score of the day — put Harvard ahead. But Brown still had time on its side. With almost six minutes left, kicker Steve Morgan's 28-yard field goal cut the Harvard lead to 35-34, and when Brown linebacker Zak DeOssie forced a Fitzpatrick fumble deep in Crimson territory, Harvard's prospects darkened. After three hand-offs to Hartigan, it was fourth-and-one at the Harvard 11-yard line. Instead of ceding the ball to Hartigan, who had averaged more than five yards per carry, Brown coach Phil Estes brought in Morgan for a field-goal try. The freshman kicking specialist, who had seen a second-quarter attempt bounce off an upright, missed this one by inches.
Brown still had one more series of downs, but failed on three last-ditch passing efforts. Surrendering the ball at midfield, the Bears had to watch Harvard run out the clock.
Tidbits: Coach Murphy described the Brown contest as one that "neither team deserved to lose." He added, "There is one adage we live by, as corny as some people think it is, and that is, never, ever, give up." The two teams combined for an astounding 1,010 yards of total offense.
Good mudders: A week earlier, in the season's opening game, Harvard had routed Holy Cross, 35-0. Despite high winds and drenching rain — the residue of Hurricane Ivan — the offense rolled up 325 total yards, scored on seven of its first 10 drives, and committed no turnovers. The defense forced two fumbles and snared three interceptions, two of them by senior safety Ricky Williamson. All-Ivy tailback Clifton Dawson scored the team's first three touchdowns on runs of 1, 14, and 74 yards. Senior Brian Edwards, an ace receiver, turned in an 87-yard punt return — the second-longest in Harvard annals — for another touchdown. With Harvard ahead 29-0 at halftime, much of the second half was left to the reserves....The Stadium attendance, officially stated as 9,513, was so sparse that the Harvard and Holy Cross band members probably outnumbered the spectators.
Running wild: In the team's second nonleague win, a 38-23 shootout at Lafayette, Dawson again scored three times. With nine touchdowns in the first three games, he seemed almost certain to break the seasonal record of 14 set in 1997 by Chris Menick '00. It was also the ninth consecutive game in which Dawson rushed for more than 100 yards. With a total of 498 yards in the Holy Cross, Brown, and Lafayette games, he was on track to break Menick's seasonal record of 1,267 yards.
The game's afoot: The Crimson kicking game, a liability in the recent past, is much improved. In the first three games, freshman place-kicker Matt Schindel made good on five field goal attempts and nine of 10 extra-point tries. Junior Mike King, now the first-string punter, kicked six times at Brown for an average of 39.5 yards.
Déjà vu: Only once, until the Brown game, had a Harvard team fallen 21 points behind and gone on to win. That was at the Stadium on October 27, 2001, when record-setting receiver Carl Morris '03 and Ryan Fitzpatrick, making his first start at quarterback, led a second-half rally that turned the tables on Dartmouth, 31-21.