A Perfect 10

Routing Penn and Yale in the pivotal games of a history-making season, the football team finished 10-0, won the Ivy League championship, and completed a heady four-year run for its senior members: two perfect seasons, two Ivy titles, an overall record of 33-6, and four straight victories over Yale. Not since the eve of World War I, when coach Percy Haughton's teams of 1912-15 won 22 consecutive games and posted 33 wins, one loss, and two ties, has Harvard football enjoyed such protracted success. And not since 1901, when graduate student William T. Reid coached a team that went 12-0, has a Crimson squad won 10 games in a season.

As opposing coaches well knew, this team had the horses. The offensive unit, aptly described by the Boston Globe's John Powers '70 as "an all-terrain, all-weather scoring machine," included the league's best quarterback, senior captain Ryan Fitzpatrick; its best running back, sophomore Clifton Dawson; and its best pair of receivers, senior Brian Edwards and sopho more Corey Mazza. An interior line led by seniors John Bechdol, Mike Frey, Brian Lapham, and Max Mc Kibben opened holes for the explosive Daw son and gave hermetic protection to Fitzpatrick, who led the league both in total offense (243 yards per game) and in passing efficiency.

On the other side of the ball, the Ivies' stingiest defense allowed an average of 13.4 points per game and held its last three opponents—Columbia, Penn, and Yale—to a single touchdown and two field goals. Harvard's crack special teams accounted for 13 field goals—tying a 92-year-old record—and five touchdowns, four of them on long kick returns by the mercurial Edwards.

The Crimson's striking power was on full display as the team muzzled Yale, 35-3, before a full house at the Stadium. Dawson, who had a 120-yard rushing day, opened the scoring with a short-yardage touchdown—his eighteenth of the season—on the team's second possession. Early in the second quarter, Edwards caught a punt at midfield, bobbled the ball, and then ran it back for a 53-yard score. Three minutes later, with Yale threatening at the Harvard 5-yard line, senior safety Ricky Williamson hijacked a pass from Eli quarterback Alvin Cowan in the end zone. He raced up the sideline for a 100-yard return, the longest play of any kind in the Harvard-Yale series. Two third-period touchdowns—a 27-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Edwards and a 1-yard dive by Fitzpatrick—put the game on ice. The defense, with hard-charging sophomore Mike Berg shifting from end to nose tackle, held Yale to 42 net yards rushing and denied the Eli a touchdown for the first time in 34 outings. "When you play great defense," said coach Tim Murphy afterward, "football's just an easier game."

A week earlier, at Philadelphia's Franklin Field, Harvard had clinched at least a tie for the Ivy title by defeating Penn, the defending champion, 31-10. It was the third time in four years that the teams had met with league records of 5-0, and the fourth consecutive season in which the champion ship hinged on the outcome. Harvard yielded a field goal on Penn's first drive but then took command, scoring 31 points in just under 31 minutes. Dawson paced the attack with 160 yards rushing and a touchdown; Fitzpatrick threw two scoring passes—a 19-yarder to Edwards and a 43-yard bomb, launched as he dodged a slew of would-be tacklers, to Mazza. The team's final score came on a faked field goal, with holder Robert Balkema '06, a former high-school quarterback, whipping an 18-yard pass to senior linebacker Bobby Everett. The decisive victory halted a 20-game Quaker winning streak against Ivy opponents, and was Harvard's first win in unbrotherly Philadelphia since 1980.

Though the Crimson outpointed its foes 339-134, there were white-knuckle moments. Trailing 31-10 in the Ivy opener at Brown, Harvard had to produce 25 second-half points to win a 35-34 cliff hanger. Cornell held a 24-21 third-quarter lead, only to have it effaced on a reverse pass from Edwards to Mazza. Princeton led by 11 after one quarter, but then gave up 36 unanswered points to the visiting Crimson. A winless but feisty Dartmouth squad, limit ing Harvard to one first-half touchdown and a pair of field goals, was deprived of an up set when a pass deflection by cornerback Danny Tanner '07 foiled a two-point conversion attempt. Harvard lit out of Hanover with a 13-12 decision. To coach Murphy, the second-half comeback at Brown was the key to the season. "It galvanized our team," declared Murphy, "and gave us great chemistry and character for the rest of the year."

Since league play was formalized in 1956, Harvard has won five outright titles and six co-championships. Until this season, the Crimson had never locked up an outright title on home turf. The last Ivy trophy was won in 2001, when this year's seniors were freshmen and a 35-23 victory at Yale Bowl capped Harvard's first unbeaten-untied campaign (9-0) since 1913. "The perfect ending to a perfect season," Tim Murphy said at the time. He repeated those words verbatim after this year's victory over Yale, and then, perhaps experiencing a sense of déjà vu, he added, "—the most perfect season."


Tidbits: Harvard wound up as the only unbeaten team in NCAA Division I-AA football. It now has an 11-game winning streak—the 117-team division's longest.

Numbers game: The Crimson generated more than 30 points in nine of its 10 games. No Harvard squad since the 1890s had scored so profusely. The team's 339 points were the most since 1893, when mismatches with Exeter (54-0) and Andover (60-5) inflated the bottom line.

Hexed: The 39-14 defeat of Prince ton was Harvard's ninth straight over the Orange and Black. The Tigers still hold a 50-40-7 lead in a series that began in 1876.

Good hands: Between them, wide receivers Brian Edwards and Corey Mazza had 102 catches for 1,419 yards and 11 touchdowns. As a kick-return specialist, Edwards also scored on a 92-yard kickoff return and on punt returns of 87, 81, and 53 yards. He's believed to be the only Har vard gridder to have scored via pass receptions, punt returns, a kickoff return, and by throwing a touchdown pass.

Broken records: Freshman kicker Matt Schindel booted his thirteenth field goal of the season in the Penn game, tying a Har vard record set by Charlie Brick ley '15 in 1912. One week earlier, against Columbia, Clifton Dawson had broken Brickley's venerable single-season scoring re cord of 94 points, also set in 1912. Dawson finished the season with 108 points.

Precocious: Dawson led the Ivy League in rushing (130 yards per game) and scoring (10.8 points per game). He set new Harvard records for single-season rushing yardage (1,302), rushing touchdowns (17), and total touchdowns (18). After only two seasons, the speedy sophomore owns a Har vard career record for touchdowns (30), ranks second in career scoring (180 points), and ranks third in career rushing (2,489 yards)....When he lost the ball after a 13-yard gain at Penn, Dawson had carried 396 times without fumbling. His only previous fumble had come in his debut game, the 2003 opener against Holy Cross.

MVP: Voted the team's most valuable player by his teammates, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the unanimous choice of the eight Ivy coaches for the Bushnell Trophy, awarded to the league's outstanding performer. Harvard won 18 of Fitz's 21 career starts, and 15 of the last 16. Throwing for 5,234 yards and rushing for 1,487 more, he set a new Harvard record for total offense. Fitzpatrick ranks second to his immediate predecessor, Neil Rose '03, in career passing yards and passing touch downs. A viable pro prospect with a strong arm, quick feet, and good size (6 feet, 3 inches, 220 pounds), he will play in the Hula Bowl game, to be aired by ESPN2 on January 22.

Laurels: Fitzpatrick, Dawson, Edwards, and Everett were unanimously selected for the all-Ivy first team. Schindel, Lap ham, guard Will Johnson '06, and linebacker Sean Tracy '05 also made the first team. Mazza, Berg, linebacker Matt Thomas '06, and cornerback Gary Sonkur '05 made the second team....Tim Murphy was voted New England Coach of the Year, an honor that he also received in 1997 and 2001. In his 11 seasons of coaching at Harvard, he has a won-lost record of 66-43.

El capitan: Defensive end Erik Grimm '06, a government concentrator from La Jolla, California, and Pforzheimer House, will captain the 2005 Crimson squad.

Ancient history: Not since the Wilson and Harding administrations had Har vard won four straight against Yale. Coach Robert Fisher's teams of 1919-22 were the last to do it....And so much for the axiom that in presidential election years, a Republican victory foretells an Eli triumph in The Game.

Read more articles by: Cleat

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