Loaded for Bear

Harvard v. Brown: Ivy football at its best

For pure, sustained excitement in an Ivy League football contest, it would be hard to beat this season’s Harvard-Brown game — or last season’s. A year ago, at Brown Stadium, Harvard bounced back from a 21-point halftime deficit and escaped with a 35-34 victory when a late Brown field-goal try missed by inches. This year, in the Crimson’s home opener, the feisty Bears grabbed a 16-0 first-quarter lead, only to have Harvard cut the margin to 19-14 at the half and tie the score, 32-32, with 15 seconds to play. After Brown failed to convert a field goal attempt in the game’s second overtime period, sophomore kicker Matt Schindel booted a 29-yarder that gave Harvard a stunning 38-35 win.

Harvard’s defending Ivy champions, unbeaten last year, started feebly. The offensive unit was forced to punt twice and had two passes picked off on its first four possessions, while Brown scored on three of its first four series. For the second week in a row, Crimson overzealousness brought on an embarrassing 13 penalties, totaling just over 100 yards. Unhappily for Brown, that lack of discipline was more than offset by Schindel’s reliable kicking, stout line play on both offense and defense, a representative day — 34 carries, 189 yards rushing, three touchdowns — for star running back Clifton Dawson ’07, spectacular catches by receivers Corey Mazza ’07 and Ryan Tyler ’06, and the steadily improving skills of sophomore quarterback Liam O’Hagan.

O’Hagan inherits the position long held by the gifted Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05, last year’s captain and Ivy Player of the Year, now a reserve quarterback for the St. Louis Rams. A former high-school all-American from Minnetonka, Minnesota, O’Hagan took only a few varsity snaps as a freshman, but threw four touchdown passes in last spring’s intrasquad scrimmage. The starting assignment for the season’s first game went to Richard Irvin ’08, a pre-Katrina transfer from Tulane, but O’Hagan replaced him in the opening quarter and performed capably in a 31-21 win over Holy Cross. He clicked on 15 of 24 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns — one, to Ryan Tyler, covering 48 yards — while scoring himself on a 22-yard scramble.

After a shaky start in the Brown game, O’Hagan ran the Crimson’s balanced offense with poise and resourcefulness. He finished the contest with 17 pass completions in 34 attempts, for 208 yards and a touchdown, and ran for two vital first downs in the team’s final scoring drive. “All I’m going to grade him on is how he fought and how he led,” head coach Tim Murphy said later. “He gave us a great effort in terms of toughness.”

“I started off a little slow, made some poor decisions,” said O’Hagan. “I was trying to get a feel for the game, a feel for the defense. I’ve never played an opponent of this ability — they were just flying after me. Once I put the ball in [Dawson’s] hands, Ryan Tyler, all these great playmakers that we have...when I could do that, we marched down the field.”

With less than four minutes left in the third quarter, the Crimson attack heated up. Mixing handoffs to Dawson with crisp passes to Mazza, O’Hagan directed a 65-yard drive, completing it with a nine-yard strike to Mazza in the end zone. He and Mazza then duplicated the play for a two-point conversion, tying the score at 22-22 as the period ended.

Harvard took a brief fourth-quarter lead on a 32-yard field goal by Schindel, but Brown answered with a 26-yard field goal by Steven Morgan — his fourth of the afternoon — and a stellar 34-yard touchdown catch by ace receiver Jarrett Schreck. Morgan’s point-after put the Bears out in front, 32-25, with 4:09 remaining.

That was just enough for Harvard’s climactic 82-yard drive, topped off by Dawson’s third touchdown of the day. With 15 seconds to play, Schindel’s conversion tied the score at 32-32, and when Brown failed to connect on two last-ditch passes, the game went into overtime.

The first go-around was a draw, with both sides trading field goals. In the second overtime, Harvard’s stiff defense forced three straight incompletions, and Morgan came on to attempt his sixth field goal of the day, this one from 42 yards. But the kick went wide, giving Schindel his chance to shine. Four carries by Dawson advanced the ball to the Brown 12-yard line, and on third down, with senior linebacker Robert Balkema holding, Schindel’s 29-yard chip-shot field goal won the game.

They don’t call it football for nothing.

Tidbits: Played before 11,134 spectators on a perfect fall afternoon, the Brown game was the first double-overtime contest in Harvard annals. Since the NCAA’s adoption of the tiebreaker format in 1996, the Crimson is 3-1 (3-0 at home) in overtime games....Though Harvard now has six straight wins against the Bears, three of the last four games have been decided by three points or fewer.

Hanging tough: Brown senior halfback Nick Hartigan, a potential all-America candidate, was held to an average of 4 yards per carry by a Harvard defensive unit that sometimes brought eight or nine men to the line of scrimmage....On five of its eight scoring drives, Brown was forced to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns....Bruin kicker Steven Morgan accounted for 17 points, an Ivy League record; his five field goals tied Brown and Ivy records.

Not him again: Snaring nine passes from Bruin quarterback Joe DiGiacomo for 223 yards and two touchdowns, senior Jarrett Schreck, a five-foot, nine-inch all-Ivy receiver, continued to bedevil Crimson defenders. His 253-yard total against Harvard in last year’s game ranks second highest in Brown football history. “An amazing kid,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy after the game. “I don’t know if any single player has played better against us since I’ve been in the league.”

That hurts: Harvard’s top receiver, junior Corey Mazza, sustained a severe ankle sprain at the start of the team’s final touchdown drive. He’d caught 13 passes against Brown and Holy Cross, and was the team’s punt-return specialist.

Too many turnovers: In the season’s third game, against Patriot League power Lehigh, the wheels fell off Harvard’s wagon. After falling behind, 14-0, the Crimson took a 17-14 lead at the start of the third period, only to have the Mountain Hawks counter with a punishing passing attack that produced five second-half touchdowns — the last three set up by drive-breaking interceptions. The 49-24 rout snapped Harvard’s unbeaten streak, then the longest in Division I-AA football, at 13 games....Lehigh defenders intercepted O’Hagan three times and Irvin twice. Not since 1989, when Lehigh outscored Harvard 50-28, had a Crimson squad yielded so many points in a game. 


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