Lights! Camera! Action!
Night football comes to the Stadium.
It’s now 104 years old, but after a three-stage, $5-million makeover, Harvard Stadium may be one of the nation’s best-equipped college football venues. First came synthetic turf, rolled out before the 2006 season. After the season came a removable protective bubble, allowing year-round use of the playing field. Then came floodlights.
After 651 home games at the Stadium—under a wide variety of atmospheric conditions, but always with natural light—Harvard played at night for the first time on September 22. Saturday night lights seemed to have a photovoltaic effect on the Crimson gridders, who defeated an equally charged-up Brown squad, 24-17, in the Ivy League opener for both teams. A loud crowd of 18,898, with a larger-than-normal cadre of students, shared in the nocturnal excitation. Not since October 1993 has a home game against a team other than Yale lured so many spectators.
Photograph by Jon Chase / Harvard News Office
Harvard had started its season at Holy Cross the week before, absorbing a painful 31-28 loss when Crusader quarterback Dominic Randolph uncorked a 40-yard touchdown pass to pull out a win with just 19 seconds to play. The Crimson defense—which yielded 492 yards in total offense and three scoring passes to Holy Cross—still looked porous in the first half of the Brown game, but then regrouped and helped lock up the victory with three drive-breaking interceptions and three quarterback sacks.
The passing game shapes up as the offense’s long suit. Senior quarterback Liam O’Hagan, who had a fine sophomore season but struggled last year, was back in form at Holy Cross. He completed 19 of 30 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 65 yards and another score, was not intercepted, and got sacked only once. “I thought he made great decisions,” said head coach Tim Murphy after the game. “In terms of field generalship, this was arguably the best game he’s played. To come out in our first game and have zero turnovers against a very good football team, I thought was a major accomplishment.”
In the Brown game O’Hagan directed an 80-yard scoring drive on Harvard’s first possession, throwing a 21-yard touchdown pass to all-Ivy receiver Corey Mazza ’07 (’08), and later a seven-yarder to Matt Luft ’10. Brown countered with two scoring passes of its own—one of them a dazzling 63-yard catch-and-run by mercurial receiver Paul Raymond—and took a 17-14 lead on kicker Steven Morgan’s second-period field goal. But a 40-yard kickoff return by junior cornerback Andrew Berry, promptly followed up by a 41-yard pass from O’Hagan to Mazza, brought Harvard right back. Shaking off two defenders, Mazza appeared to score after his catch, but was ruled out of bounds at the 5-yard line. Three plays later, with 58 seconds remaining in the half, O’Hagan squirmed into the end zone to put Harvard ahead again, 21-17.
When a hard hit sent O’Hagan to the sideline early in the third period, senior Chris Pizzotti replaced him. In the final period Pizzotti deftly directed a 70-yard drive, finished off by sophomore Patrick Long’s 23-yard field goal. With Harvard leading by seven points and just over three minutes to play, the Crimson’s blitzing defense—led by end and captain Brad Bagdis and junior linebackers Glenn Dorris and Peter Ajayi—did the rest. Senior cornerback Steven Williams had two of the team’s three late-game interceptions, with sophomore cornerback Derrick Barker snaring the other.
Photograph by Stu Rosner
The win was Harvard’s eighth in a row over Brown, and its 77th in a rivalry that began in 1893—just one year after Mansfield (Pennsylvania) State Normal School and Wyoming Seminary faced each other in football’s first night game.
Tidbits.The loss to Holy Cross was Harvard’s first opening-day defeat since 2000, when the Crusaders prevailed at the Stadium, 27-25. The Crimson’s other Patriot League rivals also pinned opening-day defeats on Ivy opponents, as Lehigh beat Princeton, 32-21, and league champion Lafayette edged Penn, 8-7. Yale—strongly favored in a preseason media poll to win this year’s Ivy title—downed Georgetown, 28-14, with halfback Mike McLeod scoring the Eli’s four touchdowns.…Penn, Harvard, and Princeton, in that order, trailed Yale in the preseason balloting.
Ouch: Despite a dominating defensive performance and a second-half comeback by the offense, Harvard was burned at the buzzer again in the season’s third game, a 20-13 loss at Lehigh. After a third-period shoulder injury put O’Hagan out of commission, Pizzotti came on to lead a 96-yard drive that tied the score at 13-13. But two late-game rallies died when the Lehigh defense blocked a 27-yard field-goal try and then forced a fumble as Pizzotti attempted to pass at midfield, running back the loose ball for a 27-yard touchdown with 30 seconds to play.…Harvard’s stalwart defense stopped all of Lehigh’s 11 third-down conversion tries and did not allow an offensive touchdown. The Mountain Hawks’ earlier scores came on a 54-yard punt return and a pair of field goals.
Update: Defeating all seven remaining opponents after the posting of this report, the football team routed previously unbeaten Yale to win the Ivy League title—Harvard’s fourth outright championship since the 1997 season. The team’s 37-6 victory at Yale Bowl was the most lopsided win by a visiting Crimson squad since 1914, when Harvard spoiled the grand opening of the Bowl with a 36-0 shutout.
Not since 1968, the year of the legendary 29-29 tie, had both teams entered The Game undefeated in Ivy play.
Senior quarterback Chris Pizzotti, who replaced the injured Liam O’Hagan in the season’s third game, led the offense against Yale. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 316 yards and four touchdowns—the best day for a Crimson quarterback in the teams’ 124-game series. Harvard rolled up 434 yards in total offense against 109 for Yale.
The strong defensive unit shut down Eli tailback Mike McLeod, the nation’s leading ground-gainer, limiting him to 50 yards rushing and snapping his 18-game scoring streak. McLeod had been averaging 174 yards and 15.1 points per game.
Harvard has won six of the last seven contests with Yale, and has now posted at least seven wins in seven straight seasons, a new Ivy League record.
|at Holy Cross
Harvard Magazine’s January-February 2008 issue will include a review of the season and full coverage of the Yale game.
See also: Harvard Athletics on the Web (http://gocrimson.com)
Airing it out: A Harvard quarterback has some first-rate receivers to throw to. They include Mazza, a fifth-year senior who missed most of the 2005 season with an ankle injury, and senior Matt Lagace, junior Alex Breaux, and sophomores Matt Luft and Mike Cook.…Mazza started the season with career totals of 1,994 receiving yards and 21 touchdown catches, second only to the all-time Harvard marks set by all-American Carl Morris ’03.
Quick study: When sophomore tailback Kai-Cheng Ho came to the United States from Taiwan at the age of 12, he did not speak English and had never played football. Yet he graduated from high school in Evans, Georgia, as co-salutatorian of his class and a four-year letter-winner in football, basketball, and track. Ho made his first varsity start at Holy Cross and had a 116-yard rushing day, including a dramatic broken-field touchdown run of 47 yards that put Harvard ahead in the second half.
Multi-talented: Senior Noah Van Niel, a two-year starter at fullback, is a man of parts. Besides blocking, rushing, catching passes (five in the Brown game), and long-snapping for the punting unit, he’s president of the Dunster House Opera Society; has sung tenor roles with that group, with the Lowell House Opera, and with Harvard’s Gilbert and Sullivan Players; and, as a Phillips Brooks House volunteer, has taught English as a second language to inner-city Boston youths. An English concentrator, Van Niel plans an independent study on the treatment of infidelity in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, and Le nozze di Figaro. He means to pursue a singing career after graduation.
Photograph by Stu Rosner
Where are they now? This year’s team can’t help missing four-time all-Ivy tailback Clifton Dawson ’07, who set new league rushing records a year ago (see “Dawson by the Numbers,” January-February, page 75). At last report, Dawson was on the roster of the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts. He’d signed with the Colts as a free agent in May, but was later released and claimed by the Cincinnati Bengals. Released once again, he was re-signed by the Colts.…Former teammate Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05, after two seasons of reserve duty with the St. Louis Rams, is now the backup quarterback of the Bengals.
Let there be light(s): To preserve the Stadium’s classic contours, the new banks of lights were integrated with existing fencing on top of the colonnade. Athletics Department officials say the lights were installed primarily to illuminate late-afternoon practices and allow off-peak use of the field by club, intramural, and intercollegiate teams, and that the football team will play no more than one early-fall night game in future seasons.…Four other Ivy schools—Columbia, Cornell, Penn, and Princeton—have stadium lighting, but only the last two play night games on a regular basis.