BOSTON — Football head coach Tim Pendergast knew entering last weekend’s game against Harvard (3-1, 2-0 Ivy) that the Crimson’s offense was a finely tuned machine. In front of an umbrella-toting crowd of 6,533 at a rainy Harvard Stadium on Saturday, the Crimson didn’t prove Pendergast wrong.
Harvard scored on eight of its 11 possessions in the game and outgunned Cornell (1-3, 0-2 Ivy), 52-23, for its ninth Ivy League victory in a row and its 12th win in its last 13 contests.
“We thought coming in that Harvard would try to throw the ball,” said Pendergast of an offense that chalked up 353 passing yards. “I guess we guessed right. Guessing right didn’t help us at all.”
The Crimson also ran the ball successfully, having five different runners in double-digit yardage and compiling 200 yards on the ground.
Although Harvard’s numbers are far more impressive than the Red’s 243 passing yards and 135 rushing yards, Cornell was able to keep pace with the Crimson well into the third quarter.
Harvard opened the scoring on its first drive of the game after a failed fake punt gave the Crimson the ball at the Red 34. After two plays and an offside penalty, Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found a wide open Brian Edwards in the end zone for Edwards’ first career score.
Cornell struck back on the next drive, though, moving the ball 88 yards with a steady passing attack that picked up key third down conversions. Razzano hit junior John Kellner with a 22-yard pass on third and 13. A Crimson pass interference penalty on third and two in the next series also moved the chains. The drive culminated with a five-yard fade in the left corner of the end zone to senior receiver Keith Ferguson on third and goal.
Ferguson had his second-highest receiving yardage total of his career in the game with 154 yards on 12 catches. Two of those catches were for touchdowns. However, Ferguson also dropped three passes, some of which came in key situations.
“If you noticed, on the drops, I left my feet,” explained Ferguson. “All the other catches I had, I stayed on the ground. I jumped up when maybe I shouldn’t have.”
Harvard responded to the first touchdown by turning to last season’s Ivy League Player of the Year, senior receiver Carl Morris. Fitzpatrick found Morris on the first four plays of the drive, and the fifth play went to Morris but resulted in a pass interference call on Red sophomore linebacker Brad Kitlowski. Three plays later, Fitzpatrick was able to run the ball eight yards himself for a touchdown, giving the Crimson a 14-7 lead.
Cornell turned around and began to march down the field again, but was only able to come away with a field goal, narrowing the Harvard lead to four points. The ensuing kickoff spelled trouble for the Red, however, as sophomore return man Rodney Byrnes picked up a few blocks and then outran the coverage unit for an 89-yard return.
Byrnes torched Cornell from all over the field on Saturday. Although he’s listed as a receiver, Byrnes lined up as a tailback many times, carrying the ball five times for 33 yards and a touchdown. He racked up receiving yardage as well, and finished the afternoon with two scores and 243 all-purpose yards.
After Byrnes’ return touchdown, the Crimson extended its lead to 14 points on a 24-yard field goal by senior kicker Anders Blewett.
Ferguson’s second touchdown of the afternoon brought the Red back within seven points, as he took a 15-yard fade from Razzano and went over cornerback Mante Dzakuma to bring down the ball and six points.
Harvard had a golden opportunity to make it a two-score game entering the half when it called its final timeout with 19 seconds left on third and goal from the Cornell 10. Fitzpatrick was forced to scramble, but instead of throwing the ball away to set up a field goal attempt, he tried to rush for the end zone. Red junior safety Neil Morrissey brought him down at the five, and time wound down before the Crimson could run a final play, ending the half with the score 24-17, Harvard.
The Crimson was finally stopped by the Cornell defense on its first drive of the second half, and then Harvard attempted its own fake punt, letting star linebacker Dante Balestracci try a run. The attempt was stuffed by sophomore David Blanks, giving the Red a chance to even the score. However, a fourth-and-10 pass to Ferguson was dropped at the five-yard line. Offsetting penalties gave Cornell another chance to try the play, and this time cornerback Benny Butler was able to bat the pass down.
Then Harvard began to drive the nail into the coffin. On the fourth play of the next drive, Fitzpatrick dumped a screen pass to Morris on the left. Morris picked up a head of steam and then blew by the Red defense for 54 yards and a touchdown to put the Crimson up, 31-17.
Cornell was able to respond with a touchdown on a pass to senior fullback Nate Archer, but the extra point attempt was blocked, keeping the Red down by eight.
The margin didn’t matter at that point, as Harvard had all the points it would need for a win. However, the Crimson demonstrated its offensive and defensive prowess the rest of the way, scoring three more times before the game ended, while holding the Red scoreless.
First, a 23-yard run by Morris on a reverse pitch set up Byrnes’ seven-yard rushing touchdown. Then, two Harvard possessions later, Fitzpatrick lofted a pass from the 27-yard line for Byrnes in the end zone. However, it was batted away by senior linebacker Jarad Madea — right into the hands of junior receiver Kyle Cremarosa, who was flat on his back while making the catch.
Cornell’s next drive ended when Balestracci intercepted a Razzano pass at the Crimson 20. Harvard then marched back down the field with backup running back Rodney Thomas now in the game. Thomas capped off the drive with a 25-yard touchdown scamper, making the score 52-23, which would stand as the final.
“The bottom line is, we scored 52 points, seven of which obviously came on a kickoff return, but anytime you do that with no turnovers, it’s an advantage to the offense,” said Crimson head coach Tim Murphy.
Fitzpatrick, who started in place of the injured Neil Rose, posted the fourth-highest passing yardage total in school history. However, he was quick to give the credit for his big day to his receivers.
“All those weapons today — Brian Edwards, he played really well, he’s a real good athlete, he made some big plays. Kyle Cremarosa, same thing, that touchdown catch in the end zone,” he said. “It makes it a lot easier to be able to put the ball in great athletes’ hands.”
Meanwhile, Morris had 11 catches for 165 yards in the game, passing Yale graduate Eric Johnson, the current 49ers’ tight end, on the all-time Ivy League list in career receptions, receiving touchdowns, and yardage.
Before the game, Pendergast said that he wouldn’t try to orient his game plan against only Morris, noting the multifaceted nature of the Crimson attack. Afterward, he again praised the ability of the Harvard offense.
“It’s not like you can sit here and try to gameplan against one player,” he said. “They have a lot of weapons. They’ve done a great job with the weapons they have. It’s a place where we’re trying to go.”
Archived article by Alex Fineman