No. 23 Harvard (4-0. 2-0 Ivy) struck early and often on Saturday, scoring 20 points in the first half en route to a 27-0 win over the football team on Schoellkopf Field. Fast start and offensive prowess aside, however, it was a failed fourth-down conversion by the Red that stands out as the turning point of the game.
Trailing 20-0, Cornell (1-3, 0-2) began its third possession of the second quarter on the Harvard 38-yard line. The Red drove 33 yards on 10 plays to place itself at third-and-one on the Crimson five-yard line. Unfortunately for the Red, rush attempts by senior fullback Todd Newell and sophomore tailback Andre Hardaway failed, keeping Cornell off the board as time ran out in the half.
“We had just driven the ball 40 yards, and the majority of the damage was on the ground. We were banging out six yards, we were banging out nine yards,” explained head coach Tim Pendergast, “and I felt like we had two chances to get a yard, and I really felt like we could do it. But we came up short.”
“If they had scored before halftime, it’s a completely different game in the second half,” Harvard linebacker Dante Balestracci said. “Being able to stop them on fourth down like that and just run off the clock and go into halftime up 20 points was huge.”
The sequence of plays was the personification of the stinginess the Crimson defense displayed throughout the game. Drive after drive, Harvard frustrated the Red, limiting the Red to 247 yards of total offense.
“The defensive strategy was let’s make them throw the ball to win, because although they did a good job of that, they’re more of a running football team,” said Harvard head coach Tim Murphy. “We don’t want them to dominate the tempo of the game, and we wanted to make them play a little left-handed, so to speak.”
The strategy paid off, as the Cornell offense was handcuffed all day. Meanwhile, the Harvard offense, led by junior quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, continued its assault on the rest of Division I-AA. Fitzpatrick passed for 165 yards and rushed for 83 more to pace the Crimson’s 375 yards of total offense.
The Crimson scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions of the game. On Harvard’s second possession, running back Ryan Tyler culminated a 10 play, 62-yard scoring drive with a five-yard run for a touchdown. Kicker Adam Kingston missed the extra point attempt, giving Harvard a 6-0 lead. On the very next possession, Fitzpatrick called his own number, running 10 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 Crimson lead.
Harvard’s third score came on a five-yard touchdown reception by Brian Edwards early in the second quarter.
The trend of offensive efficiency did not continue into the second half, as the Cornell defense finally began to clamp down.
“I think we were a little more conservative in the second and third quarters. We wanted to pound the ball a little bit and run some time off the clock. We thought that our guys would be able to dominate the line of scrimmage,” said Fitzpatrick. “A lot of credit to them, they stopped our running game in the second quarter a lot. They were definitely a good defense.”
Harvard got on the board again late in the third quarter on a 64-yard touchdown reception by Corey Mazza.
“I thought that our defense really fought tooth and nail, and really came up with some big plays ourselves against a really talented outfit who’s averaging 531 yards per game and 41 points,” Pendergast said.
Junior punter Mike Baumgartel was again a bright spot for the Red. He averaged 44.7 yards on six punts, including a long of 61 yards. He had two punts land inside the Harvard 20-yard line.
“Mike’s a consistently very excellent performer for us,” said Pendergast. “I don’t know what the numbers say, someone might be a yard in front of him in the league average, but Mike’s the best punter in the league.”
Another positive point for Cornell was the return of sophomore tailback Hardaway, who rushed for a net of 46 yards on 19 carries. This game marked Hardaway’s return from injuries that limited him for the first three weeks of the season.
“Being an athlete, being a ballplayer, being a competitor, there’s no better place I’d rather be than out on the battlefield,” he said.
Archived article by Owen Bochner