CAMBRIDE, Mass. — Harvard struck early and often in the first half and weathered a late rally by Cornell to take a 33-23 victory from the Red in Harvard Stadium last Saturday afternoon.
Crimson running back Clifton Dawson returned the opening kickoff 93 yards to stake the home team to an early lead, and added two second-quarter touchdowns to help No. 18 Harvard (4-0, 2-0 Ivy) to a 30-10 halftime lead. With this performance, Dawson broke Ivy League records previously set by Brown’s Nick Hartigan for career points scored (338) and total touchdowns (56).
“I think our offense just wanted to get out to a fast start,” Dawson said. “After last season, we wanted to set the game pace. We watched a lot of film and just did an incredible job today.”
Dawson finished the game with 97 rushing yards on 18 carries — just over the 92 yards per game he needed to average heading into Saturday’s contest in order to break the conference career rushing record of 4,715 yards held by Ed Marinaro ’72.
[img_assist|nid=18849|title=Tripped up|desc=Sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford (17) tries to withstand a tackle from Harvard linebacker Ryan Tully (37) in the Red’s 33-23 loss in Harvard Stadium this past Saturday.|link=none|align=left|width=0|height=100]
“You watch [Dawson] run and he’s strong and physical,” said Cornell head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “He breaks tackles, worked for it, and he got it on us. My apologies to Ed.”
Sophomore quarterback Nathan Ford led Cornell (1-3, 0-2) in the losing effort, throwing a career-high 309 yards on 20-of-33 passes and giving up one interception. All but one of those passes were caught by classmates as Jesse Baker led the Red with seven catches for 96 yards and Ford targeted Zac Canty five times for 74 receiving yards. Freshman Bryan Walters returned five kickoffs for a total of 100 yards and added 40 yards on punt returns to earn Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors.
Sophomore safety Michael Body led the Red’s defense with 11 tackles, while junior Chi Chi Madu tipped an extra-point attempt and blocked a field goalattempt in the fourth quarter to keep the game within reach for Cornell.
“I don’t want to sit here and confuse effort with results because sometimes you can send the wrong message to a young team,” Knowles said. “But I commend my team for the effort and for staying in the ball game. We gave ourselves a chance to win and that’s only going to help us for the future.”
Harvard earned its seventh consecutive victory and remained undefeated in 2006 behind the arm of quarterback Chris Pizzotti, who connected on 15-of-24 passes and had one interception. Wide receiver Corey Mazza caught six passes for 99 yards and Matt Farbotko reeled in two for 70 yards. Safety Daniel Tanner and linebacker Ryan Tully both tallied 12 tackles for the Crimson.
“I’m very proud of my kids,” said Harvard head coach Tim Murphy. “It was a very solid, workman-like effort today. We played a terrific half of football. We kind of limped in for a variety of reasons, but Cornell is a good football team, is very well coached and they take whatever they can get. To be 4-0, we’re very happy at this stage in the game.”
The Red responded to Harvard’s first strike quickly, as Ford marched the Red 73 yards in six plays, capping off the drive by handing off to Siwula for a 4-yard touchdown rush. After forcing Harvard to punt on the next possession, junior placekicker Peter Zell converted a 29-yard field goal — his eighth of the year — to give Cornell its only lead, 10-7, of the game with just four minutes gone in the first quarter.
Cornell had Harvard on its own 26-yard line in a third-and-four situation on the next possession, but Pizzotti threw a 58-yard pass to Farbotko to get a first down. Harvard was 7-of-12 in third-down conversions for the game, while Cornell was 6-of-15. Another Pizzotti pass sailed 13 yards to Mazza in the end zone to give Harvard a 14-10 advantage with 4:49 left in the first quarter.
“Early we were off rhythm,” Knowles said. “Our offense had trouble establishing the line of scrimmage. They jumped out to that lead early, established the poise and we were playing catch-up the whole game. That was the difference.”
Harvard widened the gap in the next frame, putting another three points on the board with a 42-yard field goal from Matt Schindel just five seconds into the second stanza. The Crimson regained possession on its own 43-yard line just two minutes later after Ford rushed for no gain in a fourth-and-one. A 25-yard rush by Matt Lagace and a 28-yard pass to Mazza set the stage for Dawson’s second touchdown of the day, which came on a 4-yard rush with 11:41 left in the half. The PAT was tipped wide by Madu, and the score stood at 23-10.
Cornell was forced to punt, and Dawson went down with an injury just three plays into the Cirmson’s next possession. However, he didn’t stay sidelined for long, returning several plays later and collecting his third touchdown on a 1-yard rush with 6:16 remaining on the clock. It was the 12th time in Dawson’s career that he scored three touchdowns in a game, with four of those games coming this season.
“I knew [Dawson] was coming back because he’s just a tough kid, but I was definitely there for moral support,” Pizzotti said. “You can’t say enough about Clifton with the job he’s done, so I was just hoping he’d get back in there as soon as possible.”
Cornell struggled to put together an effective offense late in the first half, as Ford was sacked three times in the Red’s final two possessions. The first sack brought Ford down at the Cornell 11-yard line after an attempted reverse, forcing the Red to punt. Junior cornerback Colin Nash got the ball back for Cornell by intercepting Pizzotti in the end zone with just over three minutes left in the half, but 10 plays later the Red punted again.
“I think we got a little out-physicaled in the first half,” Knowles said. “Harvard is proven to be the class of the league and they took it to us early. We challenged our guys at the half and I think we responded. We only gave up three points the rest of the game and we fought till the end.”
The third quarter was mostly scoreless stalemate, broken up only by a 25-yard field goal from Schindel with 3:23 left in the frame.
Cornell came alive in the final quarter, as Ford put the finishing touch on the Red’s first drive by scrambling for a 5-yard touchdown run — his first career rushing touchdown. The Red looked to keep the momentum on its side with an on-sides kick, but the kickoff was recovered by a Harvard player.
Madu kept the Crimson from striking back, however, by blocking a 29-yard field goal attempt by Schindel, and sophomore safety Michael Boyd recovered the failed kick on the Cornell 29-yard line for the Red. However, the visitors couldn’t take advantage of the big play, as Ford was intercepted by Derrick Barker at the Harvard 16-yard line.
After forcing Harvard to punt with 3:58 left in the game, the Cornell offense need just three plays to find the end zone, as Ford connected with Canty on a 27-yard pass. The score was 33-23 after Walters failed to punch home an attempted two-point conversion, but Walters recovered an ensuing textbook on-sides kick to set up one last attempt. This drive sputtered to a halt when the Red turned the ball over on downs, and Harvard walked off with the win.