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Gridiron Blogging

“Cleat,” Harvard Magazine’s canny football correspondent, is blogging about the Crimson’s season on the magazine’s website. Follow his dispatches at http://harvardmag.com/football.

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A scintillating performance by senior quarterback Andrew Hatch helped Harvard to a 34-6 win over Holy Cross in a season-opening night game at the Stadium on Saturday.

Hatch, who transferred from Louisiana State University in 2009, got the starting assignment after Collier Winters ’12 incurred hip and groin injuries in a preseason scrimmage. In his first varsity outing, Hatch connected on 20 of 25 passes—three times for touchdowns—and directed the offense with aplomb.

The defensive unit held the Crusaders to 84 yards rushing and kept them scoreless until the game’s final minute. Linebacker Blaise Deal ’12 was credited with 11 tackles and an interception, while tackle Josue Ortiz ’12 had five solo stops.

The game was the third of the season for Holy Cross, last year’s Patriot League champions. The Crusaders had beaten Howard, 38-7, before losing, 31-7, to a strong Massachu­setts squad. Holy Cross had won two of the last three meetings with Harvard.

This time Harvard took charge early, scoring on each of four first-half possessions and taking a 20-0 lead at the break. The first Crimson touchdown came late in the first period, on a four-yard run by senior back Gino Gordon. Early in the second quarter Hatch fired the first of his three scoring passes, a 26-yarder to senior receiver Marco Iannuzzi. Senior Chris Lorditch, the team’s premier receiver, caught second-half touchdown passes of eight and 43 yards, putting Harvard up, 34-0, midway through the final period.

Lorditch, Iannuzzi, and junior Adam Chrissis each had four pass receptions. Freshman kicker David Mothander booted two first-half field goals—the first from 26 yards out on Harvard’s opening series, the second from 24 yards out as the half wound down.

Hatch, who stands six-four and weighs 225, looks like the answer to a coach’s prayer. He has a strong, accurate arm, and good foot speed for a man of his size: against Holy Cross he gained 39 yards on 11 carries. And he ran the offense with the poise of a veteran.

Which in fact he is. As a Harvard freshman in 2005, Hatch played junior varsity football, then left to join a Mormon mission in Chile. There he injured his knee playing soccer and returned home to Henderson, Nevada, for surgery. Transferring to LSU, he started the first three games of the Tigers’ 2008 season, but was sidelined by a concussion and, shortly afterward, by a broken leg. Resolved to complete his college football career where it began, Hatch returned to Harvard, but the NCAA’s transfer rules required him to sit out a season before suiting up. He spent the fall of 2009 on the varsity’s scout team, emulating quarterbacks that Harvard might face on future Saturdays.

Hatch, says head coach Tim Murphy, “probably has as much ability as anyone we’ve had in our program, but we’ve had less time developing him because of his situation.” After watching Hatch sting the Crusader secondary with his flat-lined passes, Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore called him “a very special player.” He added, “It just goes to show you the level of excellence at Harvard, when a second-string quarterback might be the best player on the team, and potentially the best player in the league.” (Read the Boston Globe’s September 18 profile of Hatch here.)

Hatch’s injured predecessor, Winters, earned a second-team all-Ivy citation last year, and was named as a 2010 preseason player of the year by the Sports Network. Adductor and labrum tears are expected to keep him off the field for the rest of this season. Having missed the 2008 campaign because of earlier injuries, Winters could still have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

The Holy Cross contest drew 21,704 spectators, the most yet for a night game at the Stadium. Harvard will again play at night in its Ivy League opener at Brown on Saturday, when Brown Stadium will be illuminated by temporary floodlights. Kickoff time: 6 p.m.

In other Ivy action: Brown defeated Stony Brook in double-overtime, 33-30. Yale edged Georgetown, 40-35, on the final play of the game. Pennsylvania downed Lafayette, 19-14. Dartmouth mustered 37 unanswered points to beat Bucknell, 43-20. Columbia lost to Fordham, 16-9, Princeton was beaten by Lehigh, 35-22, and Cornell succumbed to Wagner, 41-7.

The score by quarters:

Holy Cross   0   0   0   6  —   6
Harvard      10  10   7   7  —  34

Attendance: 21,704.