John Harvard's Journal
A Satisfying Season
A wipeout on the slippery Astroturf of the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field dished the football team's hopes of gaining a second consecutive Ivy League championship. Winless in Philadelphia since 1980, Harvard took a 44-9 licking from a formidable Penn squad that effectively grounded the record-setting aerial act of Crimson quarterback Neil Rose '02 ('03) and wide receiver Carl Morris '03. With a convincing win at Cornell the next weekend, the Quakers sewed up the Ivy title for the third time in five years. That same weekend brought Harvard the best possible consolation prize: a windswept 20-13 victory over Yale.
Played under wintry conditions before a near-capacity Stadium crowd of 30,323, the 119th iteration of The Game gave Harvard an Ivy record of 6-1 and second place in the final standings. Holding Yale's league-leading rushing attack to 86 yards, the Crimson defense had a red-letter day. So did sophomore backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who came on late in the first half to jump-start the offense. His running and passing generated a three-touchdown rally in the third period, effacing a 6-0 Yale lead and putting Harvard ahead to stay. Touchdowns two and three were set up by long passes to Morris, an all-America candidate and the most accomplished receiver in Harvard football annals. A four-year letterman, Morris can list eight school records on his résumé when he interviews for a position in professional football. In his valedictory season, he ranked second in the nation in receptions (9.0) and receiving yardage (128.8) per game.
Beating Yale helped salve the pain inflicted at Penn a week earlier. But while that rain-soaked washout had to be humblingHarvard hadn't lost so lopsidedly since 1995 (Brown 47, Harvard 8), and its offense hadn't been held to single digits since the 1998 Yale gamethe outcome, in hindsight, wasn't unthinkable. Penn's high-scoring offense had registered more than 40 points in four of the team's five Ivy victories; statistically, the Quaker defense was the nation's best. With home-field advantage and a 13-game Franklin Field winning streak, Penn was primed to avenge the 28-21 loss to Harvard that decided the Ivy title in 2001. Coming off the first undefeated-untied Harvard season in 88 years, this year's Crimson team was 5-0 in Ivy League play. But almost all of its games had gone down to the wire, and the team had let victory slip away in the final minute of two nonleague contests.
As he'd done the previous season, with good results, head coach Tim Murphy had preached ball security at his squad's practice sessions. Until the Penn game, Harvard had yielded the fewest turnovers (less than one per game) of any NCAA 1-A/1-AA team. But ironically, turnovers were the Crimson's undoing in both nonleague defeats. At Lehigh, in the season's third game, Harvard held a 35-21 lead in the fourth quarter, lost the ball on an errant lateral, and gave up two late scores that allowed the scrappy Mountain Hawks to salvage a 36-35 win. At the Stadium two weeks later, with Atlantic 10 power Northeastern leading 17-14 and two minutes left to play, Harvard stormed downfield on an 80-yard drive, only to fetch up eight yards short of the goal-line when another lateral went awry. Hard lines, but worse happened at Franklin Field, where Penn's wrecking crew capitalized on a pair of early fumbles to begin the deconstruction of Harvard's title aspirations. More about that in a moment.
The Penn game aside, this year's team played exciting and sometimes spectacular football. Rose and Morris tore up opposing defenses, along with much of the Harvard record book. When a spinal disc injury sidelined Rose, Fitzpatrick filled in brilliantly. Rodney Byrnes, another sophomore, emerged as a breakout pass receiver, kick-return specialist, and sometime running back. The offensive line, led by all-Ivy tackles Jack Fadule '03 and Jamil Soriano '03, fronted the Ivy League's best all-around attack. On the other side of the ball, all-Ivy captain-elect Dante Balestracci '04; his linebacking sidekick John Perry '03; end Michael Armstrong '03; and cornerback Chris Raftery '04 were defensive standouts.
Rose, a first-team all-Ivy and all-New England selection a year ago, was elected captainthe first quarterback to be so honored since Carroll Lowenstein '52at the end of last year's bravura season. Having sat out his sophomore year with a broken foot, he qualified for a medical waiver and returned this fall as a fifth-year senior. Though his back injury caused him to miss two full games and parts of two others, Rose continued to set records, completing his third and final season as a starter with Harvard career records for pass completions, pass attempts, passing yardage, total-offense yardage, pass-completion percentage, and touchdown passes.
Rose started the season in fine form, hitting on 19 of 22 passesthree of them for touchdownsin the opener against Holy Cross. His completion percentage of .864 tied a Harvard single-game record set by Vin Ferrara '95. When Rose took a jarring hit to the head in the second half, Fitzpatrick stepped in and ran off a late, clock-killing ground drive that preserved a 28-21 victory. The versatile Morris was also in form, snaring 11 passes, scoring twice, and running the ball for a vital first down that kept the late drive alive.
In the team's first Ivy League game, a 26-24 win at Brown, Rose had clicked on five of five early pass attempts when a Bruin tackler upended him and his right leg "seemed to freeze." Relieving him, Fitzpatrick directed three consecutive scoring drives that obliterated an 18-7 Brown lead. The hard-running sophomore, a former Arizona high school all-star, passed for two touchdowns and became the first Harvard quarterback in a decade to have a 100-yard-rushing day, racking up 137 yards on 22 carries. Despite limited playing time, Fitzpatrick would end the season as the team's leading rusher.
While Rose's back mended, Fitzpatrick started the next two games. Against Lehigh he connected on 22 of 36 passes and rushed for 59 yards; the following weekend, against Cornell, he hit on 24 of 32 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns, rushing for 66 yards and another touchdown. Morris had another 11-catch day, streaking down the Stadium sideline to score on a 54-yard pass from Fitzpatrick. Rodney Byrnes chipped in with an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and later scored on a short run. For his central role in Harvard's 52-23 rout of the Big Red, Fitzpatrick was named Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week.