Oct. 23, 2004
PRINCETON - Clifton Dawson rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns to lead the No. 19 Harvard football team to a 39-14 win over Princeton in front of 14,304 at Princeton Stadium Saturday afternoon. The loss keeps the Crimson perfect for the season (6-0, 3-0), while Princeton (4-2, 2-1) now knows it has zero margin for error in the league race.
What was once a close game snowballed into a lopsided one as the second half went on. Dawson, whose 201 yards are the second most against a Princeton team under Roger Hughes, set the Harvard record for single-season touchdowns when he scored his 14th touchdown on an 80-yard run in the fourth quarter. He and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who completed 14 of 31 passes for 172 yards and a score, both rushed for touchdowns in the final 15 minutes to help turn a 22-14 game into the eventual 39-14 final. The Harvard defense shut down Princeton over the final 45 minutes, thanks in large part to a perfect 13-for-13 mark on third down stops. Senior quarterback Matt Verbit threw for 119 yards and a touchdown, while Jon Veach led Princeton's ground attack with 69 yards. He became the 15th running back at Princeton to go over the 1,500-yard mark for his career (1,515).
Zak Keasey led all Princeton defensive players with a career-high 20 tackles, including two for losses, and one pass breakup. Justin Stull had 13 tackles, while Brandon Mueller had seven tackles and a two pass breakups.
Harvard got on the scoreboard immediately, driving 61 yards in 12 plays to set up a 35-yard field goal by Matt Schindel. The Crimson recorded first downs on its first three plays, but the Princeton defense settled down and held Harvard out of the end zone. Harvard had gotten within the Princeton 15-yard line, but Dawson was tackled for a seven-yard loss by Keasey and the Crimson was left to settle for the field goal.
After a pair of defensive stops, Harvard lined up to punt at midfield. Erik Grimm's snap went over the head of punter Mike King, and J.J. Artis sprinted to the ball and knocked it away from the scramble. After Abi Fadeyi tipped it, Artis was able to pick it and return it to the 35-yard line. The Tigers moved four yards in three plays, and faced either a fourth down attempt, a 48-yard field goal on a windy day or a short punt. Head coach Roger Hughes elected to go for it, as he did last week on 4th-and-1 at the Brown 2-yard line. While the distance was significantly different, the result was the same. A pump fake by Verbit drew the safety in and allowed Monte McNair to sneak behind the coverage and catch a 31-yard touchdown pass in the right corner of the end zone.
Things got better quickly for Princeton. The Crimson called a reverse to Brian Edwards, who was met by the sideline by linebacker Abi Fadeyi. The junior put his helmet on the ball, which flew out of Edwards' hands and hit the sidelines. Senior nose guard Peter Kelly pounced on the ball and gave Princeton possession at the 22-yard line. Two plays later, Verbit tossed to Branden Benson on an option to the right side, and Benson found an opening along the left sideline. The senior tailback went untouched into the end zone to open a 14-3 lead.
Dropped passes would stall the final drive of the quarter for both teams, and Harvard began the second quarter with the ball at its own 31-yard-line. Dawson gave Harvard a pair of first downs, but once again the Tiger defense would stiffen once the ball was moved into its own territory. A pair of incompletions and a short run by Dawson forced another good punt, which went out of bounds at the Tiger 12-yard-line. The Crimson defense did its job, keeping Princeton from moving anywhere and giving its offense a start at the Princeton 47-yard-line.
This time, the explosive Crimson offense would not be denied. Dawson and Edwards did the majority of the job getting Harvard to the 2-yard-line, and Dawson went straight up the middle for the score. Schindel's point-after attempt was no good; it was the Crimson's sixth conversion attempt of the last two Princeton games that failed.
Any momentum gained for the failed extra point was short-lived, as the Crimson defense sacked Verbit on third down and a botched snap on fourth down gave Harvard the ball on the Princeton 1-yard line. It took one play for Dawson to tie a Harvard record with his 13th touchdown of the season. His score gave the Crimson a 15-14 lead; Harvard's attempt for two points failed when Fitzpatrick was tackled at the 1-yard line.
Verbit brought the offense back on the field for a crucial drive. Fields caught a wide receiver screen for a 15-yard gain, and a 10-yard run by Benson gave Princeton 1st-and-10 at the Crimson 45-yard-line. The effort to retake the field position battle was lost three plays later when Verbit's 3rd-and-long pass was intercepted by Doug Hewlett, who was sitting in zone coverage and returned the ball 33 yards to the Princeton 41-yard-line. The Crimson moved the ball to the 10-yard-line, where Fitzpatrick hit Corey Mazza on a 10-yard slant for the score and a 22-14 halftime lead.
An interception by McCareins highlighted a solid defensive effort by Princeton in the third quarter, which controlled the field position battle throughout the quarter but could do nothing with it. Harvard played a smothering defense in the quarter, and twice stopped Princeton once it crossed into Harvard territory. The second stop came when Verbit fumbled a fourth down snap and downed the ball on his attempt to pick it up.
Fitzpatrick made Princeton pay for its failed fourth down. His three-yard bootleg completed a 57-yard, 13-play drive that opened a 29-14 lead over the Tigers with 11 minutes remaining in regulation. Princeton went 3-and-out on its next drive, and Russell Schober blocked McDonough's punt to give the Crimson possession at the Harvard 23-yard-line. Schindel converted on a 38-yard field goal to bring the lead to 32-14 with 9:42 remaining.
McCareins returned the ensuing kickoff just short of midfield, and following a sack on first down, a defensive pass interference call gave Princeton another first down in Harvard territory. The Tigers would get a first down from Veach, but Verbit's attempt at the end zone would be intercepted.
Twelve seconds later, any comeback hopes were dashed in a blur of Clifton Dawson. He finally broke a long run, cutting through the line and sprinting ahead of any would-be defender. It was the first run of at least 80 yards against Princeton since Jason Dummert recorded a run of the same distance in a 1984 game against Brown.
Princeton must now regroup and travel to Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, N.Y., to take on the Cornell Big Red. Princeton has won the last two games in the series, including a wild 32-25 overtime win in the snow two seasons ago. The Big Red is 1-2 in the league but has challenged both Harvard and Brown on the road and defeated Yale at home. The game will begin at noon and will be televised on the YES Network. It can be heard on WHWH 1350 AM and GoPrincetonTigers.com.
NOTES - This was Harvard's ninth straight win over Princeton, the longest streak for either team in a series that dates back to 1877 ... Benson has rushed for a touchdown in four straight games for Princeton ... the most yards rushing any back has had against Princeton in the Hughes era is 208, which was recorded by Michael Malan (Brown, 2001) ... Dawson has rushed for six touchdowns against Princeton over the last two seasons ... four of Verbit's five touchdown passes this season are to players who had never caught a touchdown pass in their career.