Harvard Fritters Away Early Lead But Rallies to Defeat UMass, 20-14

Twenty thousand happy fans in the Stadium Saturday watched Harvard's football opener against Massachusetts follow a tried-and-true script: Harvard leads ball game, Harvard throws away ball game, Harvard comes back and wins ball-game. The score this time was 20-14.

It was a story that had been played out several times in the last few years in the Stadium, but never with such appalling literalness. Certainly there have been few moments in Harvard football history more embarrassing than the one that occurred in the fourth quarter with the score tied, 14-14.

Quarterback John McCluskey, with the ball on the UMass two-yard line, kept the ball himself and swept right end. He outsprinted the whiteshirted defenders, raced to the goal line, and flipped the ball away in jugilation.

One official's hands went up to signal the touchdown, but field judge Bernie Burke was calling it back. It wasn't a touchdown, he said: McCluskey had thrown the ball away before he crossed the goal line, and center Bernie Dallas had hopped on the ball for UMass. It was Massachusetts" ball on their own one-yard line.

It might have made the difference. It should have hurt the team, but Harvard reacted like a horse that had been spurred. Linebacker Jim Driscoll, a star all day long, buried Jerry Whelchel's quarterback sneak and then whacked down Ken Palm within six inches of the goal line. That induced Whelchel to call for a punt, and Terry Swanson booted it out of bounds at the Massachusetts 35.

Bilodeau Comes in

Harvard needed to make 35 yards, and had to do it with a new quarterback. McCluskey had pulled his right hamstring muscle on the play that should have been a touchdown. In came Tom Bilodeau, who hadn't played on offense at all during the game.

But he didn't look rusty. He let Dave Poe and Pat Conway pick up a first down on the UMass 25 and then turned to the play that had worked best for McCluskey: the option sweep, with the quarterback either carrying the ball around end himself or pitching back to a trailing halfback if the traffic is rough.

McCluskey had worked the play for a second-period score, keeping the ball and racing 82 yards for a touchdown. Now the UMass ends were "pinching" in, cutting off the quarter back's run but leaving themselves open on a pitchout to the halfback.

Bilodeau ran the play to the right, pitching to Wally Grant for a six-yard gain. He came back to the left and let Dave Poe carry for 12 yards to the Massachusetts seven.

Now a swing pass misfired, losing six yards, but Bilodeau had the play that would work. It started out looking like the option again, but Poe cut back over center, Bilodeau spun and gave him the ball, and the hole in the bamboozled UMass defense was big enough for a truck. Poe had clear sailing to the two-yard line and he carried two UMass defenders into the end zone with him for the score.

Even though Maury Dullea missed the kick, the 20-14 score held up. Whelchel's passes were desperate and, for the first time all day, his protection was breaking down. On the last play of the game Steve Diamond flattened the quarterback just as he threw and the high, wobbly pass bounced off end Bob Meers' hand into the arms of Jim Driscoll.

It was the only time in the half that Whelchel looked ineffective. In the third quarter he passed Harvard dizzy, bringing UMass back from a 14-0 deficit to a 14-14 tie.

Whelchel Keeps Passing

It had started late in the first half, with Whelchel completing eight of 12 passes and almost bringing Mass a score. Now in the third quarter he knew that the pass was his best weapon and he stayed with it, running only when his receivers were covered.

He completed two passes after the second-half kickoff, then faked a pass and whizzed to the Harvard four-yard line before Driscoll tripped him from behind and Jerry Mechling flattened him.

It took four plays, but he finally scored from there, getting the last yard on a quarterback sneak, as the referee waited fully half a minute after the play was over before deciding it was a touchdown. It was 14-6, Harvard.

Now UMass dug in and stopped the Crimson attack and Whelchel had the ball again. He threw to Walt Morin, the 240-pound end who was carrying defenders three yards after they caught him, then to fullback Mike Ross, then to Meers on a fourth-down play that put the ball on Harvard's nine-yard line. One play later Whelchel took it in himself, rolling out of the hands of a defensive lineman and into the end zone.

Whelchel played an outstanding game, a cool young man who passed for 124 yards, ran for 68, and handled the ball flawlessly although UMass plays call for some tricky reverse handoffs. He called plays almost perfectly, twice popping screen passes over the heads of Harvard linemen who had called a blitz. If Harvard meets a better quarterback, they may need to call in the Military Science Department to stop him.

But on the Crimson side, McCluskey was looking just as good. He led the team shrewdly on a 67-yard first-quarter march, the kind that so often seems to wind up with a Harvard fumble.

Thunder on the Right

It didn't this time--in fact Mac didn't make a ball-handling bobble all day. On the long drive he let Poe and Conway do most of the work, with Grant a decoy. Neil Curtin and John Hoffman were tearing giant holes in the right side of the UMass line and another constant soft spot turned up over right guard.

Conway popped through this one for a six-yard gain that took the ball to the one and then rode Chuck Reischel's back for the first touchdown scored against UMass in ten games.

Three and a half minutes later it was 14-0. McCluskey took the ball on his own 18 and ran the option to the left. Viclous downfield blocking by the line helped clear the way and he slid down the sideline, never more than a yard away from being out of bounds. Safetyman Dave Kelley had a good shot at him at the 20, but McCluskey turned on the speed and Kelley's diving tackle missed. Dullea's second conversion gave Harvard a 14-point lead.

Whelchel hadn't taken to the air in the entire first quarter. Suddenly he discovered his own right arm and started picking the pass defense apart with the kind of short, hook-and-slant passes that a 5-4 defense is supposed to be vulnerable to. Only a fumble by Phil DeRose at the nine-yard line stopped what seemed like a sure UMass touchdown as the second quarter ended.

But Whelchel's play, fine as it was, should not overshadow the unusually good first game Harvard played. McCluskey winding up with 109 yards, Poe with 71, Grant 55 and Conway 35. Yovicsin has found a wonderful fullback in Conway, a big, fast guy whose vicious blocks cleared the way for the end sweeps.

Running Slows

If the running game slowed a bit in the third quarter and if the line never mounted a big rush on Whelchel, it was partly because Curtin went out with a leg strain just after Harvard's second touchdown, and Diamond, his replacement, was playing on two bad ankles.

But the line looked excellent against UMass' touted defense and the depth Yovicsin worried about may not be a problem. Two supposed second-stringers, Driscoll and Gene Skowronski, were the stars of the show on defense, smothering the UMass running game from their inside line backing positions. Skowronski was credited with eight tackles and Driscoll with 10, plus Harvard's only pass interception of the day.

The pass defense may need work, but it will not often be up against a quarterback as good as Whelchel was Saturday, or ends as good as Morin and Meers. Poe, Bilodeau, and John Dockery are experienced safetymen and it will be a rare passer who will gain 150 yards against them again. Dockery also filled in well at halfback on offense.

Will Harvard pass more? "We're always going to pass more," said John Yovicsin with a smile after the game.

"No one has ever run against us like that without passing," said UMass coach Vic Fusia, looking at the statistics that said Harvard had gained 281 yards on the ground. "Passing! That play when McCluskey runs around end like that, that's the best pass there is.