The first three minutes of the game told the whole story.
In fact, within a minute and a half, the Columbia offense had pretty much summarized the afternoon for the Soldier's Field crowd of 8500.
After winning the toss and electing to receive, the Lions opened with two running plays from their own 27 that amounted to a four-yard gain. And then on third and 6, Columbia quarterback John Witkowski completed a five-yard pass to flanker Bill Reggio that left the Lions just one yard short of the first down.
From that point on, the Harvard defense completely stalled the Lions' running game, and though Witkowski put on an impressive serial show, Columbia couldn't quite prevent the Crimson's 27-16 opening-day win.
The Harvard offense, on the other hand, was in good shape even before Coach Joe Restic pulled his defensive unit from the field.
Crimson middle guard Scott Murrer blocked Lion Mike Scawna's first punt of the 1982 season, and defensive end Pat Fleming recovered for Harvard at the Columbia 16.
A minute and two short rushing gains later, Crimson quarterback Ron Cuccia handed off to halfback Scott McCabe, who went 12 yards for the touchdown. Jim Villanueva hit the PAT, and Harvard had a 7-0 lead with only 3:01 gone on the clock.
McCabe continued to pick up short yardage effectively for the Crimson throughout the first quarter, but the Harvard running game didn't reach high gear until junior Tim McGugan began carrying the ball early in the second quarter.
McGugan only mustered a two-yard gain on his initial run, but 10 more carries--including a 37-yarder from first down on the Harvard nine--brought his total for the afternoon to 99 yards and 2 TDs.
The McCabe--83 yards on 20 carries, one TD--and McGugan tandem looked especially sharp in contrast to the inept Columbia backs. Although tailback Tom Norton rushed for a respectable 70 yards on 19 carries, his hapless mates combined for -9 yards to bring the Lions' total to 61 overall.
At one point in the final quarter, Columbia, trailing 20-7, drove to fourth and goal at the Harvard three-yard line. Coach Bob Naso demonstrated his understandably limited faith in his running backs by promptly bringing in placekicker Miro Lovric.
Lovric lofted the ball through the uprights for an easy 20-yard field goal, and as Naso said later, "At that point, we needed two scores and it seemed more realistic than driving for the endzone...Maybe at four and I. We just weren't going to go for it. Maybe at four and one, but not four and three...Other than a few people, I'm not sure we averaged three yards per run."
Actually Norton averaged 3.7 yards. However, Columbia gained only nine yards on 13 carries after halftime, at which point Naso wisely had Witkowski passing on 12 of his team's 15 first downs. Witkowski completed six of 12 passes for only 65 yards before the half but made a mockery of the Harvard secondary during the final 30 minutes, putting the ball up 37 times for 18 completions, 259 yards, and a TD. The junior QB's 49 total pass attempts broke a Harvard Stadium record.
Witkowski ended the Crimson shutout five minutes into the third quarter after guiding his team 92 yards in only six plays, and the revamped Columbia offense outscored Harvard, 16-14, in the second half.
"We shut the running game off, and that pleased me. The pass defense was another story, however," Restic said after the game. "We had trouble getting the rush on him [Witkowski]. A lot of times, he had open receivers, and we couldn't stop him."
Before Witkowski went on his rampage, Harvard quarterback Ron Cuccia had an edge in both the stats and crowd appeal departments. Cuccia tossed 12 passes for eight completions and 106 yards but had to leave the game in the second quarter after he suffered a hip pointer. He was hit while dropping back to pass. The hit forced the Crimson QB to fumble but he recovered the ball and ran up the middle for seven yards.
Cuccia then departed in favor of backup QB Don Allard, who led the Crimson offense until John Riordan spelled him late in the fourth quarter.
"I was ready to play, definitely ready to play," said Allard, who completed five of nine passes for 72 yards and two TDs. "I had to do it [come into the game in the middle] a lot last year, and I expect to do it this year."
Harvard's 190 yards in the air equals nearly a third of the 626 that Crimson QBs totaled all of last season against Ivy opponents, but Restic still expressed concern about his squad's passing game, saying "We have to be able to throw the ball to win this year."
Cuccia's injury isn't expected to keep him out of next week's game with UMass. But after Allard's performance Saturday, it isn't certain who will start, and Restic refused to say whether Allard had won the job.