There were five good reasons why the Harvard football team had no business challenging, let alone beating, Army Saturday at the Stadium. Five Crimson jerseys stayed unusually clean; five familiar names didn't make a tackle or break up a pass.
Because when the Crimson defense took the field, nearly half its starters were watching from the sidelines, casualties of past conflicts. So it was up to the now-active reserves and the healthy offense to carry the load.
"We were more or less overmatched," offensive tackle Roger Caron explained after the game. "The deal was to keep us [the offense] on the field as much as possible."
So Harvard owned the ball. The Crimson attackers stayed on the field 12 minutes longer than their defensive teammates. Sixty percent of the time the offense was on the march.
The key to it all was halfback Mark Vignali, who carried 39 times for a new school record (Jim Callinan set the old mark with 34 rushes against Princeton two years ago). Vignali gained 172 yards, the 10th-best rushing performance in Harvard history. He ran on more than half of Harvard's plays from scrimmage.
"We didn't outsmart them, we just ran right at 'em," Vignali said. "I definitely don't mind carrying the ball that many times."
"He'll sleep pretty well tonight," Crimson Coach Joe Restic said.
But without some big defensive plays, Saturday could have become a nightmare for the Crimson. After Harvard jumped out to a 14-0 lead, Army worked its way back into the ballgame. A touchdown midway through the second quarter and two quick scores early in the third brought the Cadets a 21-14 lead and a monopoly on momentum.
At the start of the fourth quarter Army was on the march again, having driven from its nine-yard line to the Harvard 27. But on second and nine, free safety Michael Dixon made the play of the game when he stepped in front of a sideline pass and raced 75 yards for the tying touchdown.
"They ran the same pattern a lot," Dixon recalled later. "I played about 12 yards back to make it look like a zone. It was a real easy catch. Nothing to do but run after that."
Dixon didn't do it alone, though. Army quarterback Bill Turner--playing because a Dixon tackle injured signal-caller Rob Healy earlier in the drive--threw the ball under heavy pressure. The Crimson pressured two of the three Army quarterbacks with great success throughout the game.
Frequent blitzes helped keep that pressure up despite the absence of middle guard Bruno Perdoni and tackle Barry Ford. Adjuster Jeff Howkins adjusted Turner's shoulder pads with blind side hits.
"They weren't expecting me," Howkins said. "The quarterback was going on a quick count. He's not looking at me."
With two minutes remaining, the score tied and Army on its 47-yard line. Howkins sacked Turner for a 10-yard loss. On the next play he did it one better, hitting Turner so hard that the Army quarterback wobbled his pass over the middle, but not quite over linebacker Kevin Garvin.
Garvin one-handed the ball, and with 1:37 remaining, the defense had locked things up. The Howkins-Garvin connection had worked 12 minutes before, when Garvin knocked the ball loose from Turner and Howkins recovered the fumble.
Garvin and Craig Uecker did a more-than-adequate job filling in for the best linebacker pair in the Ivies, Joe Azelby and Andy Nolan.
"With Andy and Joe hurt we wanted to go out there and show that the team wasn't losing anything," Garvin said. "We [the defense] showed a lot of poise hanging on there, not getting our heads down."
Their poise was tested when Army used a no-huddle offense in the second and third quarters. The Crimson defense got caught off guard a couple of times, but it quickly adjusted.
"It didn't really bother us that much," defensive end Mark Mead said. "After the first couple of plays we were able to settle down."
But despite Harvard's success Saturday, Restic eagerly awaits the return of starters Brian Bergstrom, Azelby, Nolan, Ford and Peroni. Said Restic, "Those are people we can't afford to lose."