It was supposed to be a close game, Really.
A year ago just two disputed points separated Penn and Harvard. Before Saturday, Harvard trailed by a game in the Ivy standings; on paper, there was little reason to rank one team above the other.
Even when Harvard rolled to a 20-0 lead in the third quarter, the assistant coaches watching from atop the Stadium said pointedly over the headphones. "Remind those guys it's the same way it was last year when they were up."
The Penn comeback, the down-to-the-wire struggle, never materialized. Dominating the Quakers more thoroughly than it had any other opponents this year. Harvard gained all the revenge for last year's lots it could ask for with a 28-0 humiliation of its visitors. The victory moved the Crimson into a three-way tie for first place with Penn and Dartmouth.
"They beat us like I didn't think we were capable of being beaten," a shocked Penn Coach Jerry Berndt said after watching a shutout of his team for the first time since last November.
What Berndt may not have realized was that the Crimson needed more than just a win to make up for the nagging memory of last year's 23-21 loss in Philadelphia. Said fullback Steve Ernst. "We felt we had to show them we really were the better team." "We just wanted to put it to them," said defensive back Jeff Howkins.
It wasn't always Harvard's putting it to them that put Penn away. Sometimes the Quakers helped by their own ineptitude. Dave Shulman, author of the decisive field goal last year, blew the Quakers' best chance to get on the scoreboard late in the first quarter. A 28-yard kick, a yard longer than the last one he booted against the Crimson, would mean a 3-0 lead, but he drilled it underneath the crossbar--his ninth miss in 11 field goal tries this season.
The Crimson defense took a more active role the next time its shutout was endangered, with six minutes left in the game and Penn four touchdowns behind. Backup Quaker quarterback Jim Crocicchia dropped back from the Harvard 12 and fired to Jim O'Toole on the goal line. The wide receiver held it for a split second before Harvard safety Mike Dixon slammed into him, jarring the ball loose and saving six points.
In between those two opportunities, the Crimson embarrassed the Penn offense. Normally a strong passing team, Penn gained 39 yards through the air. "Our game plan was structured around their passing, especially the long pass," Howkins said. "Maybe the blitzes took them out of it."
The Quaker offensive line collapsed after halftime, providing neither Crocicchia nor starter John McGeehan with much protection from the ever-stronger Crimson pass rush. Defensive end Mark Mead and linebacker Andy Nolan teamed up for a 10-yard sack early in the third period, and Mead stuck McGeehan with a 13-yard loss later, leaving Penn on its own three-yard link on fourth down. On the ensuing play, John Dailey blocked the Quaker punt out the back of the end zone for a safety.
Penn punter Sam Coroniti's woes highlighted perhaps the most unexpected strong Crimson performance, that of sophomore Rob Steinberg, who took over the punting and placekicking in the wake of Jim Villanueva's thigh injury last week. While his one shot at a field goal was blocked because of a poor snap and a strong cross-wind blew two extra-point kicks wide, his punting was another story.
Steinberg only had to punt four times, but he averaged 46.8 yards a kick (the NCAA leader last week was at 46.7), twice leaving Penn the ball at its two-yard line.
The Quakers' awful field position was one reason they penetrated the Crimson 40 just twice all afternoon. And the miserable performance of Penn's special teams helped lead to three of Harvard's four touchdowns.
After Shulman's missed field goal, the Crimson marched as far as the Penn 31 before punting. But one Quaker thought Steinberg was trying a field goal, not a punt, and stayed on the field; Penn lost the ball and 15 yards for too many men. Four plays and 16 yards later, halfback Mark Vignali carried a pitch from quarterback Greg Gizzi across the goal line.
Harvard's second score was more straightforward, coming after Joe Azelby recovered a fumble on the Quaker 32. A pass interference call on safety Ross Armstrong, covering Crimson tight end Peter Ceko, moved the ball inside the one to set up Gizzi's quarterback sneak for six points.
But the Quaker special team slid into gift-giving mode again right after halftime, when the Crimson's Tim McGugan returned the kickoff to the Harvard 42. Vignali did the early work, getting the Crimson across midfield, and McGugan finished off the drive, covering the last 15 yards in two plays to make it 20-0.
The blocked punt and safety led to the final touchdown. A shaken Coroniti had to kick away from the Penn 20. His first punt went out of bounds; his second, from the 15, traveled only to the Quaker 48. With only one big gainer, a 17-yard pass to wingback Jim Fadule, Harvard pushed down to the four before Gizzi rolled off left tackle to make it 28-0.
THE NOTEBOOK: Harvard outgained Penn in the air, 117-39, and on the ground, 283-123....Ernst' again led Harvard rushers with 115 yards, 4.8 per carry. Vignali had 62....Gizzi completed nine of 14 passes. He has thrown no interceptions in the three games he's started....Villanueva says he'll be back for The Game.