This Time, Gridder Defense Was Ready

Simon Says

PROVIDENCE, R.I.--They had all been there before.

Harvard football Captain Kevin Dulsky had been there, and so had linebacker Kris Thabit.

Free safety Bryan Gescuk had been there, and so had cornerback Frank Capno.

They had all been there before.

Been there for the devastating loss at Cornell in the final minute of a game three weeks ago. Been there to suffer--really suffer--their first and only defeat of the 1987 season.

And been there to learn.

There is no substitute for having been there before.

When Brown took over the football with just over a minute remaining in Saturday's Crimson-Bruins contest here Saturday, trailing 14-9, Harvard put that experience to work.

Strong pressure on the quarterback and tight man-to-man coverage on the receivers combined to stop the Bruins on four downs--and lift the Crimson into sole possession of first place in the Ivy League.

The Harvard defense--ranked second in the Ivies going into Saturday's contest--had made a similar stand in the waning moments of its game with Princeton a week earlier.

They had all been there before.

"It helps just being there before," said Dulsky, who registered five tackles and two key sacks. "We just told ourselves that [what happened at Cornell] is never going to happen again. We can handle it a lot better now, having gone through it."

Certainly, there is nothing uncommon aboutleading a football game by less than a touchdownwith under a minute to play and the opponentdriving downfield.

Except when you've never been there before.

"We have a lot more confidence in ourselvesnow," said Thabit, who had three tackles againstthe Bruins. "We're not as nervous as we were [atCornell]. Against Princeton, we were a littlescared--we thought maybe a little deja vu. AgainstBrown, we had no doubt."

Caprio, who recorded a teamleading eighttackles from his backfield position, agreed thatthe defense has gained confidence in recent weeks.He added that the loss to Cornell had a definitebright side.

"Things happened for the best," Caprio said."It was something to build on. When we look back,we consider it as something that made us work evenharder."

The Crimson was introduced to tight finishes inits 27-24 win over Northeastern in the season'ssecond week. But the squad's real initiation cameon Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca October 10.

With 41 seconds remaining and Harvard ahead17-15, Cornell quarterback Mike Dase hooked upwith split end Shaun Hawkins on a 46-yd. TDcompletion to give the Big Red the victory.

"We never considered that anything like thatwould happen to us," said Gescuk, who had threetackles of his own Saturday. "It really shook usup and made us say that would never happen again."

Harvard Defensive Coordinator George Clemensmaintains that his defense did exactly what it wassupposed to do that afternoon in Ithaca.

"We couldn't have been in any better positionthan we were in [at Cornell]," Clemens said. "Theywere looking for the tight end on that play--hejust threw a Hail Mary up. That's not the playthey wanted to go to."

"We chased their quarterback out of the pocketand had the short men covered," Clemens continued"They were just looking to kick a field goal in thatsituation."

Zeroing In

The Harvard defense has done more than gainexperience over the past month. It has matured asa unit.

The front seven has been devastating againstthe run all season long, and the backfield hasshown signs of snapping out of its early-seasonslump. As a result, the Crimson is now zeroing inon its first Ivy title since 1983.

"As the season goes along, you hope there is acertain maturity," Clemens said. "We play in theIvy League. There is no spring practice, so wehave to mature from week to week. If we don't dothat we're in trouble."

Last year, when Harvard went 3-7 and finishedin fifth place in the Ivies, the Crimson playedonly one game decided by less than atouchdown--and lost to Cornell, 3-0.

This year, when Harvard has rocketed to a 6-1mark (the squad's best start since 1974), theCrimson has already played three such games--andwon all three.

There is no substitute for having been therebefore