Coming into Saturday's Ivy League match-up at Princeton, the Harvard men's soccer team was in its third must-win situation in as many games. And the Crimson hadn't won in the those previous must-win situations.
"We had our backs against the wall," Harvard Coach Mike Getman said.
Harvard broke through the barrier--literally--with a 2-1 triumph over the Tigers, who were previously undefeated in Ivy League action. Junior midfielder Paul Baverstock circumvented a Tiger wall on a free kick late in the second half, passing the ball to senior Ramy Rajballie on the side to set up the game-winning goal.
The win gave life to Harvard's main aspiration--repeating as Ivy League champions.
"We were talking about the problems we were having and working on them," Getman said. "But if you keep losing, it's really hard to stay positive. We've worked so hard. Winning the Ivy League is very important to the team."
In the Ivies: Despite Saturday's loss, Princeton still leads the Ivy League with a 4-1 record. Harvard (6-3-2 overall, 3-1 Ivies) and Dartmouth (also 3-1 Ivies) both trail the Tigers by a win, with Yale (1-1-2) falling one game further back after a 0-0 draw against Penn over the weekend.
"[Saturday's loss] makes the next two weeks a lot harder in the Ivies," Princeton Coach Bob Bradley said. "Nothing is decided yet."
Harvard, Dartmouth and Princeton all face Yale in the upcoming weeks, in a trio of games that should prove crucial in the Ivy race.
Playing the Field: Harvard has played a three-forward, three-midfielder combination since early last season, when Getman didn't want to bench any of his three top forwards (then-sophomores Derek Mills, Dave Kramer and Nick D'Onofrio). Last Saturday Getman switched back to the traditional two-forward, four-midfielder set-up, allowing Rajballie to move back into the midfield, his home until about three weeks ago.
Rajballie responded to the switch in the same fashion as he did to the original move--he scored.
Tough on the Tigers: While Ivy foes Dartmouth and Cornell didn't see the best Harvard has to offer, unlucky Princeton did--for the second straight year.
Last season, the Tigers led 3-0 with less than 18 minutes to play before being shocked by three quick Crimson goals. Princeton pulled ahead, 4-3, with a late-game tally and then waited for the clock to wind down. But time didn't run out fast enough.
Rookie goalie Tom McCabe made a questionable foul with only eight seconds remaining to set up a successful Crimson penalty kick. The game went into overtime, and Princeton saw what looked like a sure win turn into the first of a series of losses when D'Onofrio netted the game-winner to give Harvard a 5-4 triumph.
The Tigers, which came into the 1987 contest with a 3-4-1 record, didn't win another game all year.
Fast Facts: Harvard is still waiting for a player to reach double digits in scoring. In fact, the Crimson has tallied only 14 goals so far this season--less than half its total at this point last year.
Baverstock (three goals and three assists for nine points) has held the top spot for a month now, but with goals in three of Harvard's last five games Rajballie (3-2--8) is moving up fast. D'Onofrio is the highest-scoring forward with three goals and one assist (seven points).
In goal, senior Stephen Hall has compiled a 1.01 goals-against-average and a 0.80 save percentage. Hall, last year's first-team All-Ivy goalie also has four shutouts.