"In all honesty, we're two years away from having seniors backed up by juniors."
The refrain has become familiar. Week after week, gut-wrenching loss after gut-wrenching loss, Harvard football coach Tim Murphy blames the twin scapegoats of Youth and Inexperience for his program's lack of success this season.
While Murphy is correct--the team is relatively young--I cannot accept this answer because it robs the Crimson of its integrity.
Although the Crimson suffered its worst defeat of the season, an ugly 23-7 loss to the Big Green, I left Harvard Stadium feeling more fulfilled than at any other point this season.
You may wonder how anyone can find some satisfaction from a game in which Harvard went the entire first half without a completion, in which Harvard turned the ball over four times. I found solace in the integrity, honesty and candor of the Harvard players, particularly senior linebacker Justin Frantz and senior quarterback Vin Ferrara.
Rather than offering Murphy's tired excuses, Frantz and Ferrara each take responsibility for the teams shortcomings, while offering Crimson fans the hope that the team will persevere.
"We go out there each week, and we're working harder every week to try to improve on our mistakes, but it seems like a new mistake pops up every week," Ferrara said. "We're really close to being there but we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. I know it's a cliche but it's true."
Indeed, two Harvard fumbles led to a 14-point swing against Dartmouth. Andy Laurence's fumble on the goal-line stopped a last-gasp drive in the closing minutes, while a Kweli Thompson fumble in the Crimson end zone gave the Big Green a touchdown early in the game.
Despite the offense's recent struggles with turnovers, injuries and youth, Ferrara was unwilling to blame any of these maladies for his disappointing performance Saturday. Rather, he praised the offensive line for creating a protective, amnionic atmosphere from which to operate.
"I thought I had a lot of time today. I talked to the guys before the game and told them to just give me enough time to set my feet. And I think they did that," Ferrara said.
Harvard's lone score, a 10-yard keeper by Ferrara, resulted from a superb block from junior right tackle Sean Riley, who completely sealed off the Dartmouth defensive end.
Although the offense has only managed 10 points in the past two weeks, captain Justin Frantz is intent on keeping the team together by accentuating the positive.
"I'm not disappointed with how the offense played. They gave a great effort," Frantz said. "I just say, 'Keep your heads up. Keep going. Limit the turnovers next time.'"
In a role reversal tantamount to that of Rupaul, the Crimson defense has replaced the offense as the more reliable unit. The Harvard "D" has allowed an average of 15 points per game over the past two games--a dramatic improvement from the 23 points it averaged over the first five games of the season.
"For the last two weeks, but especially this week, we're having a lot more fun on defense. We were letting loose," Frantz said. "We weren't making mistakes, or at least not real costly ones."
According to Ferrara and Frantz, the Harvard football team has not given up on its lofty goals for the season. The players clearly believe that they can win their final three games. And if they fail, they are willing to confront that failure head-on.
So coach Murphy, do not lower your expectations and certainly do not rob your players of their dignity.