Football Notebook: Dante's an Inferno for Dartmouth Offense

Harvard's drubbing of Dartmouth leaves little to be desired, except perhaps a better opponent. However, Saturday's win did shed light on a few aspects of Crimson football.

Dante's Divine Defense

Freshman linebacker Dante Balestracci, already Harvard's surprise defensive story of the year, added another page to his growing clipbook. He's already the Crimson's leading tackler (59 tackles, 39 unassisted), and on Saturday Balestracci set a Harvard record.

With Dartmouth down 21-0 in the second quarter, Harvard looked to put some more points on the board, hoping to avoid a Cornell-like breakdown. The Big Green decided to use some trickery to foul up the Harvard defense that had stifled its offensive attacks so far.

Dartmouth lined up in a "diamond" formation: three receivers to the right (one ineligible), two to the left, and the quarterback in the shotgun with a tailback. On the Harvard side, confusion reigned as the defensive unit struggled to figure out what the Big Green was up to. The ball was snapped, and Dartmouth QB Brian Mann tossed a shovel pass in the direction of tailback Michael Gratch.

An ordinarily safe play turned deadly when Balestracci entered the picture. Having read the play the entire way, Balestracci tipped the ball, grabbed it out of the air and ran it 48 yards untouched into the end zone.

Two quarters later, Balestracci picked off another pass and turned it into a 53-yard touchdown return. In the hundred-some years of Harvard football, no one has ever returned two interceptions for touchdowns.

"In fact, those were the first interception returns for touchdowns I've ever had in my life," Balestracci said.

The Running Men

The outlook for the Harvard rushing attack is both clear and muddled. Theoretically, the Crimson offense is a big-play passing offense, feeding off the talent of QB Neil Rose and his plethora of wide receivers. But in practice, the running game has become an almost equally potent force.

In the beginning of the year, the Harvard tailbacks suffered so many injuries that the only players Head Coach Tim Murphy had available were sophomore fourth-stringer Nick Palazzo and a converted defenseman, Dan Miree. So of course Murphy tried to keep the ball in the air as much as possible.

However, Palazzo was so impressive, with his explosive speed and slick moves that the offense went to him more and more. He racked up some 100-yard games and Murphy was hooked.

Then sophomore Matt Leiszler became healthy again, and instead of reducing Palazzo's carries, the offense used both of them. Leiszler's ability to run hard up the middle complemented Palazzo's lightning-quick moves.

Saturday's game has only confused things more. Since Harvard built up a large lead, and former first-stringers Chuck Nwokocha and Brent Chalmers recovered from their respective injuries, everyone got a chance to play, and all played well.

Palazzo ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, including a 39-yard beauty that set up Harvard's first score. Leiszler also pounded his way for 78 yards, picking up a touchdown on 16 carries.

Chalmers fumbled the ball on his first touch, but made up for it by gaining 51 yards on his next seven carries. Nwokocha played often but in a different capacity. Murphy used him primarily as a split end, and Nwokocha's speed allowed him to get three receptions for 45 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

So who deserves to run? Without a doubt, Palazzo and Leiszler have earned their spots in the starting lineup.

Running Men, Part 2

This weekend was Dartmouth's homecoming. Not surprisingly, a few students decided to show off their Big Green spirit by disrupting the football game. Or maybe they were just bored and disgusted by their team's 35-0 halftime deficit.

The first incident occurred in the first half, during a kickoff. A Dartmouth student in a "Dartmouth '04" sweatshirt (though sources indicate he may have been an '01) weaved in and out of the Harvard kickoff team, then through the Dartmouth return team. As the crowd looked on, he sprinted past police and security before finally being taken down several minutes later.

Right before the third quarter was set to begin, a student in a "Scream" mask rushed onto the field, starved for attention. He ran around a while before an end zone cop approached him and motioned for him to leave. After stopping and listening to the police for a brief moment, the man sprinted off again, clearing a small fence before trying to scale a tree. He then promptly fell down and was descended upon by police.

Apparently rushing the field is a Dartmouth homecoming tradition. Of course, so is losing to Harvard. Here's to those two brave souls, who risked probation and suspension to make a larger point to the Dartmouth administration: next time you invite all your alumni to attend a football game, don't invite the team that has beat you by 42 points twice in a row.