Athlete Of The Week: Dante Balestracci '04
After a stalled offensive drive gave the Crimson fourth-and-5 at midfield, Harvard Coach Tim Murphy sent a special weapon out amid his punt unit — sophomore linebacker Dante Balestracci.
Positioned between the line and sophomore punter Adam Kingston, Balestracci took the direct snap and rushed around the right end for six yards (and the much needed first down) before lateraling to Kingston. Kingston scurried all the way to Yale’s eight yard line, setting up an eventual three-yard Neil Rose touchdown run for the winning score.
“Balestracci on the option isn’t exactly what we expected,” said Yale Coach Jack Siedlecki.
History shows that excellence should be expected of Balestracci on either side of the ball.
The 6-2, 225 pound Balestracci racked up 1,365 yards passing and 610 yards on the ground his senior season as New Bedford’s multi-threat quarterback, while also leading the Whalers in tackles (132) as the squad’s safety.
Balestracci’s collegiate career brought a new position, but similar success.
The Bedford, Mass. native registered eight tackles on Saturday to lead the Harvard defense in tackles for the fifth time this year. Balestracci, despite sitting out early season games against Lafayette and Northeastern with an ankle injury, also finished first on the team in tackles for the season (58) for the second straight year.
On Saturday, though, the defensive star put the “special” in “special teams.” Balestracci not only converted the fake punt, but blocked a second-quarter Justin Davis field goal attempt.
With Harvard leading 15-7 late in the second quarter, a pass from Rose was picked off by Yale free safety Barton Simmons. After a key defensive stop on third down, Eli senior place kicker Justin Davis trotted onto the field to attempt a 42-yard field goal that would bring the Bulldogs within one score.
The Crimson needed a big play, and Balestracci, as usual, obliged. The former honorable mention All-American basketball player exploded through the Yale line and leaped with outstretched arms to block Davis’ kick and keep the Crimson in control of the ball game.
It was Balestracci’s second blocked kick of the season, and one of many big plays that made Murphy confident enough to call for the fake punt the next quarter.
With the game on the line, Murphy wanted the ball in Balestracci’s hands— literally.
“The key [to the fake punt] was Balestracci,” Murphy said. “The ball is safe in his hands. The truth is he doesn’t belong in this league. We are blessed to have him.”