Led by Eric Schultz and his 12 tackles, the Crimson defense surrendered 22 points against the Quakers. More importantly, Harvard gave up over 100 yards rushing and did not sack Penn’s Robert Irvin once.
The best defensive line in I-AA football had its most difficult outing of the season in Penn’s 22-13 victory over Harvard on Saturday. The Crimson entered the game ranked first in the nation in both rush defense and sacks, but failed to register a sack for the first time all year while also giving up 98 yards on the ground, nearly 40 above the team’s average.
“I think the biggest difference is that it was the best pass-blocking front we’ve seen,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “They don’t take tackles for losses...getting to the quarterback was very difficult, and he does a great job of throwing it away.”
Though Quaker quarterback Robert Irvin did throw the ball away often—he completed less than 50 percent of his pass attempts and also threw a pick—the ground game also frustrated the usually stout Crimson defense.
That was especially true in the early going, when Penn managed 68 yards on the ground and earned two touchdowns thanks to the feet of Quaker tailback Joe Sandberg. The next three quarters, however, saw Penn gain just 30 more rushing yards, giving the team 98 for the game. It was the eighth time this year that Harvard has held an opponent under the arbitrarily sacred 100-yard mark.
“I think our defense played heroically in the second half,” Murphy said. “I think we did a great job adjusting, probably after the first quarter or so.”
IN TOO DEEP
Harvard’s offensive stagnancy may have been due in part to four turnovers and an untimely, untouched safety, but part of the reason the Crimson had so much trouble moving the ball was the leg of Quaker punter Anthony Melillo. His per-punt average of 36.8 yards won’t turn any heads, but it was his precision at the game’s key moments that killed many of Harvard’s best chances at climbing out of its second-half hole.
“Even though his average doesn’t reflect it, this may be the best punting game we’ve had in terms of placement of the ball,” Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. “We actually spent a lot of time on kicking the ball down deep.”
And it showed, as Melillo’s punt with 11:38 to play in the fourth quarter made the Crimson start its first drive of the final frame inside the team’s own one-yard line.
The three-and-out that followed was only mildly unsuccessful in comparison to Harvard’s next drive, which began at the Quaker 3-yard line.
The Crimson’s first snap saw junior quarterback Liam O’Hagan slip on his dropback and fall into the end zone, earning Penn an easy two points and making the contest a two-possession game.
Harvard’s third and final drive of the quarter also started in the shadow of the Crimson’s own end zone, causing Murphy to cite the field position as a key to the game’s outcome.
“It was frustrating,” Murphy said. “It’s a position we haven’t been in much. You don’t necessarily have the luxury of running your natural offense.”
Though the player senior tailback Clifton Dawson passed for the rushing title, former Cornell great Ed Marinaro, hasn’t played a down for the Big Red in 35 years, he’s made many a headline in recent weeks.
As the anticipation of Dawson’s triumph neared, comparisons between the two running backs began to sound like, well, a broken record.
Marinaro needed 918 career carries to amass the 4,715 yards that stood as the league standard until Saturday, while Dawson set the new mark on the 920th carry of his career. Amid the widespread questioning of the legitimacy of Dawson’s four-year pursuit of the record in contrast with Marinaro, who played only three years, the symmetry of the two players’ careers helps quell any ideas of an asterisk next to Dawson’s newly written name in the Ivy League’s record book.
“I obviously know all about his career, the success he had in this league and afterwards,” Dawson said. “It’s a great honor to be in the record books beside him.”
Dawson averaged 7.4 yards per carry in his record-breaking performance, but also failed to score a touchdown for the first time all season. Entering the Penn game, he had scored three touchdowns in six games, two in one, and one just once…Senior wide receiver Corey Mazza was also kept out of the end zone for the first time in quite a while. Before Saturday, Mazza had caught a touchdown in seven straight games and eight of the last nine…Harvard’s 13 points were a season low, but the offensive output by the Quakers wasn’t terribly immense either. The Crimson’s low total of the year before Penn was 24, more than either team scored in Saturday’s defensive struggle…Offensive tackle Nick Sobic fractured his fibula in the third quarter and did not return. The injury will require surgery, keeping Sobic out of The Game this weekend and ending the senior’s career prematurely.
—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at email@example.com.