WHEN JOE RESTIC arrived in Cambridge last fall, fresh from the wide-open Canadian pros with a fat playbook full of tricks under his arm, many Harvard fans, thoroughly bored by a decade of John Yovicsin's dive, sweep, incompletion offense, breathed a sigh of relief. But their relief soon became boredom again in the opening game, as Restic's man-in-motion, multiple set offense produced a paltry ten points against a Holy Cross team that had not won a game in almost three years (a performance that looked even more pathetic three weeks later when Syracuse stepped on that same Crusader defense for 66 points). And when it became apparent that Harvard's defensive secondary and its two veteran quarterbacks were more baffled by the Restic system than any of the teams they were trying to fool, some fans even became nostalgic about the Yovicsin era--after all, his uncomplicated defenses were often very stingy, and his offense once scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to tie an undefeated Yale team.
Restic certainly did not deserve all the blame for the opening game fiasco, however. Implementing a new system is difficult, and making the transition from the Yovicsin system to the Restic system is a little like launching into Paradise Lost after priming on Classic Comics. Restic's problems were further aggravated by slow-witted quarterbacks, slow-footed defensive backs and receivers who clutched inside the twenty yard line.
Despite his handicaps and his problems, Restic had the last word for the skeptics in the final game of the season. His team unloaded 28 points on the Elis in the first half alone, as Restic became the first Harvard coach to enjoy both a winning season and a victory over Yale in his rookie year.
Few observers were hoping for such a happy finale after watching the Crimson's opening effort against Holy Cross. The Crusaders sailed right through the middle of the Harvard defense for 200 yards in the first half, and the Crimson offense went virtually nowhere. Rod Foster replaced injured Eric Crone in the second half and marched the Crimson up and down the field, but a crucial dropped pass and a last-second interception doomed Harvard to the short end of a 21-16 score.
FOSTER LOST his touch in the second game, throwing three interceptions and no completions in the first half, so he reverted to an offense that began to look ominously like Yovicsin's. The Crimson muddled to a boring 17-7 victory, however, defeating a Northeastern powerhouse that had dropped its opener to Bridgeport, 10-7.
Foster was equally hopeless a week later against Columbia, coughing up three more interceptions and netting a total of 33 yards through the air. The running game was hot, though, as the recovery of injured fullback Steve Hall allowed Teddy DeMars to return to his old halfback position, where he ripped off 132 yards in 12 carries. Sticking entirely to the ground, Harvard marched 70 yards in nine plays right after the opening kickoff and scored twice more on long runs to nip the Lions, 21-19. The defensive line continued to recover from its first game porousness, stomping Columbia's All-Ivy quarterback, Don Jackson.
The running game was in high gear again the next Saturday in Ithaca, but the Crimson was faced with a rather formidable running game in the person of Ed Marinaro. The defense held Marinaro to 17 yards in six carries in the first quarter, but then Cornell discovered Harvard's weak link--the defensive secondary--opened up the Harvard defense with a few completions, and went back to Marinaro to take a 21-10 lead. A late game rally ended abruptly when Foster underthrew two wide-open receivers in the Cornell endzone, and once again an interception left the Crimson defeated by a 21-16 margin.
A week later, Restic finally found a quarterback in sophomore Jimmy Stoekel. While Dartmouth's eight man line bottled up the Crimson running game, Stoekel set a Harvard record for completions, connecting on 20 of 37 passes for 230 yards. On Harvard's first touchdown drive, Stoekel either passed or ran himself on every play. Stoekel received some help from the goat of the Holy Cross game, Denis Sullivan, who attoned for his dropped passes in the opener by setting up one touchdown and scoring the second on a spectacular catch. Sullivan dropped a bomb on the Dartmouth five yard line in the final seconds, however, and the Big Green Indians broke a 13-13 tie with a 46 yard field goal on the last play of the game. Dartmouth's kicker, Jim Perry, who was to repeat his last-second heroics a week later against Yale, told The Record American after the game, "I did it for Dad."
STOEKEL PLAYED WELL again against Penn, directing a balanced offense that scored four touchdowns, but Harvard's pass defense was awesomely bad. The Quaker's second string quarterback, Gary Shue, picked apart the secondary for 392 yards and four TD's, and one end alone, Doug Clune, left his coverage groveling in the astro-turf eight times for 284 yards. The Crimson pulled the game out though, 28-27, when a Penn halfback dropped a two point conversion pass in Harvard's endzone with less than two minutes remaining.
The Princeton game was a comedy of errors, as each team turned the ball over six times and generally did its best to give the game away. Harvard succeeded, blowing a 10-0 lead to lose, 21-10. Stoekel did not pass well, and he did not receive much support from his blockers, who left him unprotected seven times for minus 55 yards. After the seventh time, Stoekel limped off the field to the hospital, lost for the rest of the season. The game was distinguished by the return of Eric Crone, who threw two interceptions and two incompletions in four desperation attempts in the last minutes.
The Crimson almost achieved the ultimate distinction of a beaten football team by losing to Brown a week later, but the 0-7 Bruins couldn't quite hold on to a rally, and dropped their eighth in a row, 24-19. One of the lesser quarterbacks in a league full of mediocre quarterbacks, Bob Zinc, riddled the Crimson secondary and erased Harvard's 17-3 lead, but the Crimson, behind Crone, produced a late touchdown and sent the Brown fans home to mourn another endless fall.
On paper, the Harvard-Yale game meant nothing more than a first division finish for one of the two 4-4 teams. But for Restic, it meant the difference between a good and a bad season, and for some of the alumni who pester him unmercifully all season, it meant Restic's job. Restic was saved from an avalanche of angry letters and threatening phone calls by none other than "Endzone" Crone, the infamous hero of the '70 Harvard-Yale game. Endzone was hot, going 8-12 for 147 yards and two touchdowns (including a 29 yard TD off a Restic special quarterback-in-motion play) in the first half, while the defense added two more touchdowns to give Harvard a 28-2 half time lead. Yale countered with a quarterback wearing Brian Dowling's old number 10 in the second half, but although Dowling's successor, Rollie Purrington, closed the gap to 28-16. Yale's hopes for avenging the 29-29 tie were dashed when Harvard's Steve Golden nailed a two-point conversion play late in the fourth quarter. Harvard added a final touchdown in the last seconds, as senior Steve Harrison, relegated to the bench by injuries, and junior Teddy DeMars, plunged over from the three. DeMars proved that Harrison belonged on the bench against the Elis, as he roared through the Yale defense for 139 yards on 14 carries (an average of almost 10 yards a carry).
THE YALE GAME was, to say the least, a hopeful omen for the '72 team. With DeMars and Rich Gatto, who, although not a great runner, is a smart, consistent back, Restic will have a strong running game, especially if fullback Steve Hall is healthy next year, or if Restic can find someone else. Stoekel should be back, and if Crone can suit his rifle arm to the Restic system as well as he did against Yale, the quarterbacking will be more than adequate. The offensive line will lose a lot of starters, but because Restic so frequently rotated in an equally capable second string, there should not be any noticeable weakness up front offensively. Harvard has two strong ends in John Hagerty and Howard Keenan, and if Pat McInally can come anywhere near his freshman year heroics as a sophomore, Harvard's receivers will be excellent.
The defense is more questionable than the offense. Harvard will sorely miss its outstanding interior linemen Spencer Dreischarf and Mark Steiner; and the rover back, Captain Dave Ignacio, who led the team in both tackles and interceptions, is irreplaceable. Defensive back Steve Golden, probably the hardest hitting tackler on the team, will move to Ignacio's spot, but he is too slow to really effectively handle the pass defense responsibilities of the rover back. As a whole, the defensive secondary desperately needs some speed, and if it doesn't get it, pass coverage may again prove to be Harvard's most consistent weakness. Hopefully, Restic and the pro-scouts will convince Rod Foster, who has the natural ability to be an awesome defensive back, to forget about quarterbacking and come over to the defense.