NEW YORK--And so on a sultry afternoon in that region of upper Manhattan affectionatcly referred to as Devil's Elbow, they kicked off the 1977 Ivy football season with a big loud slurp.
It was Harvard 21, Columbia 7 at Baker "boy-does-it-need-a-paint-job" Field here Saturday afternoon, and if ever a turf was unfit for football, this was it.
"It was a slow, heavy field" said Crimson general Joe Restic. "We didn't look like that the first day of practice. Condition can do a lot of things--I think of Cornell last year.
"But," he added in his best Resticesque, "you have to be pleased with the way we came back."
Indeed, the upstart Columbians, who are high on spirit but low on talent, took a 7-6 lead into the paint-starved clubhouse at halftime. The Crimson score, the climax to a 14-play, 79-yard drive midway through the second quarter, came on a five-year rollout by quarterback Tim Davenport, who, all things considered--like the fact this was his initial varsity start behind center--performed with aplomb.
Particularly in the second half, after a Kevin Burns two-yarder and subsequent extra point gave the Lions their halftime advantage. But following an Al Ippolitio interception, one of four--two by Paul Halas--pulled off by the visitors, Davenport needed just four plays to move his team 44 yards for the winning tally.
Ralph Polillio, who is no relation to Al Ippolito, scored the big one, and when Davenport threw his best pass of the afternoon to Gordon Graham for the two-point conversion, Harvard's seventh straight success against the Lions was assured.
Despite the preposterous playing conditions, the winner still managed to rack up some impressive stats. Chris Doherty ran for 71 yards from his fullback position, Larry Hobdy caught five Davenport tosses for 61, and the defense, termed "as good was any you'll see in the league" by Columbia coach Bill Campbell, made all the necessary stops.
Almost all, that is, for eight minutes into the second quarter, it missed one, a 41-yard floater down the right sideline from Burns to Fred Sullivan, which resulted in the former's touchdown jaunt two plays later.
The catch was a beauty, but it might have been avoided were it not for a coaching miscue. One the previous play the Lions had punted, but a Harvard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for having too many men on the field returned the ball to the Lions.
Ivy Round-up, page 9
Before the Crimson could get all of its first-team defenders, some of whom had been resting on the previous series of plays when the ball was in Columbia territory, back into the game, Burns had connected with Sullivan at Harvard's two-yard line.
"It should've been a shutout," Restic said afterwards. "The ball turned over quickly, and we were caught. We paid the price."
A small one, though, for otherwise the defense turned all the right screws. the Lions rolled up enough yards--nearly 300 on offense--to make things a trifle interesting, but six turnovers, the four interceptions and Tom McDevitt and Joe Goodreault fumble recoveries, proved their undoing.
The field, which was as slick as silly putty, proved likewise for both squads, and probably did as much to contain Restic's new improved multi-flex, with the big addition Saturday being the advent of three men in simultaneous motion, as the Lion's defense.
From such extraneous factors do the final scores of football games get determined, but on this sultry afternoon, on this sluggish field, in sweaty upper Manhattan, the final score still favored Harvard.
The execution may not have been the best, the play not the crispest, "but hey," as Restic said, "you have to be pleased with the way we came back," Hey.
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