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PHILADELPHIA, Pa.--More and more, it seems, the word to describe the '78 Crimson football season is bizarre. And bizarre it was here at Franklin Field Saturday, as the Harvard football team held off a fierce second-half Penn charge right up to the final gun to win a 17-13 heartstopper.
Twice in the final quarter the injury-ravaged Harvard defense stopped Penn drives on fourth down, and then defensive tackle Tim Palmer shot through the Quaker line with 12 seconds left to sack QB Tom Roland at the Harvard 13-yd. line and save the game.
The Crimson defense showed the requisite amount of tardiness in getting onside following the sack, and the clock ran down before the Quakers could get off another snap.
The contest marked the third straight Saturday in which the Crimson's fate had come down to the final 30 seconds, but, for once, the mad, capricious script left Harvard on top. The Crimson now stands 4-3-1, 2-3-1 Ivy, while Penn falls to 2-5-1, 1-4-1 Ivy.
"That game was pretty typical of our whole season, wasn't it?" split end John MacLeod said afterward. "I'm just glad we won it."
The waythings started out--before a crowd of 19,000 in 65-degree conditions--it didn't even seem that Harvard would have a chance to be involved in a pell-mell finish.
The Quaker Wishbone (nearly 400 yards on the day) tore up the Astroturf the way Secretariat tears up dirt, and before you could say Frank Rizzo, Penn had a two-touchdown lead after its first two possessions.
Roland shucked and jived through the Harvard "D" virtually untouched, running the ball five times for 60 yards in the opening minutes, and pitching out five times for 25 yards.
The quick result, just seven minutes into the game: Penn 13, Harvard 0, and one had to check the calendar to see if this was indeed the date for a football game, and not for the Penn Relays track meet.
Since it was beginning to look like the worst rout in these parts since the winter of 1777, no one so much as sneezed when Quaker placekicker John Dwyer booted the extra point wide left on the second touchdown. In fact, though, Dwyer's careless miscue was to make the difference in determining Penn's second-half strategy to push all-out for a touchdown--a strategy that failed three times.
The Multiflex politely removed itself from its straight-jacket late in the first quarter, as Larry Brown claimed a small chunk of the Astroturf endzone for his very own on a sneak at 2:59. Ralph Polillio had nearly scooted in himself two plays later, but safety Jack Sinnigen cut under him at the one-yard line following a 30-yd. off-tackle burst.
After Roland and Al MacMurray volleyed a couple of punts back and forth early in the second quarter, the Crimson assumed a never-to-be-relinquished lead at 8:14.
After a 15-yd. pass to Polillio and a 15-yd. roughing call on the ensuing tackle put Harvard at the Penn 15, Brown decided to strike quickly for six. And quickly he did, rolling right and rifling a bullet across his body to split and John MacLeod, who had curled inside an umbrella of three defenders right at the goal line.
Bosnic punched through his second PAT of the day for the eventual game winner--although no one in the joint had any idea, at that time, that 14 points would win it.
Then came the first odd incident of the day. A 30-yd. Bosnic field goal attempt with 2:57 to go in the half sailed into the arm of Penn's Kevin Weir instead of through the goalpost. Two-and-a-half minutes later. Quaker Dan Huber killed a desperation Harvard rally by picking off a Brown aerial at the Penn 14-yd. line.
Here comes odd incident number two. Instead of running the clock out. Roland pitched the ball wildly, and Terry Trusty gladly pounced on it at the Penn 10. Bosnic failed to fluff it this time, skying the ball through the uprights with 0:04 left.
The oddest stuff was yet to come. Consider, for example, a third quarter in which the Harvard offense ran off just seven plays for no first downs. But Penn failed to score, owing mainly to penalties and poor execution despite their dominance in possession time.
And then in the fourth quarter came the much-maligned Crimson defense's finest hour of the year. Reeling backward behind the force of three full-field drives, and giving up 105 yards total offense, the defenders nonetheless failed to allow Penn to score--and that's the name of the game.
A stacked line collectively rejected Roland on a fourth-and-one just into the quarter, and a vicious tackle by end Dave Otto dropped Roland for a five-yd. loss on fourth-and-three at the Harvard 24 with 7:30 left.
Then, with 5:03 left, Penn began a determined march toward the goal line from its own 26. But the Wishbone attack gobbled too many seconds off the clock, and Roland nearly blew it when he tried to stop the clock with 0:21 left when, in trying to throw the ball away, he nearly hit Harvard adjuster John Casto on the numbers.
The ball bounced off the surprised Casto's hands, setting the stage for a second-and-goal at the Harvard 4. Roland rolled left on the play, looking for a trio of receivers flooding that side of the endzone, but the storming Palmer charged unmolested from the opposite side of the field and crushed Roland at the 13.
The final 12 seconds blinked off on the Franklin Field Longines, and for the first time in this bizarre season. Harvard had escaped with an eleventh-hour win.
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