NEW HAVEN, Ct.--Everyone knew about the Yale defense. Number one in the country, they said. Never gave up a point in the first quarter of any game, and very few in the other three.
But it was the Harvard defense that took charge in The Game. It manhandled an offense that had averaged more than 23 points every Saturday this season and limited it to one touchdown.
The Eli offense lived by the run all season long and died on Saturday. After averaging more than 195 yds. every game, Yale's running attack limped past the Crimson for only 92.
And one of the most important cogs in the Harvard defensive machine was soft-spoken Peter Coppinger, the sophomore defensive back whose two interceptions sealed the Eli bier.
"It's easy to come out and practice when you're 5-0," Coppinger said Saturday, "but we never had that all year and we had nothing given to us."
But Coppinger took them anyway. Eli quarterback Mike Rogan was moving his team swiftly late in the second quarter. Receiver Stratton had just dropped a bomb at the Harvard 3-yd. line, when Rogan went deep again.
"It was a curl pattern to Stratton and I was playing the deep third on the zone. The ball was overthrown so I was sitting pretty. It came right to me," Coppinger said.
And Coppinger went right the other way. After catching the ball at the Harvard 20, he tip-toed up his own sideline for 70 yards until he was dragged down at the Yale 10. Most of the run was called back on a clipping penalty, but Harvard had the ball back--and the momentum.
On the series before, the Crimson defense had thwarted Yale in a goal-line stand reminiscent of Alabama's denial of Penn State in the 1979 Orange Bowl.
Rogan had directed a masterful drive from his own 20-yd. line. A 17-yd. pass to Tom Kokoska and a 29-yd. run by John Nitti gave the Elis first-and-goal at the Harvard 9.
Hill ran twice and got to the seven. On third down, he threw to Rich Diana in the endzone, but it was broken up. Coach Carm Cozza wanted the TD to slice Harvard's 13-0 advantage so he elected to go for it. Rogan went back to pass on fourth down, but all his receivers were smothered. He threw the ball out of the endzone, desperately trying to connect with Diana.
The stand was typical of what Joe Restic called his "championship defense" all day long. Not only on the big plays--the interceptions, the fumbles and sacks--but on the little ones, too. Defensive back John Casto, who grabbed two fumbles, cut off Hill's usually lethal end runs and both Yale quarterbacks wore defensive end Dave Otto like a 6-ft. 4-in. necklace.
With Harvard leading, 22-7, on Burke St. John's touchdown in the fourth quarter, Cozza tried to give the Crimson an unwanted case of deja vu. In last year's Yale game, Yale quarterback Pat O'Brien threw a pass to split end John Spagnola, who stunned Harvard with a perfect aerial to Bob Krystiniak for a 66-yd. TD. But that was last year.
This year, when Dennis Dunn threw to Stratton behind the line, the Crimson defense did not collapse. "It was the flea-flicker like they did last year. We thought they might try something. As soon as Stratton took a step back, I just went deep," Coppinger said.
The ball, after bouncing off several hands, fell into Coppinger's at the Harvard 28, and the sophomore raced 22 yards to the Yale 40.
And what was the number one defense in the nation came back on the field--where it was second best.
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