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NEW YORK--No one expected it, few predicted it, but the Harvard Crimson none the less did it. In a sloppy season opener, the Crimson convincingly crushed the Columbia Lions, 26-7, here at Baker Field.
When the afternoon began, observers wondered if Harvard could survive the Ivy League season with an untested quarterback, a questionable backfield, and a horde of rookies.
The win certainly did not answer all the questions--Columbia's ineptness more than Harvard's perfection was responsible for the win-- but the game did prove that the Crimson certainly has the potential for some good football this year.
Burke St. John, in his first start as the varsity quarterback, opened the scoring early in the second quarter with a 24-yd. toss to fullback Tom Beatrice.
After Terry Trusty recovered a John Cabrera fumble at the Columbia 34, quick blasts from backs Paul Connors and Jon Hollingsworth moved the team to the 25. St. John, who used the roll-out well all afternoon, then took a keeper for five yards on a third-and-one situation to give Harvard a first down at the Columbia 20.
Connors was then caught for a 4-yd. loss, after which St. John stepped up for a rifle shot into the arms of the wide-open Beatrice for six.
The score ignited Harvard on a quarter that broke open the game. Twice more in the next 13 minutes, the Crimson reached paydirt to take a 19-0 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
The defense, which played superbly all afternoon--though the depressingly dismal Lion offense did not test the Harvard team too severely--came up with the second score. Columbia quarterbac Bob Conroy, with a third-and-five at his own 20 yardline, scampered away from an all-out Harvard blitz, just lofting a pass over the arms of hard-charging middle linebacker Bob Woolway.
The blind aerial sailed into the hands of Crimson defensive end Dave Otto, who motored his way tank-style into the endzone, for a 13-0 lead.
George Arnold, a former varsity golfer and soccer player turned placekicker in the last two weeks, missed on the point-after attempt. Arnold, who hit his first PAT try nicely, had trouble with his short irons all day, hooking wide on two PATs, though he narrowly connected on the final kick, a low trajectory floater that split the uprights.
But fortunately for Harvard, Arnold had his driver in the groove, lofting all his kickoffs well into the Columbia end and forcing the Lions to start from deep in their own territory.
Harvard's third tally, the only time all afternoon that the Crimson scored on a clean exchange, came late in the second quarter. Taking over at its own 48, after a 48-yd. Eric Blattman punt, Harvard went 51 yards in six plays, finishing off with a 1-yd. St. John keeper around the right end with less than a minute remaining in the half.
St. John, who was seven-twelve for 130 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the first half, finished at 10-17 for 153 yards to wrap up a respectable--if not surprising--debut.
St. John said later that after the opening interception his "confidence didn't suffer." He said, "I just knew I had to go out and complete the second one."
The passing game, which clicked well after a shaky start, was sparked by a fine afternoon from fullback Beatrice. Coming out of the backfield and roaming the flats--left vacant by the young Columbia linebackers, who had been drawn in tight by a good Harvard rushing attack--Beatric combined 39 yards as a receiver with 29 yards on the ground. Superend Rich Horner, catching three for 75 yards, including a 36-yd. first quarter dazzler, also enjoyed a fine afternoon.
But the workhouse, as expected, was Paul Connors. Weaving inside and out with both speed and precision, Connors racked up 86 yards in 25 carries to lead the Harvard rushing game.
Indeed, the ground game proved the difference today, as Harvard outrushed Columbia 175-64, in a game with otherwise even statistics.
A quiet third quarter showed the prowess of the Harvard defense, which kept the period scoreless thanks to a strong goal-line stand. Resisting the temptation to do something interesting, the Lions took a first-and-goal at the three and turned it into a fiasco.
A Joe Ciulla blast to the left ran into massive Bob Woolway, who returned on the next play to smother quarterback Bob Conroy at the one. On third down, adjuster John Casto sacked Conroy; and Woolway came back once more to deflect a fourth-down endzone-bound pass intended for no one in particular.
But Harvard got little out of the stand when a 19-yd. Duke Millard punt set Columbia up for its first and only points of the day. Against a Harvard defense that was beginning to sag, Conroy used one play to go 43 yards on a bomb to Steve Wallace for a 19-6 score, just two minutes into the final period. Mazur's kick made it 19-7.
Just when the tide looked as though it might turn, St. John returned to lead a final Harvard scoring drive that ate up 282 precious ticks of the clock.
Running easily through the gaping holes in the Columbia defense, St. John manuevered the team 40 yards in nine plays to a fourth-and-goal at the Columbia one. Following a conference with coach Joe Restic, St. John handed the ball to Connors, who rolled over the right side for the final yard and the final points. Arnold added the PAT--just barely.
"One good sign was that at the end of the game we were able to drive it right down the field," Restic said. "That shows that our people are in good shape. And we will keep getting better every week."
Though Millard's weak fourth quarter punt set the Lions up for their lone score, the kicker enjoyed a successful day overall, booting six times for 233 yards, a 38.8 yard average that included a monstrous 64-yd. boomer that pinned Columbia deep in its own end.
"I have to be pleased with the way things went today," Restic said. "We were able to execute better than maybe we could expect in the first game of the season."
The game was a good one overall for Harvard, as the Crimson finished strong after a very weak start. When the game opened it looked like Harvard might be facing a depressing day. On Harvard's first possession, following a 4-yd. Connor's blast, St. John faded back to try his first pass as the starting varsity quarterback. He completed the toss, thrown with precision into the waiting arms of Columbia's Mike Brown, who returned the ball to the Harvard 27.
But the inept Columbia attack, which looked more like a pack of pussycats than Lions, lapsed into its version of Sominex, also called the conservative running game. Picking up no yardage in three plays, the Lions were forced to try a 44-yd. field goal, which Mark Mazur booted woefully short.
The Crimson offense then put together the first good-looking drive of the '79 season, with St. John commanding the rushing attack masterfully. Working to set up the young Columbia linebackers for the passing game that was to come later, Restic kept his team pounding the middle, consistently sending Connors, Al Altieri and Hollingsworth in the footsteps of the Harvard guards. A steady running diet, highlighted by Connors' jigs and jukes en route to a 49-yd. half on ten carries, took Harvard down to the Columbia 32.
St. John worked the Multiflex to perfection, using Hollingsworth's speed outside and Connors' elusiveness both up the middle and on the wide pitches. The Crimson looked headed for a score. But as was the case throughout a game that included six fumbles and three interceptions, sloppiness stepped in to change the fortunes.
On first-and-ten at the Columbia 25, Connors carried over the right side for what looked like a 5-yd. gain. But the ball popped loose and Columbia's Mike Biaggi grabbed the airborne pigskin giving the Lions possession at their own 32.
A trio of exchanges followed, with neither team's offense mounting any attack, thus running out the bulk of the quarter. St. John, throwing his second pass of the day, was well off the mark on a screen try to Connors. But the Crimson defense remained solid, with the cornerbacks moving up well to close down the outside.
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