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NEW YORK--Ivy League football can scare the dickens out of oddsmakers.
During the 60 minutes from kickoff to the final gun, something happens to Ivy League teams causing them to perform contrary to all predictions.
This weekend, as the Ivies opened '79, the unexpected swiftly threw the league into turmoil. Brown, a heavy, pre-season favorite, took its first strike as the Bruins caught a severe case of blocked-punt fever and fell to the Elis, 13-12, before the loonies at the Yale Bowl.
Princeton handed Dartmouth its first shutout loss in Hanover since 1947, a 16-0 embarrassment. Though everyone said Princeton would be the Ivy doormat, the Tigers wiped their feet on Dartmouth.
Cornell, supposedly building to a renaissance this year, generated almost unbelievable power much sooner than expected, smashing Penn, 52-13.
And here at Baker Field, two supposed non-entities produced their own surprises. Unfortunately for Lion coach Bill Campbell, his team was every bit as bad as had been expected.
But for Harvard's Joe Restic, his perpetually rebuilding squad's 26-7 win revealed some welcomed gems.
As for the unexpected, you have to start with Burke St. John. The Chappaqua, N.Y., senior, heralded as a heady, no-armed scrambler, silenced his critics at least for the moment. Besides directing the Multiflex masterfully, he completed 10 of 17 passes for 153 yards and one touchdown. It's not a 300-yd. Larry Brown special, but it was a nice mixture of running and passing--and it was a win.
Then there was Paul Connors, a high school god out of Hanover, Ma., who had seen lean days last year with the varsity. But Saturday, the man who rumbled and grumbled for short yardage up the middle last year looked like a new ballcarrier. Turning on bursts of speed and juking past lumbering linemen, Connors racked up 86 dazzling yards.
And Tom Beatrice, an all-purpose sleeper back who has kept a low profile, roamed the desolate flats gathering St. John tosses and leaving the Lions wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Perhaps Duke Millard's punting was the biggest surprise. Except for a 19-yd. slice that diminished an otherwise strong average, the senior combined decent hang time with good distance (including a 64-yd.-thank-you-for-the-roll-Al-MacMurray-special) to keep Harvard out of trouble most of the day.
Of course there was a healthy share of expected strengths. Linebackers Matt Sabetti and Bob Woolway joined middle guard Steve Hollman to bolster an excellent defensive game. Admittedly the Lion offense was something between inept and nonexistent most of the day; but Harvard came through in the clutch, such as an inspired, third-quarter goal line stand.
Before breaking out the champagne though, we should remember there were expected problems. The placekicking game remains inconsistent. George Arnold, whose kickoffs were almost picture perfect, was troubled from closer in, missing two of four point-after tries and barely lofting a 44-yd. field goal attempt.
The Crimson also fumbled four times, one of which probably cost the team a score.
To echo Joe Restic, many questions remained after the game. Columbia's dismal effort has to make you wonder if Harvard can repeat some of its opening-day wonders against stronger teams.
But the surprises of the first week confirm that once again pre-season outlooks mean little. One die-hard Harvard optimist said jokingly after yesterday's win, "Dartmouth and Brown both lost, so we have the Ivy title clinched."
The statement is about as absurd as any forecast, because in Ivy League football the oddsmaker is more our common enemy than our mutual friend
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