PHILADELPHIA--About 15 minutes into Harvard's contest with Penn Saturday, every Crimson player must have felt a sickening emptiness in his stomach--not pain exactly, just the physical manifestation of dread.
It couldn't end this way, could it? Not at Penn of all places, not here, no way.
But with 7:38 remaining in the first quarter. Harvard had lurched, groped and stumbled to a 14-0 deficit at Franklin Field. The first time the Crimson gridders had the ball, quarterback Brian Buckley threw an interception; the second time, halfback Paul Connors fumbled; and the third time, Steve Flach nudged a punt 27 yds. to the Harvard 47 yd. line. It wasn't panic; call it sleep.
This Harvard football team, however, did not fold. Led by the running attack that has saved them so many times before, the gridders rallied late in the first half and came on to defeat Penn, 28-17.
And now no one has to pretend anymore: all that matters is Yale. No more insincere rhetoric about "We gotta take this season one game at a time," and "We never look ahead." They want the Elis; they want them bad, and nothing else matters.
It comes down to this: if Harvard can beat Yale next Saturday at the Stadium, the Crimson will share the Ivy League with the Elis and as many as two other teams. If Harvard loses, it will finish in a tie for second at best. And a loss to Penn would have killed all title hopes outright.
Even though the game will show up as a victory in the standings, Harvard did endure one great loss. Senior captain and defensive tackle Chuck Durst re-injured his left knee early in the fourth quarter. His status is currently questionable for next week, and his loss could hurt the Crimson probably more than that of any other defender.
"We were pressing a little bit," coach Joe Restic understated after the game. Indeed, the Crimson was playing its worst football of the season, while Penn was playing its best.
Harvard took the opening kickoff, and on its third play from scrimmage, Buckley overthrew a wide-open Connors over the middle, and Penn's Mike Murphy intercepted at the Quaker 47.
Running a baffling (for Harvard) version of the Wishbone offense, quarterback Gary Vura took the Quakers down to the Crimson 28. He then broke loose on an option and reached the Harvard 13, where he fumbled to the three, and the Crimson's Mike Jacobs recovered.
But one play later, inveterate ball-dropper Connors coughed the ball up at the seven. Restic had obviously had enough of Connors' fumbling, and the senior scarely saw any action the rest of the way.
Three plays later, Penn halfback Steve Rubin put it over from the two. Harvard's offense went nowhere after the kickoff and Penn took over at its own 47.
And on third and 12, Vura went back to pass and hit halfback John Montesanti over the middle at the Harvard 25. Safety Jacobs and cornerback Pete Coppinger promptly slammed into one another in pursuit of Montesanti, and the halfback waltzed into the endzone untouched midway through the quarter.
While most of the 5914 people in the stands (about one of every 14 seats was occupied) wavered between delerium and surprise, Harvard had one chance to regroup before the situation got totally out of control.
Man in Charge