The end had arrived. With 11:18 remaining in the third quarter and Harvard trailing, 14-0, punter Steve Flach fumbled away a snap on his own two-yard line.
Yale quarterback John Rogan gave to fullback captain John Nitti on first down, and Crimson tackle Tim Palmer hit him at the line. On second down, Rogan pitched to Rich Diana to the other side and cornerback Pete Coppinger stopped him at the one. Coppinger nailed Diana again on third.
Fourth down. Twice before, the Elis had scored in that situation--first from the 25, on fourth and 19, and second from the one on fourth and goal--now they appeared ready to seal the game with another last gasp touchdown.
But Rogan's pitch left to Nitti went awry and Harvard safety Mike Jacobs pounced on the ball at the nine. The Crimson offense thus gained one more chance to get back into the ballgame.
Had Harvard somehow managed to revive itself and pull the game out, that goal line stand might have taken its place among great events of The Game history. As it is, the series will probably remain largely unremembered, an obscure footnote to The Shutout of 1980.
This Harvard defense deserves better. Often overshadowed by the more colorful, if less successful, Multiflex offense, the defensive unit played key roles in every Harvard victory this season, and--except at Dartmouth--kept the losses much closer than the offense had any right to expect.
Such was the case Saturday. The Yale offense managed one long drive on the day, and even on that one, the Elis could only score on a fourth-and-19 Hail Mary pass into the endzone, on which Harvard botched the coverage.
That single drive--the eight-play, 80-yd. march late in the first quarter that put Yale ahead, 7-0--was the Elis only successful length-of-the-field drive of the day. After that, Yale never put more than two first downs together on any one drive. The mighty Yale offense. Rich Diana et al., was stopped cold.
And all this without the star of the defense, tackle Chuck Durst. The captain managed to reach midfield for the opening coin-toss, but he did not play at all, his doctors having ruled that his knee ligaments were too badly damaged.
Yet his replacement, junior Tom Clark, was victimized only once, on the touchdown drive, when the Elis sent six straight plays right at him. Otherwise, Clark played with distinction, exemplifying the defense's "pride," the commodity Durst spoke of so frequently during the season.
As usual, the secondary sparkled, limiting Rogan to 81 yds. in the air and collecting a startling 39 tackles among them. Coppinger, ABC's defensive player of the game, tied classmate Rock Delgadillo, the Ivy interception leader, for the game lead with ten tackles apiece. Look for those two to lead the league's best secondary in 1981.
But of course it didn't matter--not the goal-line stand, not the two other occasions when the Crimson held the Elis on fourth and short, not ... nothing. As one Harvard defender mused in the somber locker room after the game, "When you get shut out, the defense only has to make one mistake and you're gone"--but not, if Harvard followers have an eye for quality, forgotten.