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NEW YORK--Behind quarterback Ron Cuccia, who threw just 13 passes but moved his ballclub smoothly on keepers and option pitches, the Harvard football team rolled to a 23-6 opening day victory over Columbia here yesterday.
It was a frustrating win, with 16 penalties setting back the Crimson a total of 118 yds., and a missing-in-action pass rush allowing Columbia's drop-back passer, sophomore John Witkowski, plenty of time to hum aerials to either flat.
But it was also a promising win. Promising because when the offense couldn't get the ball in the end zone, sophomore Jim Villanueva was there to cap long drives with field goals of 40 and 29 yards (he later added one of 28) to put points on the board. Promising because linebacker Joe Azelby and split end Dirk Killen proved Harvard's depth, by subbing superbly for injured starters Brad Stinn and Paul Scheper.
And promising because Jim Callinan, the man who has to 1) stay healthy and 2) run effectively, if Harvard is to contend, led all rushers with 102 yards on 20 carriers, his lifetime best.
So it didn't really matter that Cuccia, who built a national reputation at Wilson High in Los Angeles with big passing days, connected just five times for 65 yards and no touchdowns.
"We were put in passing situations by the penalties," Cuccia said after the game, "but we didn't end up throwing that much." Instead, the junior ran the option to perfection, dumping to Callinan or Jim (72 yards on 17 carriers) Acheson when he ran out of room, or scampering for 89 yards, including runs of 24 and 25 yards, when he didn't.
The first of Cuccia's long runs--24 yards down the right sideline with the game scoreless early in the second quarter to move the ball to Columbia's 46--sparked Harvard's first scoring drive. Five plays later the ball was down to the Lion 22, where Harvard had a first and ten. But after a holding call and two incomplete passes, Cuccia had to run for nine on a third-and-20 to bring the Crimson into field goal range, and Villanueva, connecting on his first varsity attempt, opened the scoring.
It was the middle of the third quarter before the Crimson offense saw Columbia territory again, and this time a 54-yd. drive (35 of it Callinan) seemed to end with a seven-yard Cuccia-to-Killen touchdown pass. But the play was nullified by an illegal forward pass call and Harvard had to settle for Villanueva, and a 6-0 lead.
"It was real frustrating, trying to sustain a drive with all of those penalties," Cuccia said. Indeed, the Crimson offense was flagged 11 times, for infractions ranging from offensive pass interference to holding to the frequent illegal motion.
But while the offense was taking one step back for every two forward, the defense--despite the weak pass rush--was holding tough, limiting top Lion rusher Joe Cabrera to 20 yards on ten carries.
Five of those carries came in the game's opening moments, when Witkowski marched the Lions from their own 14 to the Harvard one by completing seven of nine passes, the longest for 17 yards.
With a second and goal on the Harvard 13 (following a five-yard Columbia penalty), Witkowski hit James Rowell over the middle, and only a fine effort by adjustor Louis Varsames dumped Rowell on the one.
That proved fortunate, for when Cabrera couldn't bang it over on third down, Columbia coach Bob Naso elected to go for the gimme 18-yard field goal, and when short distance specialist Dick Cory missed it, the Lions came up emptyhanded on their first--and best--drive of the day.
Witkoski kept the football flying, tossing up 33 on the day and completing 19 for 196 yards, and attempting to find a weakness in the Harvard secondary by working on sophomore Chris Myers and juniors Jim Mullen and Louis Varsames.
But a pass toward all-Ivy cornerback Rocky Delgadillo set up the first Crimson touchdown. The senior intercepted the liner on the Columbia 34, and four plays later it was 13-0 with 14:33 left in the game.
Delgadillo wasn't through for the day. He picked off another four minutes later (his ninth in two years) and cakewalked 58 yards to end the Crimson scoring. In between, Villaneuva had hit again, and with a 23-0 lead Harvard coach Joe Restic let some backups see action in the final minutes.
Although the shutout was spoiled on a Pete Rappa to Tom Holoka touchdown pass as time ran out, much of the day's plaudits have to go to the defense, which limited Lion runners to 70 yards.
If the front five didn't pass rush effectively (no sacks and very little penetration all day), they were superb at stopping Cabrera, who ran for 597 yards a year ago, and pesky sophomore Jim McHale. Middle guard Scott Murrer (five tackles and three assists) and lineman Tom Clark and Pierre Sauve led the way, while sophomore Azelby--pressed into action when Stinn suffered a concussion on the fifth play from scrimmage--made four tackles and picked off a pass to snuff a Columbia drive.
THE NOTEBOOK: Villaneuva also handled the punting for Harvard, lofting six for a 35.8 average, including a perfect coffin-corner kick. Senior punter Steve Flach, the incumbent, did make the trip, however...Junior Scott McCabe was Harvard's fourth-leading rusher, carrying five times for 26 yards.
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