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There was nothing very special about special teams Saturday.
The game was a Twilight Zone special on guys with low numbers and strong legs.
Whenever Harvard or Princeton lined up to kick in the Tiger's 11-6 victory at the Stadium, it seemed like something bizarre happened. Every score in Princeton's 11-6 victory came off a kick. And almost every whacky, screwed-up, and exciting moment was a special teams play.
The kicking shenanigans began innocently enough, when Crimson placekicker Rob Steinberg routinely cannoned the opening kickoff into the endzone for a touchback. The 18,000 assembled on a beautiful autumn afternoon had no idea what was in store for them.
On the first punt of the day, Princeton's Rob DiGiacomo's boot was downed on the one-inch line, and Harvard took over an envelope-width away from its own endzone. The circus was in town.
Punting and snapping antics entertained special teams coaches throughout the first half. During one six-minute span, both DiGiacomo and Harvard punter Steinberg suffered identical fates, fielding high snaps and running around like madmen to avoid the clutches of three mean-looking lineman.
After fleeing, both punters somehow got off booming kicks under the arms of their frustrated pursuers. It was like an extended episode of the Fugitive (Ray) Guy.
Placekicking was only a little less treacherous. Steinberg, who hadn't missed a field goal all season, missed his first attempt of the afternoon. Then he missed his second, until a defensive penalty gave him another chance, and Steinberg made the score 3-0.
After Harvard and Princeton traded field goals in the second period, the Tigers blew a chance to tie it when holder Brad Hammond bobbled the snap on a routine 33-yd. attempt. Nothing was going like it was supposed to.
And things got worse.
The final 10 minutes were like bamboo shoots under the fingernails of special teams coaches. First, DiGiacomo booted a 15-yd. ground ball that looked more like an infield hit than a punt.
In an alert play, Steinberg kicked the ball through the endzone for a safety. But that almost didn't go right, either, as the ball bounced around in the endzone before finally going out the backside.
The game should have ended 6-5, and we all could have told our grandchildren about seeing a football game with such a dumb baseball score. But no.
On the free kick, Steinberg bounced a kickoff to Princeton return man Tom Urquart, who almost dropped it before carrying it to the endzone with him. Princeton wins, 11-6.
The last time a special teams breakdown allowed a Harvard opponent to return a kickoff for a touchdown--when Penn's Rich Comizio gave the Quaker's decisive lead last year--the Crimson rolled over and played dead. Harvard lost to Penn, 38-7, and then lost an upset to Yale the following week.
Special teams win and lose games more frequently than most fans appreciate. Their play can bolster or deflate the entire squad.
It will be interesting to see how the Crimson reacts this time around.
Harvard took over on its own 35 and was promptly forced to punt the ball back. But the Crimson never got that far.
Lined up in punt formation, long snapper Kevin Dulsky spiralled a snap far over the head of Steinberg. The senior booter scrambled after the uncooperative pigskin, which dribbled down to the end line.
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