The Harvard football team couldn't hope for a more appropriate opponent to end its three game losing/shutout streak than the Big Green of Dartmouth College.
When the 1-3 Crimson travels to Hanover this weekend, it will face a team that has yet to win in its 1986 campaign and is still smarting from a 48-7 drubbing at the hands of Holy Cross last Saturday.
This result in itself doesn't mean very much since Harvard lost to Holy Cross by the same 41-point margin three weeks ago at the Stadium. But the Crimson's inexperienced defense (only two starters returned from last year's unit) has improved each week--holding Cornell to a mere field goal in last Saturday's 3-0 loss.
Once again, it will be up to the Harvard defense to guard the fort until the offense can put some points on the board--which shouldn't be difficult since the Big Green defense is yielding an average of 45 points per game.
Moreover, the Cantabs have a chance to silence some of the most obnoxious fans in the Ivy League. Dartmouth fans, often to the amazement of Crimson faithful, take the Harvard game quite seriously.
"It's their whole season if they beat us," said Crimson starting cornerback Don Heberle. "They treat it like a homecoming."
Dartmouth students prepare for the annual contest with rallies, bonfires, and most importantly, consumption of alcohol in large, large amounts.
Harvard students, generally apathetic about the Dartmouth game, save their fervor for the Yale game, despite occasional attempts by Dartmouth folk to arouse their antagonism.
The most recent Dartmouth antic was a pseudo-guerrilla raid conducted two years ago, when a small squad of Big Green fanatics assaulted the John Harvard statue with two gallons of green paint in the wee hours of the Thursday before the game.
Unfortunately, by the time most Harvard students had arisen for classes the next morning, the fresh green coat had been sanded off, and good old Johnny was bronze again.
This little episode is symbolic of the one-sided nature of the rivalry.
None of this will mean anything if the Crimson defenders are unable to keep Dartmouth from taking control until probable starting signal-caller David Landau--recovering from a separated shoulder--has a chance to bring the Harvard offense out of its scoring drought.
Dartmouth quarterback Dave Gabianelli has shown he can throw the long ball, as he completed a 64-yd. strike to receiver Craig Morton for the Green's only score last week.
"They're a big play offense," Heberle said. "They've got a QB who can throw deep and a receiever who can fly."
Heberle lettered as a sophomore split end last season, but ironically was switched to defensive back at spring practice last year to strengthen a thin secondary.
Meanwhile, Harvard's offense has been shut out three of its first four games for the first time since 1941.
"I miss playing receiver," Heberle said, "but they left the choice up to me."
Like the rest of the defense, Heberle is rapidly maturing at his new position.
"I'm starting to feel more comfortable," he said. "During the first few games, I was thinking but not reacting. Now I'm reacting more than thinking."
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