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Welcome to crunch time.
Today at high noon (ESPN-TV rules), the Harvard football team hosts Princeton at the Stadium in the Crimson's most crucial Ivy game of the year.
With a win over the Tigers (4-1-1 overall, 3-0 Ivy), who are currently on a three-game winning streak, the Crimson (2-4 overall, 2-1 Ivy) could instantly become an Ivy contender and give Coach Joe Restic his 100th career victory. To paraphrase another Harvard coaching legend, Bill Cleary, you don't have to be an Einstein to figure this one out.
And if Harvard intends to defeat Princeton, the only Ivy team to post consecutive overall winning seasons in the last two years, it must play its most complete game of the year. Not a 6-5 game against Dartmouth, where the defense rose to the occasion, while the offense sputtered in victory. Not a 50-28 game against Lehigh, either, when the offense put some points on the board, but the defense gave up more, and 600 yards of total offense to boot.
"We're going to have to play better if we're going to win in the league," Restic said.
Top gun for the Tigers is running back Judd Garrett, the school's all-time leading rusher (2569 yards). Garrett, who has run the ball 807 yards on 191 attempts this season, averages 134.5 yards a game--the fourth-best mark in Division I-AA.
"He's probably the best back in the league," Harvard Captain Greg Gicewicz said. "If we shut him down defensively, we pretty much have the game."
But wait, there's more. Princeton also has Joel Sharp, one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the nation. In six games, Sharp has completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 869 yards, eight touchdowns and just three interceptions.
In Ivy play, Princeton has dominated. The Tigers have averaged more than 250 yards rushing, while their opponents have run for only 75 yards a game. Granted, the three Ivy teams the Tigers have defeated were Columbia, Brown and Dartmouth--the league's three cellar-dwellers.
As for Harvard, the offense has only one direction to go, and that is up. It hasn't scored a touchdown since the fourth quarter of the Lehigh game, but if the last drive of the Dartmouth game is any indication, Harvard should be ready to move the ball.
"I expect a tough game," Princeton Coach Steve Tosches said. "There's no doubt about it. I think when you get this far into the season, and with the rivalry, the records don't mean a whole lot."
Especially when Harvard looks to field a full team today. With only running back Silas Myers questionable with an injury to a left arm, the Crimson will finally have some healthy bodies at key positions, including the return of adjuster Bobby Frame to the defense.
Yes, the defense. Against Dartmouth, the Crimson played its most intense defensive game since the 1987 season. Gicewicz talked about a "new attitude" after the defense held Dartmouth to just 50 yards rushing and staged a dramatic goal-line stand.
Will that new attitude continue today? Tosches would tend to think so.
"I know Harvard had a very tough non-league schedule, one that I would have not wanted to play," Tosches said. "You just take those three losses away. It's not a fair measure."
And so would Gicewicz.
"Nothing fancy, nothing new, we're just going to play hard," the Harvard captain said.
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