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ITHACA, N.Y.--Great football teams find a way to win the close games, the games that could go either way.
Harvard is a good football team. It can play well at times, but it cannot score in the clutch, when it counts, to win games.
The Crimson's record (1-4 overall, 1-1 Ivy) might mislead you into thinking that Harvard is having another mediocre season. In fairness to the Crimson, it's not. While the Crimson's play has been erratic, this Harvard squad is the same one that came a fourth-down conversion away from defeating Division I-A Army in West Point.
As was the case with the loss to the Cadets, Harvard has repeatedly come out strong in the early going and has fallen apart in crunch time.
Last Saturday was no different. Harvard, which scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter, looked as though its offense had clicked and that it would dominate Cornell.
Then Harvard did its all-too-familiar second-half flop. The Crimson did not score a single point down the stretch.
"I guess you could compare this game with Army," tight end Andy Lombara said. "It is very frustrating losing like this. Being blown out is a lot less frustrating--at least you didn't have a chance. But here, we could have pulled it out."
But why was it that Harvard could not score a crucial TD with under three minutes to play? Why was it that nobody could make the big play, score the winning touchdown and make the six-hour ride back to Cambridge more pleasant?
"There are no reasons," Harvard Coach Joe Restic said. "It's just where we find ourselves. We try to play catch-up, and it's tough to make it work under those conditions."
That sounds like an easy enough formula: don't play catch-up football and you won't lose.
But Harvard will have to make it work under "those conditions" if it hopes to beat the meat of its Ivy lineup: Princeton, Dartmouth and Yale.
It is naive to expect that Harvard might not find itself behind in the closing minutes of the Princeton, Dartmouth or Yale games and in need of a winning touchdown.
It's a simple and basic need: the Crimson needs to find a money man, someone that can deliver the points.
Robb Hirch has been that kind of clutch player all season long for the Crimson. On one fourth-and-three, Hirsch looked like Steelers great Franco Harris, putting his head down and grinding out the necessary yardage to pick up the first down and keep the drive alive.
But when it really mattered, when the Crimson had the ball first-and-10 at the Cornell 15, Harvard did not go to Hirsch once in the four plays in the series.
Harvard really ought to adopt Raiders owner A1 Davis's motto: Just win, baby.
Last week against Fordham, a Harvard player called an unnecessary timeout on a change-of-possession late in the game that cost the Crimson a final chance of scoring a tying touchdown.
Harvard continued to make crucial mistakes against the Big Red. This week's miscue was Harvard's putting too many men on the field--the referee interestingly dubbed the penalty "illegal participation"--on fourth down.
The result: Cornell, trailing 17-13, picked up the first down off the penalty and subsequently drove for the first of three field goals that ultimately would put Harvard away.
But the little things--the miscues, the penalties, the poor on-field judgment--doesn't explain why Harvard's offense couldn't put together a single solid drive in the second half.
Cornell's high intensity level and its ability to make adjustments to the Crimson offense ultimately doomed Harvard.
The Big Red, which had come off a 56-6 massacre at the hands of Stanford last week, looked much fresher after its 6000 mile journey than Harvard. Cornell players made diving catches, risking turf burns. The Big Red was willing to do anything to win.
"These guys will play in the parking lot if someone is keeping score," Cornell Coach Jim Hofher said. "We had fresh legs and a willingness to keep fighting."
Defensively, the Big Red conducted a jail break on the Harvard offensive line, sacking Giardi seven times and hurrying his
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