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.
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