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"Yes, but just wait."
That is what little voices inside of Harvard football fans must have been saying after the first quarter of Saturday's contest against Princeton, a quarter that saw the Crimson jump out to a 10-0 lead.
"Too soon to say," that voice must have lamented after Harvard maintained a 17-14 edge heading into the final 15 minutes of play.
After Harvard scored once in the final frame and then held on to withstand some late-game Tigers heroics to win, 24-21, little voices inside and bigger voices outside were screaming with joy.
The second-half curse that had plagued the Crimson since the second week of the season had been lifted just in time for Halloween, and just in time for the Crimson (2-4 overall, 2-1 Ivy) to make a run at the Ivy title.
The win snapped a four-game Harvard losing streak and brought to an end Princeton's hopes for an unbeaten season after the Tigers opened the 1991 campaign with five consecutive wins, its best start since 1965.
"Put to rest all that fourth quarter stuff," Harvard Coach Joe Restic said. "It's all done. It's finished."
All that fourth quarter stuff? The statistic that said Harvard had been outscored 51-13 in fourth quarters this season?
So what if Harvard's inability to score consistently in the second half cost it victories against Army, Holy Cross, Fordham and Cornell. On Saturday, one fourth-quarter scramble by quarterback Mike Giardi for a touchdown was enough for Harvard to hold off the pesky Tigers.
Giardi did have a little bit of help. On the defensive side, the Crimson neutralized Princeton quarterback Chad Roghair, who entered the game as the Ivy League's top rated passer, and split end Mike Lerch, who two weeks ago tied an NCAA division 1-AA record with 370 yards receiving.
Roghair finished with only nine completions in 21 attempts; Lerch caught only three passes for 67 yards.
Meanwhile, Harvard halfback Robb Hirsch came up with a monsterous effort, falling one yard shy of notching the Crimson's first 100-yard rushing game since Matt Johnson accomplished the feat against Brown early last season.
Hirsch fought his way to 80 yards on 12 carries in the first half.
"Coming off of four losses is demoralizing, but this week we had amazing restlessness," Hirsch said. "You could just sense the guys weren't satisfied anymore with what was going on. We had done some really good things, but we hadn't had the confidence to take it that one step further. Today you could really tell that we stepped it up."
That was evident from the game's opening drive, when the Crimson drove all the way to the Princeton seven yard-line, setting up a 23-yard Scott Johnson field goal.
It continued on the Crimson's next drive. On third down and 19 at its own 20 yard-line, Giardi found Colby Maher down the right side-line for a 43-yard gain. That reception led to Giardi's first touchdown of the day and put the Crimson up, 10-0, with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter.
That feeling, though, that this perfect fall day could only go Harvard's way, quickly disappeared.
First, Princeton converted Matt Johnson's fumble early in the second quarter into a touchdown.
Behind Hirsch, the Crimson came right back. Hirsch carried six times on the 14-play drive, caught two passes and did everything but score the touchdown. That honor went to Johnson, who bolted 11 yards for the score with less than five minutes remaining in the half.
But just when it seemed like things were going Harvard's way again, Princeton caught a break. A tipped Roghair pass found its way into Lerch's arms at the Harvard seven-yard line. Running back Erick Hamilton scored two plays later to pull Princeton within three, 17-14.
Plays like Lerch's tipped ball reception and Roghair's prayer that Mike Wilson snared in the endzone on fourth down and 22 with less than three minutes to play had to make people wonder whether there was something to this fourth quarter jinx.
"Not again," the little voice cried.
Even Restic admitted to being worried when Princeton got the ball back with three seconds to play at the Harvard 41 yard line trailing only by three.
Harvard free safety Rob Santos was worried, too. Santos found himself in the endzone with no time remaining fighting for Roghair's heave.
"The ball went bouncing from back to leg, everywhere but to the ground," Santos said. "And then I finally saw it hit the ground."
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