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For most football teams surrendering 28 points usually signals a loss and more often indicates a weak defensive effort.
Despite losing Saturday, the young Crimson defense turned in a solid performance.
Although it was unable to prevent the Lions from scoring in the closing second, the defense kept the Crimson in the game for almost the entire second half.
With the sputtering Harvard offense pinned deep in its own territory, the defense was left on the field for most of the third quarter. Columbia dominated the time of possession, controlling the ball for nearly 35 minutes, ten minutes more than Harvard.
"[In the third quarter,] we were keeping the team alive," said Harvard captain Justin Frantz, who led the team with 17 tackles and a sack.
Indeed, the defense provided the impetus for Harvard's go-ahead touchdown. Safety Dave Pazden's interception and 25-yard return finally gave the Harvard offense good field position. Five plays later, senior Kweli Thompson's one-yard touchdown plunge gave Harvard a 24-21 edge.
Lions head coach Ray Tellier lauded the efforts of the Crimson defense.
"I thought they did a very good job all day playing the option," Teller said. "They had good inside-out pursuit. They had a good scheme, and they mixed-up some pressure when they came off the corner [on a blitz]."
The Crimson sacked Lions quarterback Mike Cavanaugh four times, but let him slip away on several, important third and fourth downs in the closing minutes.
"There were times when we really put pressure on Cavanaugh, but didn't tackle as well as we could have", Harvard coach Tim Murphy said.
The Lions' signal-caller scrambled for 68 yards while passing for 127 and tormented the Crimson defense with his athleticism all afternoon.
"Cavanaugh is a difficult guy to defend for four quarters, and I thought they did as good a job as anyone, especially in the first game of the season," Tellier said.
The Harvard defense had a better day against the Columbia ground attack, shutting down the option play early in the first half, and taking the Lions out of their offensive rhythm.
"We did a pretty good job against the option," Frantz said. "I think we did well defending the run. But we didn't get it done in the end."
Don't be deceived by the score.
With seven sophomores in an eight-man defensive line rotation, the burgeoning Harvard defense certainly took a step forward Saturday against Columbia, if only small one.
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