Two teams on a roll collide this afternoon at the stadium as the Harvard football team, coming off back-to-back wins for the first time in five years, tries to re-enter the Ivy League race with a win against undefeated Dartmouth.
By the end of this season, Harvard (3-3,1-2 Ivy) hopes to look back at today's meeting, the 100th all-time with Dartmouth (6-0,3-0) as the symbol of the re-emergence of Crimson football after a long drought.
Last week, Harvard made history with a 24-0 blanking of Princeton, who was shut out at home for the first time in 23 years by an Ivy opponent. It hopes for another historic win against the Big Green, whose 13- game winning streak is the third longest in the country.
The Crimson allowed the Tigers only 54 yards on the ground to improve its rushing defense to 66.8 yards per game, second lowest in the country. Freshman safety Aron Natale was named Ivy Rookie of the Week for the second time this year, bringing Harvard's total to five of the six rookies for the 1996 season.
Sophomore safety Derek Yankoff had his second big game in a row, following a two-interception game against Holy Cross with an interception return for a touchdown last week. Senior tailback Eion Hu had his fourth 100-yard game of the season, carrying 32 times for 127 yards, and freshman quarterback Rich Linden ran his career record as a starter to 2-0.
"Without a doubt, the Dartmouth game is the biggest game of my career," Linden said. "I'm a little nervous, but I'm also more confident because it's my third start. I think we'll be able to move the ball with our normal offensive attack."
Another win would put Harvard over the .500 mark for the first time in two years, and a three-game winning streak would be the team's first since 1989. However,Dartmouth, with national rankings on both sides of the ball, is more than a mere stumbling block.
"It is clearly the best team in our league," Harvard coach Tim Murphy said of the Big Green, which has the ninth-ranked total offense (431.7 yards per game) and 21st-best scoring offense (29.7 points per game) in the country. Its defense has also been stingy, ranked 11th against the run and ninth in scoring defense.
Leading Dartmouth's offensive attack today is quarterback Jon Alijancic, last week's Ivy League Offensive Player of the week after completing 16 of 21 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns along with a rushing touchdown against Cornell.
Greg Smith paces Dartmouth's rushing attack with 99.7 yards per game, and the team has gained an average of 233 yards on the ground each contest. In fact, last week's total of 183 rushing yards was Dartmouth's low mark for the year when most teams would take that any given day.
The Big Green, which has won its last three games by 28, 34, and 17 points, beat the Big Red 38-21 despite giving Cornell tailback Chad Levitt 241 yards and three touchdowns on his 30 carries. Dartmouth's offense was too much for the Ithacans as Smith ran for 107 yards and wide receiver Zach Ellis caught six balls for 166 yards.
"We're not going to let them intimidate us," freshman linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski said. "We'll play our basic defense and play the football."
Although overshadowed by the offense, Dartmouth's defense boasts a tough line and a solid secondary. Harvard's offense, which has emphasized the pass over the past two weeks, plans to keep the same strategy which has brought it recent success.
"We can't rely on Hu," Murphy said. "We'll have to be balanced and be able to throw the ball."
Last year, Hu gained 135 yards in a 23-7 loss in which Dartmouth had the ball for over 40 minutes. The Gang Green defense recovered a fumble in the end zone to start Dartmouth's scoring, and Harvard cannot afford to be as generous this afternoon.
"We're not going to stop their offense," Murphy said. "We've got to make them earn everything and not give up big plays. We hopefully will force some turnovers and keep them to half of their usual point total."
Harvard tries to end its 11-game home losing skid this afternoon at 1.p.m. Dartmouth has played at the stadium more than any opponent, and Harvard hopes that the Big Green's 70th trip is one of the most memorable.
"If we win, it won't be a surprise," Kacyvenski said. "We expect to win and earn respect."
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