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A Kick in The Pants

Dan-ie Baseball

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Bad teams do it and whoop for joy. Good teams do it and breathe sighs of relief. The Oakland Raiders have sustained a franchise doing it, and it's probably the only kind of winning that John Madden will ever praise on national television.

But only charmed teams can win ugly and make it look as inspiring as the Crimson did on Saturday afternoon. With five-and-a-half minutes left in a chilly, soggy affair with the Princeton Tigers, sophomore kicker Mike Giampaolo took ugliness and turned it into pure beauty.

In a game that saw eight fumbles, some decidedly un-special special teams play and a halftime score that looked like the final from the first Harvard-Princeton game 90 years ago, Giampaolo shook off mud and rain and drilled a gem through the uprights 43 yards away for the unlikeliest of 14-12 wins.

Never mind that the snap was high and that holder Jared Chupaila had to reach skyward to set it down where Giampaolo could hit it straight. Never mind that Giampaolo's kick was on its last legs as it cleared the crossbar by a cool six inches.

None of that stopped the Harvard sideline from exploding in triumph and mobbing Giampaolo, whose four field goals paced this gritty, blue-collar win. It was up, it was good and the Crimson was still undefeated in the Ivy League heading into next Saturday's would-be Ivy League championship game in Hanover.

"I treated it like a regular field goal," Giampaolo said. "It just seemed like someone up there was on our side today."

If divine intervention did indeed play a part in one of the better field-goal duals since the Giants stole the NFC Championship from the 49ers on a Matt Bahr clincher in 1991, it's now time for the Crimson to assess precisely why Saturday's win was ugly--and to recognize that this heavenly visit may have been a onetime deal.

"We had three main goals coming into today's game," Harvard Coach Tim Mur- phy said. "Kick protection against turnovers and defending against the big play. Sometimes, it seemed like we were 0-for-3 on those."

But it was an 0-for that didn't end up mattering, as the Tigers let the Crimson off the hook in all three spheres, then did them one better, surrendering key points on bungled special teams routines and drive-killing turnovers.

Punting throughout the afternoon was an adventure, as long snapper Nathan Dean's first chance in the opening quarter sailed over Giampaolo's head and forced Harvard to take a safety. And in the second quarter Dean's snap hit the upback in the punt formation for an 11-yard loss and excellent Tigers field position.

Leave aside for a moment the fact that Princeton returned the favor in the third quarter, booming a snap over punter Matt Evans's head for a safety of its own, and those two botched punts become a good deal larger in significance.

In the turnover department, through, Chris Menick's uncharacteristic pair of fumbles can be attributed to the difficult conditions and his workhorse day--a school record 42 carries for 125 yards--Princeton's own offensive slipperiness let the Crimson get away with murder.

Early in the third quarter, after Princeton's luckless quarterback Harry Nakielny managed to complete his first pass for positive yardage of the game, corner Glenn Jackson popped Tiger wideout Ray Canole and safety Jay Snowden recovered the loose ball.

Although Harvard gave the field position away when Rich Linden's found Princeton defensive back Ryan Demier in the end zone on a pattern out of the back-field intended for fullback Joe Mattson, the turnover broke what little Tiger momentum was building.

Snowden stepped up late in the third and stalled another Princeton drive by snatching Nakielny's pass over the middle after pressure from the defensive front had broken down the pocket.

"We created turnovers because of play-calling," Snowden said. "We were able to read the quarterback and read his patterns."

And Nakielny's woes continued when, with a 12-11 lead on a fourth-quarter drive that could have killed what remained of the game clock, he mishandled a snap and linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski recovered at the Princeton 27-yard line to set up Giampaolo's winner.

"Turnovers really killed us today," said Princeton Coach Steve Tosches. "We gave the ball up three times in the second half and Harvard converted all three into field goals."

And that proved crucial in Harvard's surviving sloppy play and big-play lapses like Nakielny's only bright moment of the game--a 65-yard touchdown pass to wideout Ryan Crowley that caught safety Mike Madden napping in single coverage--a defensive breakdown that Linden followed with a 62-yard completion to wideout Colby Skelton on a broken-play rollout five minutes later. Every time the Crimson coughed up a turnover or blew a punt, the Tigers covered it up with gaffes of their own.

And if I may add one item to the Crimson's sin list: red zone efficiency, as Harvard looked worse than the Dallas Cowboys in punching the ball in from inside the Princeton 20, mustering only three field goals on four trips.

"We had almost 80-percent touchdown effectiveness in the red zone prior to today's game, and today it was just the opposite," Murphy said. "Because we couldn't throw down there, because we lacked timing and spacing our offense became one-dimensional. Princeton's defense is always very tough and they have some excellent corners."

Running either Menick predictably off tackle or curiously going to a largely ineffective option late in the game, Harvard failed to break through what should have been a beaten-down Princeton defense, on the field for almost 40 minutes.

"The fact is that we kept a great offense out of the end zone all day," Tosches said.

But enough griping from the peanut gallery. A win is a win is a win, right? Perhaps not--Saturday's rain-drenched, supremely messy victory showed something about the character of a team that simply didn't win games like this a year ago. Remember Dartmouth and a missed field goal of the same crossbar that Giampaolo cleared?

"This was the best team we've seen and a hard, physical game," Murphy said. "But this team was determined to leave the field with a victory."

Something about the way the defensive line blitzed Nakielny on Princeton's last-ditch drive with time expiring, something about the hits the secondary put on the Tiger wideouts as the clock wound down, something about the way Menick and the offensive line's uniforms looked like something out of a Tide commercial made you believe Murphy's faith.

And most off all, something about the way the crowd leaving Harvard Stadium spontaneously applauded Mike Giampaolo as he headed to the locker room makes you feel that beauty, at least as far as football goes, is in the eye of the beholder.CrimsonVincent LevyTAKE DOWN: Harvard sophomore RB CHRIS MENICK attempts to break away from a Princeton player on Saturday.

But it was an 0-for that didn't end up mattering, as the Tigers let the Crimson off the hook in all three spheres, then did them one better, surrendering key points on bungled special teams routines and drive-killing turnovers.

Punting throughout the afternoon was an adventure, as long snapper Nathan Dean's first chance in the opening quarter sailed over Giampaolo's head and forced Harvard to take a safety. And in the second quarter Dean's snap hit the upback in the punt formation for an 11-yard loss and excellent Tigers field position.

Leave aside for a moment the fact that Princeton returned the favor in the third quarter, booming a snap over punter Matt Evans's head for a safety of its own, and those two botched punts become a good deal larger in significance.

In the turnover department, through, Chris Menick's uncharacteristic pair of fumbles can be attributed to the difficult conditions and his workhorse day--a school record 42 carries for 125 yards--Princeton's own offensive slipperiness let the Crimson get away with murder.

Early in the third quarter, after Princeton's luckless quarterback Harry Nakielny managed to complete his first pass for positive yardage of the game, corner Glenn Jackson popped Tiger wideout Ray Canole and safety Jay Snowden recovered the loose ball.

Although Harvard gave the field position away when Rich Linden's found Princeton defensive back Ryan Demier in the end zone on a pattern out of the back-field intended for fullback Joe Mattson, the turnover broke what little Tiger momentum was building.

Snowden stepped up late in the third and stalled another Princeton drive by snatching Nakielny's pass over the middle after pressure from the defensive front had broken down the pocket.

"We created turnovers because of play-calling," Snowden said. "We were able to read the quarterback and read his patterns."

And Nakielny's woes continued when, with a 12-11 lead on a fourth-quarter drive that could have killed what remained of the game clock, he mishandled a snap and linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski recovered at the Princeton 27-yard line to set up Giampaolo's winner.

"Turnovers really killed us today," said Princeton Coach Steve Tosches. "We gave the ball up three times in the second half and Harvard converted all three into field goals."

And that proved crucial in Harvard's surviving sloppy play and big-play lapses like Nakielny's only bright moment of the game--a 65-yard touchdown pass to wideout Ryan Crowley that caught safety Mike Madden napping in single coverage--a defensive breakdown that Linden followed with a 62-yard completion to wideout Colby Skelton on a broken-play rollout five minutes later. Every time the Crimson coughed up a turnover or blew a punt, the Tigers covered it up with gaffes of their own.

And if I may add one item to the Crimson's sin list: red zone efficiency, as Harvard looked worse than the Dallas Cowboys in punching the ball in from inside the Princeton 20, mustering only three field goals on four trips.

"We had almost 80-percent touchdown effectiveness in the red zone prior to today's game, and today it was just the opposite," Murphy said. "Because we couldn't throw down there, because we lacked timing and spacing our offense became one-dimensional. Princeton's defense is always very tough and they have some excellent corners."

Running either Menick predictably off tackle or curiously going to a largely ineffective option late in the game, Harvard failed to break through what should have been a beaten-down Princeton defense, on the field for almost 40 minutes.

"The fact is that we kept a great offense out of the end zone all day," Tosches said.

But enough griping from the peanut gallery. A win is a win is a win, right? Perhaps not--Saturday's rain-drenched, supremely messy victory showed something about the character of a team that simply didn't win games like this a year ago. Remember Dartmouth and a missed field goal of the same crossbar that Giampaolo cleared?

"This was the best team we've seen and a hard, physical game," Murphy said. "But this team was determined to leave the field with a victory."

Something about the way the defensive line blitzed Nakielny on Princeton's last-ditch drive with time expiring, something about the hits the secondary put on the Tiger wideouts as the clock wound down, something about the way Menick and the offensive line's uniforms looked like something out of a Tide commercial made you believe Murphy's faith.

And most off all, something about the way the crowd leaving Harvard Stadium spontaneously applauded Mike Giampaolo as he headed to the locker room makes you feel that beauty, at least as far as football goes, is in the eye of the beholder.CrimsonVincent LevyTAKE DOWN: Harvard sophomore RB CHRIS MENICK attempts to break away from a Princeton player on Saturday.

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