The Harvard football team took to Harvard Stadium on Saturday afternoon hoping to go 3-0 for the first time since the Ivy League championship season of 1987. While the Crimson is still perfect in the Ancient Eight, it can no longer claim invincibility.
The Crimson (2-1, 1-0 Ivy) lost a tough 24-20 non-conference game against Patriot League powerhouse Bucknell (4-0). One week earlier the Bisons had taken out pre-season Ivy favorites, Pennsylvania 20-16.
"This was exactly the type of game that we expected from Bucknell," said Harvard Coach Tom Murphy.
But Murphy conceded that Harvard was not adequately prepared for a methodical option onslaught, led by backup Bison quarterback Don McDowell. Coming into the game in the second quarter, McDowell seemed to energize Bucknell into a Nebraska-style offensive juggernaut.
While the Crimson effectively plugged up the middle of the field, McDowell and running back Chris Peer thrived on darting outside behind outstanding downfield blocking.
"Donnie is fast enough to hurt them a little bit," said Bison Coach Tom Gadd.
While its offense was solid and precise, it was the Bucknell's defense that ultimately dealt the Crimson its first loss of the season. After a stellar 20-point first quarter, Harvard was held to no points and very few yards throughout the remainder of the game.
In the beginning, the matchup looked like the previous two Crimson contests. Harvard's offense looked outstanding behind crisp passes by sophomore quarterback Rich Linden mixed in with powerful runs by classmate Chris Menick. Menick scampered right for a one-yard touchdown five minutes into the game.
Bucknell took the ensuing kickoff to its own 35-yard line. After Peer's 15-yard rumble to get to midfield, starting quarterback Jim John sent three passes to the left side before wideout Ardie Kissinger slipped by junior corner Glenn Jackson's tackle at the 26-yard line to run for a game-tying score.
The Crimson came back firing. Within two minutes, Linden completed two long passes to senior receiver Colby Skelton. The second was taken 51 yards into the endzone, although Skelton's three east-west direction changes to fake the Bison safeties probably covered closer to 70 yards.
Harvard's defense held the next series, and Linden proceeded to march the Crimson down the field once again. Faced with a fourth-and-one at the Bucknell 39, Coach Murphy reached into his bag of tricks. Linden executed a flawless play-action pass-walking leisurely in the backfield for a few seconds before revealing that he had the ball-to leaping senior Jared Chupaila at the five-yard line.
Three plays later, Harvard upped the score to 20-7 on a beautiful roll-out pass to junior tight end Chris Eitzmann. Sophomore Mike Giampaolo's extra point attempt was no good, however.
While in the second quarter, it failed to alter the scoreboard. After allowing Bucknell to close to 20-14 on McDowell's option scamper, Harvard put together a nice drive. But a difficult pass for Skelton in the endzone was tipped and intercepted in acrobatic fashion by Bison Kevin Eiben.
Although senior Jeff Compas-who also led Harvard with 10 tackles and demonic special teams play-picked off McDowell's pass with 1:20 in the half, the Crimson did not capitalize on the turnover and went into the locker room still leading only 20-14.
For the second week in a row, however, Harvard played a far poorer tail end of the game. After breaking out for over 200-yards passing in the first half, Linden completed only four-of-13 passes for 26 yards in the final two quarters. The primary reason for the slump was the complex scheme of zone blitzes thrown in by the Bison.