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HANOVER, NH--Harvard football may have exorcised a few ghosts this Halloween weekend.
The Crimson's performance in Hanover, N.H. on Saturday went a long way toward solidifying the Harvard's claim as heir apparent to the Ivy League throne.
Harvard has been impressive all season, but Saturday was the first glimpse that this team may really have the entire package. Harvard won on Saturday with stifling defense and in the absence of an effective ground game--two important achievements for a team that has had to outscore several opponents this year and had not won a game without a 100-yard rusher since the opening game of the 1994 season.
The Dartmouth victory may well signify the end of an era in Ivy football. The senior-laden Dartmouth squad--including nine of 11 defensive starters--has dominated Ivy football for almost two years, bringing a 15-game Ivy League win streak into Saturday's contest.
After two straight losses, however, talk amongst the Dartmouth squad was of regrouping and hoping in a title race over which they no longer have control.
"Clearly [the loss to Harvard] was a big game with a lot at stake, but we have a game next week, and Harvard still has a long way to go [for the League title]. Penn and Brown are good football teams," said Dartmouth Coach John Lyons.
And Harvard knew exactly what they were facing.
"What [the Dartmouth seniors] have accomplished here is incredible. It seems that they've been around forever," said Harvard Coach Tim Murphy.
Harvard's ground game had been the one constant in weeks prior to Saturdays' game.
However, due to Dartmouth's defense and a string of injuries that forced sophomore Chris Menick to carry the ball on all Harvard's rushes out of the backfield until late in the fourth quarter, Harvard could muster only 45 yards out of its running backs against Dartmouth.
Whereas in the past, a successful ground game might have been the focus of the Harvard assault, the Crimson seemed to take the setback in stride and proceed to other options.
"Their defense is so good, and is essentially a nine man front, that it's like hitting your head into a wall up there," Murphy said. "Good teams play a lot of aggressive defense, but [if they don't become afraid of it], it can be a great opportunity for us."
Harvard instead succeeded in using other means to get the ball to athletes in the open field. This included getting the ball to sophomore flanker Terrance Patterson 12 times on Saturday, including all three Harvard touchdowns, 11 receptions and a 62-yard reverse late in the first quarter that put Harvard up 14-0.
"[Because of their tough defense], we felt we had to throw the kitchen sink at them in the first half," Murphy said.
Patterson was quick to credit others for his breakout performance.
"[Sophomore quarterback] Rich [Linden] got the ball to his receivers no matter what--[and on the reverse] I had linemen getting way downfield to block for me," Patterson said.
While the offense looked comfortable opening up a new bag of tricks, the defense ensured there were no such tricks when the opposition held the ball.
The Crimson held the Big Green to negative rushing yards on the day, and allowed only 173 yards of total offense. The defensive performance permitted Dartmouth to advance inside the Harvard 40-yard-line only once all day long.
This represents an incredible coming-of-age for a defense that allowed three of its first six opponents to reach 24 points or more. Harvard's defensive backs, ordinarily a soft spot in the defense, racked up three interceptions, broke up two passes, and allowed only one reception of over 22 yards, despite enduring a 40-passing-attempt day against Dartmouth.
"We generally have a pretty balanced offense, but we reached the point where nothing worked out there," Lyons said. "[Dartmouth quarterback] Pete [Sellers] has had better games, but what happened to him today was a result of [Harvard's pressure on the quarterback]."
Harvard finally showed it has all the tools to win on Saturday, and now that the Crimson clearly has arrived, it needs only to keep enough of them working to pull out three more games for its first Ivy League title in a decade.
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