HANOVER, N.H.--I guess it's in the spirit of Halloween to say: They're b-a-a-a-a-ck!
That famous quote from Poltergeist applies to Harvard's defense, which was ghastly at the beginning of the season but now looks like a unit that can lead the team to an Ivy repeat.
Harvard (4-3, 3-1 Ivy) beat Dartmouth (2-5, 1-3 Ivy) 20-7 Saturday on the road. The Big Green should feel fortunate to have gotten seven, because that score was a fourth-quarter gift. That touchdown, which came with 8:10 left in the game, kept Dartmouth from a second straight shutout loss to Harvard, which won 24-0 last year. In 1996, Dartmouth won 6-3.
The Crimson ended up allowing a stingy 225 total yards, and only 50 came on the ground. But the game was over even before junior Mike Giampaolo hit a career long-tying 43-yard field goal to give Harvard a 20-0 lead with 4:09 left in the third quarter.
Not much later than that, the Crimson began to play softer against the pass, obviously content to trade yards for time.
At the half, Dartmouth had 24 yards on 22 rushes. It had 59 yards passing to give a pathetic 83-yard net. Harvard was up 10-0 at intermission, and an incredible defensive third quarter made sure that the Crimson offense could play relaxed.
Want to know how bad Dartmouth's third quarter was? 15 offensive plays, 12 yards. The Big Green's three drives collectively lasted as long as a trip through downtown Hanover and were even less exciting.
On the opening drive of the second half, Dartmouth converted on third down and had the ball on its 46-yard line. An incompletion and two sacks later, it was punting from its 38-yard line. That drive was a microcosm of how the first three quarters went for the Big Green.
The Dartmouth offensive line spent more time pulling quarterbacks Mike Coffey and Brian Mann up off the ground than it did protecting them. Harvard recorded seven sacks, but the player Coffey and Mann will have nightmares of is junior tackle Chris Nowinski, who had four sacks and six tackles.
Nowinski made an impact from the
"They handled us up front," Dartmouth CoachJohn Lyons said. "Very similar to last year, theirdefensive line just whipped us up front."
Nowinski played well in relief last year butwas clearly overshadowed by Harvard's incredibleall-senior line. Three of the four starters wereAll-Ivy First Team during their careers.
The line was the glue that held the teamtogether with both its talent and leadership.Other teams didn't have time to throw the ball,and the line was equally stout against therun--Harvard didn't allow a rushing touchdown inseven Ivy games.
Harvard Coach Tim Murphy has alluded somewhatlongingly to that line several times this year. Asmuch as its praises were sung last year, that unitwasn't fully appreciated until Harvard lost itsfirst three games. In Week Two, a 34-14 loss toColgate, the Crimson gave up 474 yards. A weeklater, Harvard surrendered 501 yards to Lehigh ina 21-17 loss.
But as Harvard's defense formed a new identity,good results followed. The Crimson held Cornell to289 yards in a 19-12 win, Harvard's first of theseason. Holy Cross managed only 259 yards andsurrendered five sacks in Harvard's 20-14 WeekFive win.