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They say the best offense is often a good defense. But just to be sure, Harvard linebacker Bobby Everett took care of both sides of the equation against Penn on Saturday.
With the Crimson already up three touchdowns as the third quarter drew to a close, freshman placekicker Matt Schindel trudged onto the field, eying his Harvard record-setting 14th field goal of the season. But it was not to be.
“We made the decision pre-game that we were going to run [the fake] probably the second opportunity we got,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “That was the thing that kept the momentum in our favor, which probably sealed their fate.”
Crouched at the 25-yard line, holder Robert Balkema deftly avoided Schindel and, as he cocked his arm, rolled left looking for an open receiver downfield.
“They were releasing a cross formation in front of the line, and I was right behind, hoping to hide myself so no one would jump on me right away,” Everett said. “I went out into the flat and Robbie was supposed to dump it right away. Great play drawn up by Coach Butler. It actually worked out exactly how I planned it. Somehow.”
Everett did avoid the detection of the Quakers’ defense, slipping into open field beyond the line of scrimmage. Hit as he threw, Balkema delivered a strike to Everett, waiting with open arms.
Conjuring the skills of his long-lost high school running back days, Everett headed towards the goal line, leveling one last stiff arm before diving inside the pylon for his first collegiate touchdown.
“I’d been dreaming about maybe getting a chance to score, and it was really weird when it happened that way,” Everett said. “I’m so happy to be able to help the team, [and] put more points on the board.”
Of course, he’d already proved his mettle by keeping opponents’ off it.
Headed into the Ivy title showdown, Everett’s defense had surrendered no more than 14 points in any of its last four outings, a far cry from the unit’s performance a season ago.
But talk of dominance and renaissance was premature. After all, Northeastern, Princeton, Dartmouth and Columbia are no offensive juggernauts. Now, after allowing Ivy behemoth Penn just 10 points, the chatter can begin in earnest.
“I kind of goaded our defense the last week and all week kept saying, ‘How ‘bout that Penn defense?’ because they’ve had such a tremendous defensive team in general,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “And our guys really rose to the occasion and played extremely hard and extremely well.”
Murphy mustn’t have been targeting Everett, because for him motivation is rarely a challenge, and this week proved little different.
As has been the case all season, his numbers were solid but not overwhelming. Last year, he had recorded 12 tackles and two sacks against the Quakers. But more importantly, the Crimson had lost. This time, in victory, he nailed down seven tackles and recovered a fumble.
But, as with any leader’s contributions, easily quantified statistics never quite tell the whole story. There’s no convenient measure of how often a defender is perfectly positioned to seal off a gap forming at the line of scrimmage, thereby allowing a teammate to record a tackle. Nor can an opponent’s unwillingness to test a particular defender’s resolve be neatly distilled into a simple number for ready comparison.
Understanding that is the first step to appreciating Everett’s role in the Harvard defense and the Quakers’ complete failure offensively on Saturday. The senior, the unquestioned general of his unit for the first time in his career, could have more tackles or sacks if he played for himself, if he worried about his individual legacy in Crimson history and not ensuring that the defense as a unit keeps a rusher below 100 yards in a given game, as it did containing Penn tailback Sam Mathews to a mere 57 yards.
But that’s not Bobby Everett. That’s not the linebacker whose leadership transformed a defense which Harvard won seven games in spite of last season into a unit the Crimson has won nine games because of this year.
“I love this team, and I love these guys,” Everett said. “And anything I can do to help us win, I’m more than willing to do.”
—TIMOTHY J. McGINN
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