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Football Spring Game Previews Dominant Defense

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Junior safety Tanner Lee (36) lines up behind linebacker and fellow junior Chase Guillory (45). Harvard returns an experienced defense as the team looks to reclaim the Ivy title in 2017.

The last time Harvard football played a full-contact game, over 30,000 people crammed the stands, close to 100 Yale opponents filled the sidelines, and the world came crashing to a halt.

Five months later, that 21-14 defeat to the Bulldogs still hurts. The roar of visiting fans—strangely jubilant, for once—has not fully receded. The past is everywhere.

On Saturday night, however, the Crimson held an exorcism. The team suited up for an intra-squad scrimmage, capping three months of training and inaugurating the 2017 season.

With temperatures stuck in the 40s, the Spring Game felt more like winter. But no matter—Harvard is back, and back with a mission.

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“The spring is a grind,” sophomore wide receiver Henry Taylor said. “The best part about the grind, though, is that you’re with your buddies…. If you get through with guys that you really respect and love as brothers, it brings a sense of pride.”

At other schools, the first-team offense battles the second-team defense and vice versa. But at Harvard Stadium, the two first-team units faced off (offense in white, defense in crimson), as did the two second-team units.

The first-team defense won the heavyweight battle, holding the offense scoreless and forcing two turnovers. Equally dominant, though, was the second-team offense, which racked up 31 points in slightly more than three quarters.

Importantly, the starting lineup is quicksand. Injuries, practice performance, and coaching decisions will shift personnel until the season opener.

“Competition is always healthy for improvement,” captain Luke Hutton said. “You play better football when you have someone nipping at your heels and competing for your job.”

Still, for fans salivating at the prospect of a September tailgate, the Spring Game offered juicy hints of what awaits.

NO TACKLING DUMMIES

Midway through the second quarter, a missile from quarterback Tommy Stewart slammed into the hands of safety Tim Haehl. The junior dropped the ball.

Haehl stopped and shook his head. After three seasons, he and the rest of the experienced secondary have higher standards.

On this night, redemption came less than 15 minutes later. On the first play of the third quarter, Haehl again undercut a route. This time he grabbed the pass, returning the pick to the opponent’s 17-yard line.

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