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Harvard, Yale on a collision course

By Craig Larson
Globe Staff / November 22, 2008
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Three field goals surrendered vs. Penn. One allowed against high-scoring Brown. A shutout last week of Princeton, Yale's first blanking of its most despised rival since 1937.

Harvard coach Tim Murphy, noting the numbing numbers this week, respectfully rattled off two words, three times in a row for emphasis: "baseball scores . . . baseball scores . . . baseball scores."

Yale is yielding 10.6 points per game, the best defensive effort of any team nationally.

"In this day and age of offensive football, spread football, people throwing the football, it's amazing that you can have someone playing almost single-digit scoring defense," said Murphy, whose team is averaging an Ivy League-best 29.3 points per game. "They have no weaknesses. No one has been able to run on them. No one has been able to pass on them."

Columbia quarterback Shane Kelly was the last foe to break the plane against Yale, scampering 10 yards on a keeper with 1:15 left in the third quarter . . . three weeks ago.

With their 13th Ivy crown, and third in the last five seasons, in their sights, that is the mighty task the 19th-ranked Crimson (8-1, 5-1 Ivy) face today at noon in the 125th renewal of The Game. In front of 33,000-plus chilled folks at the Stadium, they'll tackle a Yale team (6-3, 4-2) that is playing with supreme confidence and renewed vigor.

"Defensively, we have played better the last three weeks than the first six, which is quite amazing," Yale coach Jack Siedlecki said of his veteran group, which will feature just one sophomore, Adam Money subbing for the injured Paul Rice at safety.

Siedlecki points to the 9-7 loss to Penn in Week 6, the Bulldogs' second straight 2-point setback, as the low point.

"The players came in that Sunday, the next day, and it was amazing to see their reaction," he said.

Yale hasn't lost since, the defense impenetrable, the offense continuing to evolve with 6-foot-5-inch sophomore Brook Hart at the controls.

"It is a team that has just gotten better, which is what you want to see," said Siedlecki. "They have just continued to improve."

In senior captain Bobby Abare of Acton, a ferocious 6-2, 220-pound playmaking linebacker, the Bulldogs have the league's best defender. "An infectious player, a tremendous captain," lauded Siedlecki of Abare, who leads the Bulldogs in tackles (68) and interceptions (4) while also recording 3 1/2 sacks.

"They have an awful lot of good players, 6-5 [left tackle Kyle Hawari], 6-5 [middle guard Joe Hathaway], 6-6 [right tackle Tom McCarthy] across the front, but their unquestioned leader is Bobby Abare, physically and tangibly," said Murphy. "He seems to make the other 10 guys around him walk a little taller."

Just 68 seconds into last year's game in New Haven, Chris Pizzotti and the Crimson shocked the Bulldogs with a 40-yard touchdown toss on the way to a 27-0 first-half blitz and eventual 37-6 drubbing.

"Last year, we had some success against them, but that will only make this year even harder; they have a great defense and they have [safety] Larry Abare back, who was hurt last year," said the 6-5, 225-pound Pizzotti, who threw for 316 yards on 27 of 41 passing a year ago. "They will make you drive the football. They don't give up big plays. You have to be patient."

So the storied matchup sets up for the perfect storm, the Ivy's best defense vs. the best offense.

"No question, that is getting the focus," said Siedlecki. "Pizzotti [19-2 as a starter] has been the best quarterback in the league the last few years, and we have been playing great defense."

Murphy has studied the film, over and over. He knows.

"Last year, we saw some chinks in their armor we could take advantage of," he said. "This year, we can't find any. Throw in the cold, wintry weather, and I don't think many people expect to see a shootout."

They do expect a tug of war with the Ivy crown on the line.

"This is the fifth time in 11 years that we control our destiny," said Murphy. "The four previous times, we've been very fortunate. We have converted. We're not a dominant football team, but we're a team that plays extremely hard and finds a way to win."

New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell calls today's Colonial Athletic Association North showdown in Orono against archrival Maine a "great, great, great situation" for both teams.

His 11th-ranked Wildcats (8-2, 5-2 CAA North) tackle the 17th-ranked Black Bears (8-3, 5-2) for the Brice-Cowell Musket, the North title, and, likely, an NCAA playoff spot.

"The team that we are playing is playing as well as anyone in the CAA or better," said McDonnell, whose team is coming off an impressive 52-21 win over Massachusetts. "Our kids know what's at stake.

Riding a bruising rushing attack that is averaging 201.7 yards per game, Maine has ripped off six straight wins. "This is a great rivalry, the musket is a big deal, but this year, with the North title and a playoff spot at stake, you don't see this quite often," said Maine coach Jack Cosgrove.

Seeking its first Patriot League title since 1991, Holy Cross (7-3, 5-0) travels to Hamilton, N.Y., to square off against Colgate (8-2, 4-0), where Crusaders senior quarterback Dominic Randolph (31 touchdown passes) can add to his long list of school records and secure an NCAA playoff berth.

In the first round of the Division 3 playoffs, Curry (9-1) journeys to Ithaca (9-1), the top-ranked team in the region, while New England Football Conference champ Plymouth State (10-1) plays at Cortland (9-1).

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com.

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