Crimson Finishes With Perfect 7-0 Ivy League Record
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Harvard had already clinched the Ivy League title a week earlier, but the Crimson was seeking to complete a perfect league season with a win in The Game Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. The Cantabs got what they were looking for, overcoming an early 7-0 deficit to beat Yale 45-7 in the 128th edition of The Game.
This was the ninth straight win this year for Harvard, which finished with the school's modern day record for points in a season (274, 41 more than the previous record). Harvard had 506 yards of total offense Saturday, compared to 302 for Yale. The Crimson was also able to take advantage of three Yale interceptions along with a fumble and a blocked field goal.
"[Harvard] looked really good on video, and they looked even better in person," said Tom Williams, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football. "They were a better team today."
The Game started out looking like a battle between two prolific offenses. Yale came into the day averaging nearly 26 points per game, second only to Harvard and Cornell in the Ivy League.
Harvard (9-1, 7-0 Ivy League) moved the ball well on its first drive, but quarterback Collier Winters lost the handle on a run near the goal line and the ball bounced through the end zone and out of bounds, giving the Bulldogs the ball at their own 20. A 61-yard punt by freshman Kyle Cazzetta then pinned Harvard back at its 13-yard line. Junior cornerback Collin Bibb's third-down tackle after a short pass finished a three-and-out for the Harvard offense, and the resulting punt set Yale up at the Harvard 47.
Harvard had allowed Penn only 24 rushing yards a week ago in a 37-20 win over the Quakers that clinched outright possession of Ivy title No. 14 for the Crimson (tied with Yale for third-most in the league). The Bulldogs got 20 rushing yards on their second drive of The Game alone, including 15 from senior tailback Alex Thomas. That helped get the ball to the Harvard 24, where senior quarterback Patrick Witt found sophomore wide receiver Jackson Liguori over the middle and Liguori broke a tackle en route to the end zone. Junior placekicker Philippe Panico booted the extra point to put Yale up 7-0 at 7:25.
Harvard answered with a touchdown drive of its own, going 73 yards in eight plays to tie The Game on a four-yard run by Winters.
A fumble ended Yale's next drive, and Harvard then drove 57 yards for the go-ahead score on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Winters to receiver Alex Sarkisian on the first play of the second quarter. Winters completed five of six passes for 48 yards on that drive, on his way to a 355-yard day (27 for 42, two touchdowns, no interceptions).
"The credit for our passing game goes to the offensive line," Sarkisian said. "When they give Collier time, he makes great decisions."
Yale's next drive ended with a blocked field goal. Harvard then lined up for a field goal of its own but turned it into a fake, with the holder pitching it to kicker David Mothander to run it in from five yards out. Mothander then booted the extra point to put Harvard up 21-7 at 6:48.
"We were expecting something in that situation," Williams said. "They had done it to us two years ago. Our guy [the defender responsible for the runner] was trying to make a play, he was just unable to do it with a guy hanging on him."
After a Harvard punt, the Yale offense took over at its own two-yard line with 3:13 left in the first half. The Bulldogs punted from their own 43, and Harvard then drove for a 21-yard field goal by Mothander to take a 24-7 lead into halftime.
"Even at halftime, down 17, we still felt we had a shot," said Witt, who finished 24-of-39 for 226 yards.
But Yale's second drive of the third quarter ended with an interception on a screen pass at the Yale 18. A tackle by senior free safety Geoff Dunham on third-and-seven left the Crimson four yards shy of a first down on the ensuing possession, so Harvard tried a 29-yard field goal and missed.
The Yale defense came up with another three-and-out deep in Harvard territory late in the third quarter, forcing a Crimson punt from the 16. That was part of a string of three straight drives by the Crimson which lasted a total of 10 plays and gained only 16 yards.
The Yale offense started from its own 36 after that and got to the Harvard 30, where the Bulldogs faced fourth-and-five with 1:11 left in the third. Another Harvard interception brought that drive to an end.
"In the third quarter we had some chances to punch it in, and we didn't," said Williams. "That was a big deal in terms of momentum."
Harvard's next drive included a miraculous third-and-10 conversion from Winters, who heaved one down the right sideline for Sarkisian to come away with a 30-yard gain at the Yale 20. Two plays later tailback Zach Boden's 11-yard dash up the middle made it 31-7 Harvard on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"[Winters] was the difference in terms of making those plays," Williams said. "They converted a lot of third downs. He was able to do a lot of that with his legs [Winters rushed for 62 yards]. He's a really good football player, one of the best in our league."
Harvard then scored again with 12:11 to play, as tight end Kyle Juszczyk turned a short pass into a 60-yard touchdown. Harvard's captain, linebacker Alex Gedeon, then returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown to make it 45-7 with 5:12 left.
As the final minutes of The Game ticked away, the Bulldogs were able to work in many members of the senior class to get the experience of playing against the Crimson. For Witt, whose decision to decline an interview as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship in order to play in The Game attracted major media attention, watching the end of The Game with the score decidedly in Harvard's favor was difficult.
"It's tough," Witt said. "It breaks my heart for the guys on this team that have been through a lot."
Witt re-affirmed that his dedication to his teammates made him comfortable with his decision to play in The Game and pass up a chance at the Rhodes, regardless of the final score.
"I had a commitment to these guys long before I applied for that scholarship," Witt said.
Witt and the other seniors were all honored on the field before The Game. That included senior linebacker Jordan Haynes, the team's captain, whose team-best 11 tackles provided no consolation for the loss.
"It's definitely a low point for me," Haynes said. "All I can hope for is to give guidance to the next group of guys coming. The good thing is Yale football doesn't end here."
Yale (5-5, 4-3 Ivy League) hosts its post-season banquet Sunday afternoon.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity