Two Touchdowns in Final 4:44 Give Crimson Win
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The 129th edition of The Game Saturday afternoon at Harvard Stadium wound up coming down to the final minutes, something that would have surprised anyone who just looked at the won-lost records of Yale and No. 24 Harvard at the start of the day. Playing the role of underdogs, the Bulldogs took the lead with just 7:07 to play and appeared on the verge of an upset. But Harvard staged one last rally, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 4:44 left and then putting The Game out of reach with another touchdown with 1:08 remaining to win 34-24.
Just a year ago the Crimson had cruised to a 45-7 win over the Bulldogs. But in their first season under Tony Reno, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach of Football, this year's Yale team had already gotten enough adversity out of the way early in the season to be ready for whatever Harvard had to offer Saturday afternoon. Yale (2-8, 1-6 Ivy League) had lost its top three quarterbacks to injuries for the bulk of the previous three games, and even had to go without sophomore starting running back Tyler Varga due to an injury last week against Princeton. Varga was back for The Game, as was senior quarterback Derek Russell, who earned the start. Russell had been injured since Yale's win over Penn.
Harvard (8-2, 5-2 Ivy League) had seen its chance to clinch a share of the Ivy League championship disappear in a loss at Penn last week, but the Crimson still had hopes of earning a share of the title with a win and a Penn loss Saturday. Only one of those two things happened, as Penn won at Cornell to claim sole possession of the Ancient Eight crown.
Harvard, meanwhile, had its hands full with the Bulldogs. Despite eventually finishing with 34 points for The Game and a league-record 394 points for the season, the Crimson got off to a slow start against the Yale defense.
"They played very differently from what we had seen on film, so it took us a while to adjust to that," said Harvard head coach Tim Murphy.
Harvard nearly fumbled away the opening kickoff, and a sack by senior defensive lineman Dylan Drake derailed the Crimson's first drive. Drake and senior linebacker Will McHale then disrupted the Crimson's next drive with another sack, setting the tone for a day where Yale had four sacks.
"The guys up front did a great job, getting off blocks," said Reno. "It was really important for us to get pressure on [Harvard quarterback Colton] Chapple."
Harvard had a 34-yard touchdown pass on its second drive called back due to offensive pass interference and had to punt again.
Yale (2-8, 1-6 Ivy League) got the first turnover of The Game when Chapple scrambled and sophomore defensive end Davis Frank knocked the ball loose. McHale fell on the fumble at the Harvard 34. A personal foul call on the Crimson helped get the ball to the Harvard 15, and senior placekicker Philippe Panico eventually booted a 29-yard field goal to put the Bulldogs up 3-0 with 21 seconds left in the first quarter.
Panico then prevented disaster by making a tackle on the ensuing kickoff after a 33 yard return for the Crimson. Yale got another sack on that drive, this one from senior defensive linemen Nick Daffin and Chris Dooley, though Harvard was able to come away with a 23-yard field goal from David Mothander to tie The Game at 12:50 of the second quarter.
Seniors continued to lead Yale's defensive effort as the first half wore on. A tackle by senior linebacker Ryan Falbo and senior cornerback Kurt Stottlemyer held Harvard short of a first down on a third-down pass late in the second quarter, forcing another Crimson punt with 2:12 left in the half.
Junior Henry Furman, one of the players who had emerged at quarterback while the top three on the depth chart were injured, came on to take the snaps for Yale's final drive of the second quarter. The Bulldogs could not get a first down, but Furman would have a major impact later in The Game. Harvard also came up empty on its final possession, and the teams went into halftime tied 3-3.
Yale stopped Harvard's first possession of the second half at the Eli 20, where Stottlemyer and sophomore linebacker EJ Conway tackled Harvard running back Treavor Scales for a six-yard loss on third down. Mothander came on to kick a 37-yarder to give Harvard the lead with 8:53 left in the third.
Chapple extended the lead on a broken play with 4:51 left in the third, scrambling to his right and then cutting up the sideline for an 18-yard touchdown run that put Harvard up 13-3.
Being down two scores forced Yale to re-think its offense.
"When you're down 13-3, you've got to open it up a little more," Reno said. "That changed the game."
Furman came up with Yale's biggest play on offense when he launched one down the field to junior wide receiver Cameron Sandquist, whose diving grab at the Harvard five capped a 46-yard gain. Two plays later, playing Wildcat quarterback as he had done frequently in recent weeks, Varga scored on a three-yard keeper with 2:40 left in the third.
Another sack by Daffin and Drake helped keep Harvard from getting a first down on its next drive, and the Bulldogs started a drive at their own 29 with 1:20 left in the third. They appeared to be in trouble on a third-and-three from the Harvard 12 when Furman started rolling to his right. Under pressure, he fired the ball into a crowd of players in the end zone where it somehow found its way to sophomore wide receiver Grant Wallace for the go-ahead touchdown with 13:30 left in the fourth quarter.
"It was a roll-out play, and I was just sitting in the end zone," Wallace said. "There were a lot of Harvard players around me … I saw Hank come back to me on his read, and tried to work back to the ball."
Harvard answered right back, driving 64 yards in five plays that took just 1:42. The Crimson went back ahead on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Chapple to wide receiver Andrew Berg in the end zone.
The Yale defense came up with another big play later in the fourth when, under heavy pressure, Chapple tossed one forward that wound up right in the hands of Daffin at the Crimson 29 for an interception. Shortly after Furman converted a crucial third down with a 12-yard pass to Wallace, the Bulldogs got inside the five. Varga alertly covered up a fumble after the snap hit the man in motion on first-and-goal from the three. Two plays later, he took the ball in for a two-yard touchdown that put Yale up 24-20 with 7:07 to play.
But that would wind up being the last time Yale held the lead. Chapple broke off a 61-yard run on the Crimson's first play of the next drive. Senior defensive back Collin Bibb raced back to save a touchdown, diving to trip up Chapple at the Yale nine. But four plays later the Crimson went ahead on a four-yard touchdown pass from Chapple to tight end Cameron Brate with 4:44 left.
The Bulldogs had scored touchdowns on three of four drives at that point, but came up with just six yards on their next possession before being forced to punt. Harvard got the ball back at its own 29 with 3:19 to play, and the Bulldogs were one stop away from forcing a punt in the waning moments. But on third-and-13 from the Harvard 37, Scales broke off a 63-yard touchdown run that put The Game out of reach, 34-24 with 1:08 to play. Yale's final drive ended with an interception, and Harvard ran out the clock.
Despite the loss, the battle that the Bulldogs provided for the heavily favored Crimson left an impression on many.
"Those guys did a great job coaching, and gave us all we could handle," said Murphy.
For Reno, the Bulldogs' effort Saturday was a validation of what he has seen ever since taking over the program earlier this year.
"From Jan. 13 forward, these guys made the decision to be that type of team … just to keep playing and battling," Reno said. "They showed the world what Yale football is all about. I can't be prouder."
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity