Bulldogs Win The Game, 21-14
BOSTON, Mass. – In a rivalry that is known as The Game, today's contest could easily go down as one of the true classics in the 133 years of the Yale-Harvard football rivalry.
Defensive back Jason Alessi batted down a fourth-down pass in front of the Yale sideline with eight seconds left to secure the Bulldogs' 21-14 victory that prevented the Crimson from securing a piece of the Ivy League Championship.
In a battle of teams with opposite records, the Elis registered a milestone win with heroes on both sides of the ball and on special teams. The senior class leadership and performance was crucial today, but it's hard to overlook the impact of the Yale youth.
Freshmen scored all three touchdowns, and a rookie quarterback, Kurt Rawlings, threw a pair of scoring passes to Reed Klubnik. The last one was the game-winner with 6:47 left in the fourth quarter, a three-yard play that capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive that won't soon be forgotten.
"I'm very proud of this football team, our football family. We got exceptional leadership from the guy sitting to my left (Darius Manora) and we were able to overcome adversity," said Tony Reno, Yale's Joel E. Smilow '54 Head Coach, who was an assistant on the Bulldog team that last won at Boston in 2006. "I'm proud of how they've responded and the way we played."
Yale took over on that game-winning drive after Crimson placekicker Jake McIntyre was wide left from 35 yards out. Rawlings, who completed five of seven passes on the possession, mixed in timely tosses with runs by classmate Alan Lamar and junior Deshawn Salter. The longest play of the drive was a Rawlings 13-yard run that gave the visitors a first-and-goal at the Harvard 10.
Lamar, who scored from a yard out in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7, carried the ball to the three before the third-down play that sent half of the packed Harvard stadium into a frenzy. Rawlings dropped back to pass, looked to one receiver who was covered, moved away to avoid a sack and then spotted Klubnik coming across the end zone from right to left. Rawlings, who is the first Yale freshman QB to beat Harvard since 1945, got the pass off before getting hit and Klubnik jumped, secured the pass with both hands and came down in the end zone a split second before being hit. The ball bounced to the ground, but the catch and touchdown had already been made.
"I was beating myself up," said Rawlings about a pass he misfired earlier that could have been a TD. "We should have had it [TD] four plays earlier with JP Shohfi. Reed [Klubnik] wasn't my first read, but he cut hard, made a great catch."
Klubnik wasn't sure he'd be on the field at the end of that drive. A few players earlier, he went to the sideline with an injury and was being looked at by the medical staff.
"The trainer told me, 'Reed, you're good'…The ball was snapped, Kurt put the ball on the money," said Klubnik.
Alex Galland, who had yet another fantastic day punting, split the uprights for his third extra point of the day as the noise in the stadium rose to a level that could only help the Yale defense get into a finishing mode.
The defense, led by captain Darius Manora's nine tackles, stopped Harvard on its next possession and forced a punt. The Harvard defense then answered with a stop and got the ball back for one last chance. QB Joe Viviano moved his team from his own 20 to the 47-yard line before Alessi ended the Crimson's title hopes by batting down the final pass.
When you look at the final score, it would be hard to imagine that the game was scoreless through the first 25 minutes of play. However, the span included 11 punts and nine penalties before Harvard cashed in on a penalty and found the end zone to go up 7-0 with 4:46 left in the half.
The Bulldogs bounced back with a 10-play, 68-yard drive that ended with Lamar (57 rushing yards) bursting into the end zone. The drive appeared as if it would end in a field goal attempt by Galland, but the sophomore lined up wide left and the ball was snapped to holder Andrew Johnson. Johnson, a junior backup quarterback, took three steps forward and then jumped while throwing the ball over the Harvard line. Senior tight end Leo Haenni had taken off on the snap and was near the five-yard line when Johnson tossed the pass. Haenni had to come back for the pass and landed on the three-yard line.
The fake field goal was the first of two crucial, deceptive special teams plays, and the second was just as surprising. Kicking off to start the second half, junior Blake Horn bounced a perfect on-side kick 11 yards before finishing the play with the recovery.
Rawlings and Klubnik made the on-side kick significant by connecting on a 28-yard pass play that put the Elis up 14-7. The Bel Air, Md., native dropped back and released a perfect spiral down the right sideline. Klubnik, with a Crimson defensive back (who got flagged for interference on the play) all over him, leaped to haul in the throw in the right corner of the end zone. The receiver, who led the Blue with five catches for 55 yards, got his left foot in before being pushed out of bounds with 13:46 left in the third.
Prosperity did not last long for either team. Harvard answered with a score five minutes later to make it 14-14 entering the money quarter.
"I am very proud of these young guys," said Manora. "They've learned valuable lessons that will take this program forward."
Rawlings, who now has three career starts, added to that idea by saying, "This win teaches the young guys how to be leaders. We have amazing leadership. The seniors we had were amazing leaders. Going forward, it's time to start something new."
The Blue was playing without one of its best players, Dale Harris, who has played CB and TB and has been a crucial member of special teams... Yale, which leads the nation in red zone efficiency, was 2-for-2 today… Kurt Rawlings led all players with 74 rushing yards and a 7.4 average… Rawlings became the first Yale frosh QB to beat the Crimson since Art Dakos as a true freshman in 1945...The Bulldogs ended a nine-game skid against Harvard by avoiding any turnovers… Senior WR Myles Gaines bounced back from an injury at Brown to haul in four important passes… Deshawn Salter had eight carries and converted a big fourth-down play... Juniors LB Matthew Oplinger and safety Hayden Carlson, both of whom finished with 5 solos and seven tackles, made numerous big plays on defense throughout the contest.