CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — When Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found wide receiver Brian Edwards for a 27-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter of the 121st edition of The Game, the situation went from bad to horrendous — and it did not stop there.
Led by the relentless three-headed monster of Fitzpatrick, Edwards and running back Clifton Dawson, the Div. I-AA No. 12 Harvard Crimson (10-0, 7-0 Ivy) dominated the Bulldogs (5-5, 3-4) 35-3. The Cantabs became the sole owners of the Ivy League championship with the win while the Elis finished in a three-way tie for fourth. The four-year losing streak to Harvard is Yale’s first since 1922.
The last game for the Bulldog seniors was similar in many ways to most of the games this season — second-half offensive woes and mistakes that were turned into big opportunities for their opponents.
The Bulldogs were in the fight early, but the Cantabs’ special teams and defense created too much momentum for their team in the second quarter.
After an Eli punt, Edwards briefly dropped the ball but then got it back, put on a burst of speed around the right corner, and made it the 53 yards to the end zone. The uncharacteristic allowance of a touchdown on special teams cost the Bulldogs as the score jumped to 14-0.
The other play came as the Bulldogs, led by quarterback Alvin Cowan ’05, were driving. A 37-yard pass from Cowan to wide receiver Chandler Henley ’06 behind Cantab coverage put the Elis within scoring distance. Cowan was looking for a quick pass to Henley on the left but he threw the ball too quickly. Safety Rick Williamson cut the pass off and returned the interception 100 yards for another Crimson touchdown.
“We were running that play all year — it’s a good play to run,” Cowan said. “Looking back on it, I didn’t see [Henley] that well and I didn’t see that defensive back at all, so I probably shouldn’t have thrown it.”
Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said he believed those two mistakes deflated his team, but was quick to give credit to the Harvard squad.
“I think we were taken out of the game,” Siedlecki said. “Obviously the two big plays — the punt-return and the interception — just put us in a big-time hole. [The Cantabs] were a great team on both sides of the ball.”
Cowan finished with 231 yards on 24-for-46 passing to six different receivers. Wideout Ralph Plumb ’05 led the receivers with 78 yards on 11 catches, followed by Henley with 74 yards and five receptions.
Despite being down by three touchdowns, the Bulldogs were not done fighting in the first half. Some solid running by tailback Rob Carr ’05 helped bring the Elis within the red zone again. Carr finished with 56 yards rushing on 15 attempts.
Although they only needed six yards to get into the end zone, three incomplete passes took away a shot at a much-needed touchdown and the Bulldogs settled for a field goal by Andrew Sullivan ’05.
The Elis finished 1-for-3 in the red zone, which was characteristic of how the offense functioned for much of the season. Many times the Bulldogs got close to where they needed to be but often had trouble finishing.
The Elis also could not find a way to get anything done in the second-half, something that haunted them the entire season. Yale scored a total of 114 points in the first half of games this season but only 62 points in the second half. The pressure to come back could have played a factor during a few of the drives against Harvard, as incomplete passes and a few penalties kept the Bulldogs from converting first downs. The one long drive the Elis were able to create in the fourth quarter ended within sight of the goal line after four plays bore little fruit.
“For whatever reason, [the Cantabs] made plays,” Siedlecki said. “We had several opportunities to at least get back in the game. I thought we were excited at halftime, but we went down the field and didn’t score.”
In general, the Eli defense did a commendable job containing Harvard. But they did allow some big plays from Fitzpatrick. The Crimson signal caller finished with 71 rushing yards and 124 passing yards and was involved in the two Crimson touchdowns in the second half, running for one touchdown and throwing the 27-yard pass to Edwards for the other.
“He can run or throw,” defensive end Don Smith ’05 said about Fitzpatrick. “It’s tough. He made so many plays. We talked that he’d run more since it was the last game of his career and he did. He converted at least three big third downs.”
Although the Bulldogs lost, the only statistical category the Crimson crushed the Elis was the score. The Elis had a better possession time, 28:44, than they usually have, as well as only 53 fewer yards of total offense than they average.
The Game ended the 2004 season, which started with high expectations and finished with individual achievements but overall mediocrity. Cowan, Carr and Plumb broke countless offensive records for the Bulldogs, but the three of them could not do everything to overcome some tough opponents. Captain Rory Hennessey ’05 was the only Eli named to the First-Team All-Ivy for his successes at left guard, but his team was unable to find a way to beat Harvard.
Other Elis were also singled out by the Ivy League coaches for their performances this year. Cowan, Carr, Plumb, center Ed McCarthy ’07, safety Barton Simmons ’05 and linebacker Ben Breunig ’05 were all named to the Second-Team All-Ivy. Henley, defensive end Brandon Dyches ’06 and cornerback Fred Jelks ’05 also got Honorable Mention All-Ivy.
The team may have received individual awards like this, but the losing finish within the Ancient Eight has drawn some rumbling from Eli fans. It will be up to Siedlecki, his staff, and next year’s seniors, including Dyches and Henley, to figure out a way to change things around for the Bulldogs.
Dyches said the defense played hard to keep the score as low as possible.
“I’m going to take [that effort] into next year, and try to step up more next year,” Dyches said. “It’s a sad day but I am excited for tomorrow.”
The loss to Harvard also ends the Yale football careers of the 31 Eli seniors, including five fifth-year seniors. Siedlecki said they were a special group of athletes.
“Even though I was disappointed in the season, I was never disappointed in any individuals playing for us,” Siedlecki said. “They have done everything we asked them to do. I’m going to miss every one of them. I’m proud of them.”