UPDATED: November 21 6:20 p.m. CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Yale expected to win the football game. It dominated every statistical aspect of the game except the scoreboard. But it did things that lose football games. It allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown. It gave up a blocked punt. It gave Harvard short fields. Then Harvard made the plays it had to. And Yale didn’t.
That was the diagnosis of Yale head coach Tom Williams after the Bulldogs (7–3, 5-2 Ivy) fell 28–21 to the Crimson (7–3, 5-2) for the fourth consecutive year and ninth time in ten years.
The 127th incarnation of the Yale-Harvard football rivalry was one marked by storylines both uplifting and sobering.
Two of the biggest plays of the game for the Crimson came from senior wide receiver Marco Iannuzzi, a married 24-year old father who did not get into Harvard until his third try. Iannuzzi did let a broken collarbone or the fact that he had not been cleared to play until Thursday stop him. He set up Harvard’s first score with a 46-yard reception off a Crimson flea-flicker play. He then changed the momentum of the game with a kickoff return for a touchdown on the first play of the second half.
But not all of the game was a feel good story, especially on the Yale side of the stands. Midway through the fourth quarter, Harvard running back Gino Gordon was reeling in a pass when Yale linebacker Jesse Reising ’11 plowed into him at full speed. The two collided helmet to helmet. Both were knocked out and lay motionless on the field as trainers converged and players from both teams removed their helmets and knelt out of concern and respect.
Gordon regained consciousness and walked woozily off the field a few minutes later. Reising did not. Although he was alert and could feel all his extremities ten minutes after the hit, according to Yale head coach Tom Williams, trainers deemed it safest to cart him off the field, strapped immobile to a stretcher. Reising was promptly taken in an ambulance to the Beth Israel Medical Center Trauma Center, where he remained as of Sunday afternoon, according to the Patient Information Office at the hospital.
Gordon walked over to Reising’s stretcher and said a few words to the linebacker on the way to the ambulance.
“When he was being carted off, I went over to say ‘Hey,’ because this is just a game, Gordon said. “Just because we’re big doesn’t mean we don’t care for each other.”
Play resumed 13 minutes after the players went down. Williams gathered the team to inform that that Reising was responsive, but the Bulldog defense still faced the tough task of shaking off the sight of medics wheeling one of their leaders off the field.
“Jesse’s one of my close friends, and I hate to see that happen to one of my close friends,” said linebacker Jordan Haynes ’12, who was announced Sunday as the next year’s football captain. “You have to rally around that and keep playing.”
Harvard did not miss a beat. They had started the drive off with a short field when punter Greg Carlsen ’14 shanked a kick from the Yale 32. Reising was called for a personal foul on his hit, which moved the Crimson up to the Yale 13. Five plays later, Crimson receiver Alex Sarkisian caught a 12-yard touchdown pass to give the home team a 28–14 lead.
It looked like the Elis would be unable to make up the deficit when they turned the ball over on downs on their next drive. (Quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 threw an interception from deep in Harvard territory with less than five minutes remaining, but the interception was erased because of a penalty against Harvard for roughing the passer.)
It took captain Tom McCarthy ’11 a single play to restore hope.
The defensive lineman, who thanks to a fifth year of eligibility was the only Yale starter on Saturday to have seen the Bulldogs beat Harvard, stripped the ball from Crimson running back Treavor Scales and then jumped on the fumble himself.
“I was just able to get on it at the bottom of the pile,” McCarthy said. “We knew we had to get the ball back in three plays or fewer, and we did that.”
The captain’s efforts breathed life into the Yale attack, which had struggled to turn success moving the ball into points all game. Less than three minutes later, running back Alex Thomas ’12 scored his third touchdown of the game on a one-yard dive.
But time was running out. Although the Bulldogs defense came up strong once again and forced the Crimson to go three and out, Yale got the ball back on their own 17-yard line with only 2:02 to go.
They could not make the miracle happen. Heavy pressure on Witt and a questionable offensive pass interference call against Chris Smith ’13 — who led the Bulldogs with 63 yards receiving — killed the drive.
“They started bringing some more pressure and getting some looks on third down,” said the quarterback, who was sacked six times. “I imagine that was a factor of facing some third and long situations. Some of those are on me as well.”
Four of those six sacks came in the second half.
Minutes after the Harvard stopped Gio Christodoulou ’11 well short of the first down marker on a desperate Yale 4th and 17, the Bulldogs were walking somberly to their locker room as Harvard students and players raced onto the field.
“We let it all out there,” McCarthy said. “We gave it everything we had. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way. There are definitely no regrets from the players and coaching staff.”
It takes just a glance at the statistics summary to show how hard the Bulldogs played. They had 19 first downs to the Crimson’s 10 and 337 yards of offense to their opponents’ 178.
The difference, according to Williams, was taking advantage of opportunities. Yale took the ball inside the Harvard 20-yard line seven times, but scored on only three of those opportunities. Once, a penalty pushed them back, and Philippe Panico ’13 missed the ensuing field goal. Yale also failed to convert two fourth down conversion attempts in the red zone — Mordecai Cargill ’13 was stopped behind the line on fourth and one in the first half, and Chris Smith ’13 came two yards short of the first down marker on fourth and nine in the second.
Harvard, on the other hand, had a fraction as many opportunities.
“We’ve been a team that’s done a great job moving the ball this year,” said Crimson head coach Tim Murphy. “But today was tough sledding the whole way. We had to jump on opportunities today because we weren’t getting many.”
Jump is just what they did. They gained only 71 yards on offense in the first half, but concentrated 59 of them on their only scoring drive.
They then sprinted out of the gates in the second half thanks to Iannuzzi’s return. Their final two offensive touchdowns came from solid field position. They took the lead on a 23-yard drive following a blocked punt, and scored their final touchdown after Carlsen’s shank gave them the ball on the Yale 36.
“The kickoff return and the blocked kick, those were the two plays,” Williams said. “When you ask about what we did differently, that’s it. One’s a touchdown, one sets up a touchdown.”
The Bulldogs lived on the edge of close margins all season. They weathered Brown’s statistical advantage in week eight and came away with a victory thanks to Smith’s kick return success. They squeaked by Princeton the next Saturday thanks to a fumble return for a touchdown by Geoff Dunham ’12. This time, they came out on the other end.
“It’s frustrating,” Witt said. “We felt like we played a very good game. We won in pretty much every area but the scoreboard. It’s frustrating. There was just one more play in their favor than us.”
Correction: November 21, 2010
An earlier version of this article mistakenly said that Patrick Witt threw an interception against Harvard. In fact, his interception was erased because of a penalty against Harvard for roughing the passer.