Injuries and tough losses have made the 140th year of Yale football one to forget, but that would change with a victory over Harvard tomorrow.
Yale (2–7, 1–5 Ivy) travels to Boston tomorrow to play Harvard (7–2, 4–2), No. 24 in the Division I Football Championship Series, for the 129th time in the storied contest.
The rivalry has gone decidedly in favor of the 10,000 men of Harvard recently. Last year the Cantabs invaded New Haven and torched Yale, 45–7, tied for the worst defeat the Elis have ever been dealt at the hands of the Crimson. Harvard has won 10 of the past 11 meetings, and this year’s Bulldogs are eager to help Yale regain its place on top.
“It’s a game that I haven’t won yet,” linebacker Will McHale ’13 said. “It would be a phenomenal way to go out. It would mean a lot to me and it would mean a lot to my senior class.”
The Elis are 33-point underdogs to end Harvard’s five-year winning streak. Although it has faltered twice in Ivy League play this season, Harvard has been a juggernaut.
The Cantabs have the top-ranked offense and defense in the Ancient Eight; Yale is ranked seventh on both sides of the ball. Harvard quarterback Colton Chapple leads the Ivy League with 22 touchdown passes and also has eight rushing scores; Yale has just 17 total touchdowns. Harvard has seven wins; Yale has seven losses. Wide-receiver-turned-quarterback Henry Furman ’14 said that the Elis are attempting to put the long, difficult season behind them against Harvard.
“Obviously our season hasn’t gone the way we’ve wanted it to,” Furman said. “But I think we’ve done a good job so far of letting that go. This is The Game. This is why you come to Yale. This is what you play for. Letting go of the season’s negative aspects is critical.”
One thing that Yale should not let go of on Saturday is the football. The Elis pace the Ivy League this year with 26 turnovers. With just 12 giveaways this season, the Cantabs are second-best among the Ivies.
Yale head coach Tony Reno said turnovers have taken the Bulldogs out of several games this year.
“If we can eliminate turnovers and can win crucial situations in the game, then we’ve shown what we can do,” Reno said. “When you play a good football game you can beat good teams, but when you make mistakes it’s hard to win football games.”
The ground attack has been an asset for Yale this year, and the Bulldogs have averaged 191.8 rushing yards per contest. But the running backs in blue will be tested on Saturday by a stingy Crimson defense. Harvard has allowed an average of only 63.8 yards on the ground this year, good for second in the FCS.
Furman said that the Elis will not back down offensively because they believe in their running backs. Injured quarterback Eric Williams ’16, who confirmed that he will not dress on Saturday due to a separated shoulder, added that the Bulldogs will also have to deal with a Harvard defensive line that leads the Ivies with 40 sacks in 2012.
“Harvard’s defense is solid,” Williams said. “Especially up front. They have four defensive lineman who can get to the quarterback. They don’t have to blitz, but when they do it’s coming hard and fast.”
Williams originally injured his shoulder in Yale’s 27–13 victory over Penn on Oct. 20. Quarterbacks Derek Russell ’13 and Logan Scott ’16 were also injured that day, forcing Yale to scramble to find put a signal caller in the pocket. Russell also separated his shoulder diving into the end zone for a 3-yard scoring run, and Scott broke his throwing hand when he was tackled attempting to convert a fourth-and-six from the Quakers’ 26-yard line, according to Reno.
Furman stated that both Russell and Scott are attempting to return to the field this week, but that he is preparing as if he will start for the second-straight week. Williams said that he is disappointed about missing The Game, but he will still be working to give Yale an edge.
“During the game I’ll be up in the box with the coaches reading defenses and helping to call plays,” Williams said. “I know my position now — to help the team, and that’s to help Hank [Furman].”
The Crimson too have their roster problems this week. Citing an “unprecedented rash of injuries at the offensive line position,” the Harvard Athletic Department cancelled the JV game that was to be played at 1:00 p.m. today.
Harvard is also reeling from a 30–21 defeat at the hands of Penn that knocked the Crimson out of first place in the Ivy League last week. Yale remains the only Ivy League team to defeat Penn this season, even with the injuries the Elis suffered at quarterback that afternoon. The Crimson will be tough coming off the loss, as Harvard is a perfect 10–0 following a defeat since 2007.
When that streak began, Reno was still an assistant head coach under Yale’s Jack Siedlecki. He was the special teams coach at Harvard from 2009 to 2011 after coaching at Yale from 2003 to 2008. Reno’s switch back to Yale this January created a clothing conundrum for the rookie head coach.
“I had a lot of clothes I had to throw away twice,” Reno said. “[But] my wife kept all the blue for some reason.”
Reno also lured three assistant coaches away from Cambridge when he left. Offensive line coach Joe Conlin, defensive line coach Dwayne Wilmot and tight ends coach Kris Barber ’97 all followed Reno to New Haven. Barber has experience in the Yale Bowl, having quarterbacked for the Elis for two seasons after transferring from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas.
Defensive backs coach Steve Vaschel also has a history with the Crimson, but he has not worked at Harvard since 1994.
Connections aside, the players are anxiously awaiting their chance to get out onto the field and add the next chapter to the history of The Game, according to Varga.
“I’m really excited,” Varga said. “It’s one of the most storied rivalries in college football … There’s a lot of history behind it. A lot of hype. I’ve never played in something like that before.”
Yale leads the all-time series 65–55–8.