Moral victories are not tallied in the Ivy League standings, but after an adversity-plagued 2012 season, the Bulldogs’ performance in the 129th episode of The Game last Saturday would be chalked up in that category.
In what Harvard head coach Tim Murphy called a “heavyweight fight” with five lead changes, Yale (2–8, 1–6 Ivy) fell short of its attempt at an upset against Harvard (8–2, 5–2), losing 34–24 in Cambridge. The loss was the Elis’ sixth straight at the hands of the archrival Crimson, though Yale still leads the all-time series 65–56–8.
“These guys have battled through more things this season than any football team,” head coach Tony Reno said. “I’m not happy with the result but these guys came out and showed the world what Yale football is all about.”
The question of who would play quarterback for the Bulldogs had been difficult to answer since the top three-string signal callers all went down with injuries in Yale’s 27–13 victory over Ivy League champion Penn on Oct. 20. The answer on Saturday was Derek Russell ’13, who played for the first time since separating his throwing shoulder diving into the end zone against the Quakers.
Yale has had five different players take snaps at quarterback this season. Murphy said that the uncertainty surrounding Yale’s quarterbacks made it harder for Harvard to prepare.
“We knew that we were going to get some different packages and we knew that we were going to get some different players,” Murphy said. “We had to prepare for a lot. When you look at all the things they did in different packages in film over the last several games, there’s a lot of stuff. At the end of the day you still knew that you’re going to have to stop the run.”
Both defenses had no trouble reading their opposing offenses in the first half, however, as the two teams battled to a 3–3 tie at halftime.
Entering the game averaging just 1.67 sacks per game, Yale’s offensive line stepped up and sacked Harvard senior quarterback Colton Chapple three times in the first half. The Elis were aided by injuries on the Harvard front line; the Harvard Athletic Department had cancelled the Harvard-Yale JV football game the day before, citing the slew of injuries to the Crimson offensive line.
Reno stressed the disruption of Harvard’s offensive rhythm as part of Yale’s defensive success.
“I think we did a real good job of varying what we were doing,” Reno said. “Our guys up front did a great job. They got off blocks, they were able to execute our schemes well … It was real important to us to get pressure on Chapple.”
Yale broke onto the scoreboard first with 00:21 left in the first quarter when kicker Philippe Panico ’13 gave Yale a 3–0 lead on his 29-yard field goal.
Crimson kicker David Mothander responded on Harvard’s next drive, splitting the uprights from 23 yards to knot the game up at three. Neither team was able to score for the rest of the half, thanks in part to penalties on Harvard’s offensive line. Three false starts were called on Harvard in the first two quarters. The Crimson racked up a total of seven penalties for 55 yards before the break.
“Ultimately there’s no excuses,” Murphy said. “It possibly could’ve been [the crowd noise] but it’s inexcusable. We twitched a couple of times. I kind of ripped our team at halftime and said, ‘Hey, all you need to do is play with poise and discipline and we’re going to move the football and we’re going to score some points.’ They took it to heart and focused.”
The second half started much like the first — the Elis were forced to punt before they could move the chains. From then on, the Game turned into an offensive shoot-out.
A 37-yard field goal by Mothander put Harvard up 6–3 with 8:53 remaining in the third. After the Cantabs forced another Yale punt, Chapple drove Harvard 63 yards on seven plays for the game’s first touchdown. Passing for 28 yards on the drive, Chapple took it himself with an 18-yard scoring run at the 4:51 mark in the third quarter.
With the score now 13–3 in favor of the Crimson, Reno said he knew the time had come to mix things up.
“When you’re down 13–3, you’ve got to open it up a little more,” Reno said. “That changed the game.”
Reno called on wide receiver Henry Furman ’14 to play quarterback. Furman had been a quarterback but transitioned to wide receiver after Reno came to New Haven last January.
The decision paid off almost instantly for the Bulldogs. Furman found wide receiver Cameron Sandquist ’14 on a 46-yard strike over the middle that set Yale up on Harvard’s 5-yard line. Running back Tyler Varga ’15 then went under center for the goal-line situation. Two plays later he cut the deficit to 13–10 with a 3-yard touchdown run at the 2:40 mark in the third quarter.
A sack by linebacker Dylan Drake ’13 and defensive lineman Nick Daffin ’13 on first down helped force a Harvard punt, then Furman found wide receiver Grant Wallace ’15 from 12 yards out as he scrambled away from Harvard defenders to retake the lead 17–13 with 13:30 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I really owe Grant dinner or something because he made a hell of a play on the ball,” Furman said. “I was rolling out, trying to find a window to throw it in … I have trust in my receivers, especially Grant.”
The scoring was far from done, as Harvard responded on its ensuing drive. Chapple found a diving wide receiver Andrew Berg on a post down the right sideline for a 32-yard touchdown to give Harvard a 24–20 lead with 11:52 on the clock.
Forced to punt on its next possession, Yale’s defense came up with a huge takeaway to give the Bulldogs offense another chance. Hurried by defensive back Charles Cook ’16, Chapple rushed his throw and it was intercepted by Daffin, setting up the Elis on Harvard’s 29-yard line.
After Furman found Wallace on third-and-ten from the 29 to keep the drive alive, Tyler Varga made quick work of the short field. The sophomore running back dove in from two yards out to regain the lead 24–20 in favor of Yale with just 7:07 to go.
The senior duo of Chapple and running back Treavor Scales then took over the Game for the Crimson.
Chapple dashed for 61 yards on the next play from scrimmage, but defensive back Collin Bibb ’13 tripped him up at the Yale 9 to prevent a touchdown. The Bulldogs appeared to have kept Harvard out of the end zone when linebacker Ryan Falbo ’13 knocked down a pass on fourth-and-eight, but he was flagged for defensive holding and Harvard was awarded a new first down at Yale’s 4-yard line.
The Elis paid for the penalty two plays later when Chapple hit tight end Cameron Brate in the back of the end zone to put Harvard up 27–24 at the 4:44 mark.
“Cam [Brate] made a great play on pretty decent coverage,” Chapple said.
The Cantabs kept Yale from reaching the first down marker on their next drive, but the Bulldogs had a chance when Chapple fumbled the snap on first down from Harvard’s forty. Scales recovered the loose ball, then dashed Yale’s hopes of a comeback with a 63-yard scoring run with 1:08 left in the game.
Upon reaching the end zone, Scales threw up his hands in celebration. When asked what was going through his mind, Scales said all he was thinking was, “Mama, I’ve made it!”
Scales’ 177 rushing yards tied the Crimson record for most yards in The Game. Chapple threw for 209 yards and two scores and an interception while adding 128 yards and another touchdown with his legs.
Varga led the Bulldogs with 96 rushing yards and two scores. Furman finished 13–20 passing for 158 yards, one touchdown and an interception, and Wallace caught 11 passes for 118 yards and a score.
Harvard’s six-game winning streak over Yale is tied for the longest in the rivalry’s history.