Heading into the 130th edition of The Game, the Yale football team was brimming with confidence. With starting quarterback Hank Furman ’14 and preseason All-American tailback Tyler Varga ’15 both able to play, things were looking up for the Bulldogs.
But all good feelings from the tailgate quickly evaporated, as the Crimson (9–1, 6–1 Ivy) put three quick touchdowns on the board by the 14:10 mark of the second quarter en route to a 34–7 victory in front of 50,934 at the Yale Bowl. Nonetheless, head coach Tony Reno will end the year with a record of 5–5, a vast improvement over 2012’s 2–8 final standing.
“We did not play as well as we could have in the first half; we got ourselves in a big hole,” Reno said. “I think the kids showed resiliency as we take this next step forward toward building Yale football.”
Yale (5–5, 3–4) received a huge boost for the game, as a number of the Bulldogs’ injured playmakers made a return to action. Furman, Varga and wide receiver Chris Smith ’14, all listed as game-time decisions, were able to start for the Bulldogs. After five carries, however, Varga re-aggravated his mid-foot sprain. Smith also re-aggravated his injury and neither offensive force for the Bulldogs was able to continue playing.
Yale got first downs on passes from Furman to wideout Sebastian Little ’16 and Varga on its opening drive, but the Harvard defense held near midfield.
Harvard took over on its own 28-yard line and wasted no time in establishing its offense. After marching down to the Yale 25-yard line, Crimson running back Paul Stanton took a handoff and dashed through a gaping hole for the first of his four touchdowns on the day — tying the all-time record for most touchdowns scored by a Crimson player against the Bulldogs in The Game.
Though the Bulldogs picked up a pair of first downs on their next drive, running back Candler Rich ’17 fumbled after converting a long third down and Harvard recovered at the Yale 49-yard line. Five plays later, Stanton again found the end zone on a 21-yard screen pass, extending the Harvard lead to 14–0 with 3:02 left in the first quarter.
After showing some tricks from Reno’s arsenal — lining up wide receiver Deon Randall ’15 behind center in a wildcat formation to open the possession — Yale’s next drive ended with yet another failed third-down conversion. This one came from a drop by tailback Kahlil Keys ’15.
Beginning the drive at its own 35-yard line, the Harvard offense again asserted itself with a 65-yard touchdown drive. A 36-yard pass from Crimson quarterback Conner Hempel to Cameron Brate set Harvard up inside the red zone, and Stanton took another screen to the house for his third touchdown of the first half.
“We get the momentum, put the pedal to the metal and don’t take it off,” said Harvard head coach Tim Murphy.
Down three touchdowns, Reno opened his playbook even wider. Backup quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 came in for a few snaps under center while Furman lined up wide. But after the drive stalled at the 20-yard line, kicker Kyle Cazzetta ’15 missed a 37-yard field goal to again leave the Bulldogs empty-handed.
Harvard then capped off a 13 play, 79-yard drive with a touchdown from who else but Paul Stanton with a 2-yard touchdown run — his fourth touchdown of the game.
Both Yale and Harvard traded punts before halftime, with the Crimson punting for the first time all game. The 28–0 deficit at the intermission was the largest gap for the Elis all season.
The Crimson started the second half with the ball, and though Hempel and Stanton were able to move the ball effectively again, the Yale defense held inside the 5-yard line and limited Harvard to a field goal and a 31–0 lead.
Though many fans in the Yale Bowl thought the game was already over, nobody told the Bulldog offense. Randall continued his playmaking ways, dragging his toes on the right sideline to make a catch and convert a crucial third down and later scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat formation. The 10-play, 74-yard drive cut the Crimson lead to 31–7.
Revitalized by the offense, Yale’s defense forced a three-and-out after snuffing out a bubble screen and inducing an incomplete pass from Hempel.
While the Elis began to shift momentum in their favor, they could not keep it going. Yale failed to get any traction on its next drive. After Furman found Randall over the middle for a big gain, three plays lost 3 yards for the Elis and the punt team came on.
But after the fourth quarter started, the Bulldogs caught a huge break when defensive lineman Dylan Drake ’14 stripped Stanton of the football and recovered it himself. Four plays later, however, Furman threw an interception on fourth down to give the ball back to Harvard.
The Crimson went for it all on its first play from scrimmage following the turnover, but Hempel’s pass to the end zone was ruled incomplete. Three more plays gained just 4 yards, but David Mothander nailed a 48-yard field goal to extend Harvard’s advantage to 34–7.
“We’re not at all happy about our execution today and demand that in the future we can succeed in execution for 10 games, not just five,” said Yale captain Beau Palin ’14.
In front of a rapidly thinning student section, the Bulldogs remained aggressive, but multiple fourth down conversion attempts on their next drives proved fruitless.
Although the scoreboard showed that the season ended on a sour note with the loss to Harvard, Reno said that this season was a step in the right direction.
“It was a big step to get to 0.500 this year and we did that,” Reno said.
This is the seventh straight year the Bulldogs have dropped The Game to the Crimson.