The 130th edition of The Game was supposed to mark a sea change for the Yale football team.
Though the Bulldogs had lost the last six meetings against the Crimson, this year appeared to be different. Not only did the Bulldogs take a winning record into the contest on Nov. 23, they were buoyed by the returns of three starters: quarterback Hank Furman ’14, wide receiver Chris Smith ’14 and preseason All-American tailback Tyler Varga ’15.
After allowing 28 points in the first half en route to a 34–7 loss, however, the Elis showed that there is still work to be done.
“We did not play as well as we could have in the first half,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We got ourselves in a big hole.”
Even from the first play, Yale (5–5, 3–4 Ivy) got off on the wrong foot. Smith took the opening kickoff to his own 16-yard line and immediately limped off the field, ending the day the same way he started. Adding to the Elis’ injury woes, Varga lasted just two drives and five carries before re-aggravating his mid-foot sprain.
As poorly as the game began for the Yale offense, it started even worse for the defense. Harvard (9–1, 6–1 Ivy) marched to the Yale 25-yard line, where Crimson running back Paul Stanton took a handoff and dashed through a gaping hole for the first of his four touchdowns on the day. That number tied the all-time record for most touchdowns scored by a Crimson player against the Bulldogs in The Game.
Yale’s next drive quickly turned catastrophic. After picking up a first down, backup running back Candler Rich ’17 fumbled at the end of a long catch-and-run, 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.
Despite showing some tricks from Reno’s arsenal — wide receiver Deon Randall ’15 took snaps in the wildcat — Yale’s next possession ended with a punt to the Crimson.
Harvard’s third touchdown silenced the 50,934 fans assembled at the Yale Bowl. The Cantabs took the ball 65 yards downfield, culminating in another screen to Stanton. The drive consisted of an even mix of passes and runs, fitting for a Crimson offense that put up 209 passing yards and 216 rushing yards on the day.
“We get the momentum, put the pedal to the metal and don’t take it off,” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said.
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 Harvard 20-yard line, kicker Kyle Cazzetta ’15 missed a 37-yard field goal to again leave the Bulldogs empty-handed.
The Crimson then completed its fourth touchdown drive in a row on a Paul Stanton run. The 13-play drive was the second-longest allowed by the Elis’ defense on the season. Yale trailed 28–0 at the intermission, their largest halftime deficit of the season.
“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 the second half, Harvard started off with the same level of play that characterized the first half, moving the ball 69 yards to the Yale two-yard line. But the Bulldog defense managed to hold, limiting the Crimson 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 on a crucial third down and later scoring on a three-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat formation. The 10-play, 74-yard drive cut the Crimson lead to 31–7.
Randall’s touchdown capped a sensational season. The junior out of San Diego finished with 788 yards on 85 catches, finishing just one grab shy of the school record held by Eric Johnson ’01. He was named to the all-Ivy first team on Tuesday.
Revitalized by the offense, Yale’s defense forced a three-and-out after snuffing out a bubble screen and inducing an incomplete pass from Harvard quarterback Conner Hempel.
While momentum had begun to shift in the Elis’ favor, their luck soon ran out. Yale failed to get any traction on its next drive. After Furman found Randall over the middle for a 20-yard gain, three plays lost two yards for the Elis, and the punt team came on.
But on the first play of the fourth quarter, 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, effectively squashing the Elis’ chances at a comeback.
Following the turnover, David Mothander nailed a 48-yard field goal to extend Harvard’s advantage to 34–7, where it would stay.
Furman finished 21–34 for 179 yards and an interception, while Hempel was a precise 19–26 for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Hempel added 57 rushing yards on 10 carries. Stanton led all rushers with 118 yards.
The Harvard victory, coupled with Dartmouth’s upset over Princeton, allowed the Crimson to win a share of the Ivy League championship.
Although the year ended on a sour note for Yale, with big losses to Princeton and Harvard, Reno said that this season was a step in the right direction. Reno oversaw a three-game improvement from last season, when their record was 2–8 with just a single victory in Ivy play.
“I think the kids showed resiliency as we take this next step forward toward building Yale football,” Reno said. “It was a big step to get to 0.500 this year and we did that.”
Yale still leads the overall series against Harvard 65–57–8.