Yale’s attempt at a fourth quarter comeback against Harvard came up short Saturday as the Bulldogs fell to the Crimson, 20-13, in the 119th playing of The Game. Before a sellout crowd of 30,323 at Harvard Stadium, an interception by Harvard’s Ben Butler with 42 seconds left to play ended the Elis (6-4, 4-3 Ivy) hopes for a late-game rally and gave the Crimson (7-3, 6-1) its second straight win in the rivalry.
“Our kids played hard,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “They played down to the end and they gave themselves some chances but it was too little too late.”
The weather conditions Saturday were less than ideal, as 35 mph winds swirled around Harvard Stadium.
“Obviously it was hard to adjust to that kind of wind,” Yale tight end Nate Lawrie ’04 said. “It was tough to get a feel for where the ball was going.”
As a response to the extreme weather conditions, Harvard head coach Tim Murphy substituted sophomore quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for starter Neil Rose at the end of the first half, a decision that swung the game in favor of the Crimson. Fitzpatrick, who came into this weekend leading the Cantabs in rushing, had 72 yards off of 18 carries including two touchdown runs Saturday. Fitzpatrick also chipped in 135 yards in the air completing seven of 12 passing attempts.
“[Fitzpatrick] was the difference in the game,” Siedlecki said. “When they have a quarterback that could run the ball, it’s as if you get an extra blocker. It forces you to put more guys in the box and you can’t watch the wide outs as well.”
Besides Fitzpatrick, Harvard’s Payton Award candidate senior wide receiver Carl Morris played up to form, bringing down four balls for 106 yards. Two of those catches – one for 50 yards and the second for 38 yards – led to Harvard touchdown drives.
Both teams began the game playing conservatively.
“Neither team wanted to the give up the big plays or lose the game early,” Murphy said. “The wind was really tough and we were both just feeling things out like two heavyweight boxers in a ring.”
Yale drew first blood when running back Robert Carr ’05 capped off a 13-play, 76-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter. But quarterback Jeff Mroz ’05 mishandled the snap on the ensuing extra point attempt and Yale had to settle for a 6-0 lead.
The Yale defense kept Harvard off the scoreboard for the remainder of the half. When the Cantabs threatened from the Eli 30-yard line, Yale linebacker Ken Estrera ’04 picked off a Rose pass to preserve the Elis 6-0 lead into halftime.
In the second half, Yale and Harvard came out of the locker room two different teams. On Yale’s opening drive of the third quarter, Eli punter Ryan Allen ’05 bobbled the snap, setting up Harvard at the Yale 29. Meanwhile, Harvard’s quarterback swap paid off as the Crimson put together three consecutive touchdown drives including two touchdown runs by Fitzpatrick.
“They made some adjustments at half time that led to big plays,” Estrera said. “The quarterback change threw us off. We were definitely thinking more run after he [Fitzpatrick] came in. They [Fitzpatrick and Rose] are two completely different quarterbacks.”
Trailing 20-6, the Elis attempted to comeback in the fourth quarter. On the fourth play of the quarter, Mroz connected wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 who stumbled across the front corner of the endzone for what appeared to be a touchdown. But the referees ruled the pass incomplete because Plumb did not have control of the ball.
Yale finally put the ball into the endzone eight minutes later when Mroz’s 24-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Ron Benigno ’04 pulled the Elis within seven 20-13. This was as close as Yale got as the Harvard wore down the clock in the waning minutes and sealed the victory with Butler’s interception.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Siedlecki expressed pride in his players.
“I think this team has improved more than any team I’ve coached in my 27 years,” Siedlecki said. “When the season started some of these kids were still young. But since then they have matured and transformed themselves into real weapons on this team.”