In The Game, close is never enough.
In the 120th installment of college football’s third oldest rivalry, Yale gained 555 yards of total offensive — over 100 more than the Crimson — and converted 30 first downs but came up short on Harvard’s doorstep on two key offensive drives to fall 37-19 at the Yale Bowl.
“We couldn’t put the ball in the endzone,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “That’s on us — the coach staff.”
The Elis managed only two touchdowns and a field goal out of their six trips into the Cantab redzone. Twice the Bulldogs faced first-and-goal from the Crimson five — once in the second quarter and again in the third — but after the passing attack marched Yale down the field, the Elis were unsuccessful running the ball on both first and second down of those two drives.
Both Harvard head coach Tim Murphy and Siedlecki identified the plays sandwiched around the end of the third quarter as turning points in the contest.
Down 24-13, Yale got four looks at the Harvard endzone on first-and-goal from the Crimson three-yard line. But two rushes from Yale’s quarterback Alvin Cowan ’04 got the Elis no closer to a score and a third-down pass to Chandler Henley ’06 fell incomplete. After taking a timeout to talk about their next move, Siedlecki and company decided to go for the touchdown on fourth down rather than settle for a field goal. But Harvard defensive back Benny Butler kept the ball out of Lawrie’s hands and Yale turned the ball over on downs.
Despite the failed attempt, few on the Yale squad questioned Siedlecki’s decision to go for it.
“I totally agree with going for it on fourth down,” Yale wide receiver Ralph Plumb ’05 said.
Plumb led all receivers with 15 catches for 158 yards.
Four plays later, on third-and-four, Harvard quarterback Fitzpatrick found Cantab wide receiver Brian Edwards wide open for a 79-yard sprint to the goal.
“I don’t know how I saw [Edwards],” Fitzpatrick said. “I wasn’t really looking at him. In all honesty, Brian [Edwards] ran the wrong route.”
Edwards’ mistake worked out for Fitzpatrick and the Crimson, who went ahead 31-13 on the play.
In a quarterback battle that closely resembled the course of the game, Yale’s Cowan outperformed Crimson starter Ryan Fitzpatrick in every statistical category but one. Cowan competed 34-for-64 pass attempts for a season-high 438 yards on the afternoon while Fitzpatrick finished the day completing 13-of-22 for 230 yards through the air. But in a game where neither team scored a rushing touchdown, Fitzpatrick threw for four scores while Cowan could only manage two.
What made the difference for the league’s top two signal-callers coming into the game was the difference in pass protection. While sacked one less time than Fitzpatrick, who was brought down three times behind the line of scrimmage, Cowan was under constant pressure from Cantab blitzes. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick was able to take his time in the pocket.
“The offensive line took it upon themselves today [to protect me],” Fitzpatrick said. “I felt like Dan Marino back there, surveying the field. [But] I’m not sure I like that pocket passing better than what I usually do.”
Another game-deciding factor was the fact that the celebrated Bulldog running game never got started. The Crimson kept Cowan and runningback Rob Carr ’05 and David Knox ’06 to under 30 yards a piece. Prior to Saturday, Yale was the second-best rushing team in the league -– right behind Harvard –- with 179.78 yards per game. Carr came into The Game fifth in the league in rushing with 85.78 yards per game while Cowan and Knox were 10th and 11th, respectively.
The Crimson ground game, however, lived up to its league-leading reputation. The first part of the Cantabs’ running attack – the usually mobile Fitzpatrick – was markedly hamstrung on Saturday by a knee and ankle injury he sustained in Harvard’s Nov. 15 game against the University of Pennsylvania. The hero from the 2002 Game, Fitzpatrick gained a net of -5 yards on the ground this time around.
But where Fitzpatrick came up short, Harvard freshman runningback Clifton Dawson more than made up for. Dawson rushed for 174 yards on 32 carries for a 5.4-yard per carry average.
“For a freshman, boy he was a horse today,” Murphy said.
While Dawson extended his Ivy League record for rushing yards by freshman to 1177, a number of Yale gridders also set Ancient Eight bests. Cowan’s 3,447 yards of total offense in the season including 2,474 in conference play broke Ivy League records in both categories. He came six-yards short of becoming the first Eli to throw for 3000 yards in a season.
Yale placekicker John Troost ’05 missed his first field goal attempt wide left. But he made two en route to finishing the season with 84 points — the most ever by an Ivy League kicker. Lawrie’s eight catches for 132 yards gave him the Yale record for career receptions by a tight end at 116.
After Saturday afternoon’s loss, the Elis fall back to a 4-3 Ivy record, placing them in a four-way tie for second place with Brown, Dartmouth, and Harvard.
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