With just 30 minutes remaining in the season and a meager 2–7 record entering the game of the year at Harvard, Yale football head coach Tony Reno opted to attempt an onside kick to open the second half. The Bulldogs recovered and took lead by scoring a touchdown on the ensuing possession, setting the tone for a memorable second half as Yale ended its nine-year losing streak with a 21–14 victory over the Crimson.
“You grow as the season goes on and this team grew this week,” head coach Tony Reno said. “Sometimes it’s not easy to see, but what you saw today was all the hard work we’ve put in all season long. They came to work every day and they really enjoyed playing together. [Today] they finally broke through.”
The Elis went three-and-out to start the game. Pinned inside their own five-yard line on their next drive, the Bulldogs picked up two first downs behind a seven-yard reception by wideout Reed Klubnik ’20 and a six-yard gain by running back Alan Lamar ’20. However, the Yale drive stalled when the team picked up two consecutive delay of game penalties.
Harvard’s offense did not fare better, though it dominated the field position battle in the first quarter. Yale’s offense did not cross over midfield and the Crimson never started a possession any further back than on its own 36-yard line.
Despite having to contend with short fields, the Yale defense held Harvard to just punts in the first period. Linebacker Victor Egu ’17, who missed several games due to injury, led the Elis with four first quarter tackles.
Photos by Robbie Short, Matthew Stock and Maya Sweedler
Safety Hayden Carlson ’18 saved a touchdown early in the second quarter, wrapping up Harvard wideout Justice Shelton-Mosley as he got free on a screen pass.
Yale tried to switch things up on offense in the second quarter. Tre Moore ’19, who started five games this year at quarterback, played several snaps at both wide receiver and quarterback, taking a page out of the Princeton playbook. Still, the Elis did not break into field-goal range.
The Bulldogs finally flipped the field after several deep punts by Alex Galland ’19 and a three-and-out by the Yale defense. The Elis offense came alive on a 21-yard run by quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20. The freshman scrambled for another long run on the next play, but it was brought back by a holding penalty and Yale punted.
Harvard finally got on the board with 4:46 to play in the second quarter. Quarterback Joe Viviano found receiver Adam Scott for a 28-yard reception. On the next play, running back Charlie Booker ran in a 27-yard touchdown to give Harvard the 7–0 lead.
Yale answered on its next possession. Rawlings got the Elis going with a 28-yard rush. The Bulldogs set up for a field goal at the Harvard 19-yard line, but faked the kick as holder Andrew Johnson ’18 threw the ball to tight end Leo Haenni ’17 down to the four-yard line. Lamar punched the ball in for the score at four plays later. Harvard took a knee to end the first half.
Yale outgained the Crimson 165–133 in the first 30 minutes of play.
Yale surprised the Crimson with an onside kick to open the second half. Kicker Blake Horn ’18 bounced the ball 10 yards directly in front of him and ran it down to gain possession for the Bulldogs. Yale capitalized on the momentum, as Rawlings found Klubnik on a 28-yard pass to the endzone and Yale took a 14–7 lead.
Harvard responded on its next possession, marching 84 yards for a touchdown. Viviano found tight end Anthony Firkser for a 36-yard pass on third down and then connected with Shelton-Mosley for a 34-yard fourth-down reception to bring the ball down to the two-yard line. Viviano then hit tight end Ryan Halvorson on third-and-goal for a one-yard touchdown.
Yale managed to get over midfield on its next possession, but ultimately punted it back to Harvard and pinned them at their own three yard line. The Crimson battled to midfield before the end of the third period. Although Harvard converted a key third down on a spectacular catch by Shelton-Mosley, the Crimson ended the drive on a missed 35-yard field goal.
The Bulldogs succeeded on a crucial fourth down at the Harvard 38-yard line on their ensuing possession, keeping their drive alive midway through the fourth quarter. The Elis continued to drive down and punched it in from three yards out on a touchdown to Klubnik, with the Bulldogs taking a seven-point lead with just over four minutes to go.
Harvard’s drive started at the 18-yard line, and was stalled by a crippling holding call. The Bulldogs forced a three and out, and retained possession at the Harvard 49-yard line. Keeping it on the ground and forcing the Crimson to use its remaining timeouts, the Elis punted back to Harvard with 1:13 to go.
The Crimson took over with no timeouts on the 20-yard line. Harvard got out of bounds on several plays to stop the clock before an 18-yard run by Viviano to bring them near midfield. The Yale defense held fast behind a strong pass rush. On fourth and 11 with the game on the line, Alessi made a game winning pass break up with eight seconds to go. Rawlings ended the game on a kneel.
Yale won The Game for the first time since 2006.