For the second straight year, the Yale football team’s season ended with a sea of blue storming the field. But the 134th edition of The Game was still unlike any in recent memory for the Bulldogs. With an emphatic 24–3 victory over Harvard, Yale secured its first outright Ivy League in 37 years.
Despite the Elis’ (9–1, 6–1 Ivy) worst offensive performance of the season, Yale’s suffocating defense limited the Crimson (5–5, 3–4) to just 164 yards while generating six sacks and four turnovers. A pair of second-quarter fumbles by Harvard quarterback Jake Smith proved too much for the Crimson to overcome as the Bulldogs converted those takeaways into 10 points, including a 19-yard scoop-and-score by cornerback Malcolm Dixon ’20.
A nine-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver JP Shohfi ’20 opened the scoring for Yale while a two-yard touchdown plunge by running back Zane Dudek ’21 late in the game sealed the Elis’ second nine-win season since 2000.
“This is more than just a win for Yale, this was a complete culture change, and people were shown how football should be played,” head coach Tony Reno said. “It’s much more than football. The games, the wins are all a byproduct of how [the players] carried themselves.”
The Eli offense, which came into today’s game averaging 35.7 points and 468 yards per game, endured its toughest outing of the season in its final game. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs were able to string together two scoring drives over 60 minutes of play that provided a sufficient cushion for the best defense in the Ancient Eight.
Dudek was largely kept in check all afternoon by Harvard’s defensive front, which held the Bulldogs to their lowest rushing output of the season. The rookie, who entered the game averaging 8.0 yards per attempt, managed just 64 yards on 25 carries amid sloppy field conditions, but did find the end zone on a two-yard plunge early in the fourth quarter. In his first season of college football, the 5-foot-9 halfback finished as the conference leader in rushing and accounted for 1,345 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns.
Through the air, quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 did just enough to conclude an impressive sophomore season with a win. Although he threw his first interception in three games in the second quarter, Rawlings responded by leading the Elis on a 54-yard scoring drive. The drive started when Rawlings hit Shohfi over the middle for a 46-yard gain. On third-and-goal from the nine-yard line, Rawlings found Shohfi again on a fade route to the back-left corner of the end zone. The score, which gave Team 145 its first lead of the game at 7–3, put the Elis ahead for good at the Yale Bowl.
A week after allowing Princeton to score 31 points, Yale’s defense rebounded against the Crimson with arguably its most impressive performance of the season. The Elis allowed a field goal from Harvard to open the day’s scoring, but the Crimson crossed midfield just twice more and did not add to its point total for the remainder of the game. With 12 tackles for loss, the Bulldogs put the final touches on a dominant defensive season and harried both of Harvard’s quarterbacks throughout the contest.
After sharing time with fellow quarterback Joe Viviano against Columbia and Penn, Smith was named the starter before the game by head coach Tim Murphy, who cited Smith’s performance in practice during the week as the primary reason for his decision. The rookie faced a bevy of blitzes and defensive fronts while receiving lackluster pass protection against Yale’s vaunted defensive line, which limited him to just nine completions for 83 yards.
Viviano did see the field late in the fourth quarter but had two of his eight pass attempts intercepted by safety Hayden Carlson ’18 and cornerback Deonte Henson ’21 on Harvard’s final two possessions. The defense also forced two earlier fumbles that strengthened the Elis’ control over the game, while cornerback and captain Spencer Rymiszewski ’18 played an integral role in containing wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley, a unanimous 2016 All-Ivy selection and the Crimson’s top offensive weapon.
“As soon as Spencer took over [as captain], there’s been this uptick in confidence in each other and belief in each other that everything’s possible as long as we were working as hard as we could,” linebacker Matt Oplinger ’18 said. “[Spencer] getting all of us involved really made us the aggressive team that we are today.”
In the second quarter, Smith unwisely attempted to pitch the ball to starting running back Aaron Shampklin but missed his teammate, allowing Dixon to scoop the ball off ground and return it for a score. Dixon’s touchdown came less than a minute after the Shohfi score gave Yale a surge of momentum. Three plays later, Foye Oluokun ’18, who led Yale with eight tackles in his final game, hit Smith on a similar delayed-option-pitch play to cause another fumble. Team 145 capitalized on these two mistakes, scoring on both of its possessions that followed a Harvard fumble.
The Crimson was also without its top running back, Charlie Booker, who missed The Game with an injury suffered a week ago. Harvard mustered just 26 rushing yards without Booker.
“The bottom line is Yale is a terrific football team,” Murphy said. “They’re by far the best football team in our league. They have no real weaknesses, and they deserve to win. They certainly deserve to be Ivy League champions.”
At final whistle, the Yale stood atop the Ivy League standings for the 15th time in program history. The Bulldogs have not beaten the Crimson in back-to-back seasons since 1999–2000. The 1999 victory was Yale’s last home win over Harvard.
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This story is updated to reflect the print version that ran on Nov. 27, 2017.