In the 135th iteration of The Game, the Yale football team fell to a late onslaught of Harvard touchdowns in front of a sold-out Fenway Park crowd.
The Bulldogs (5–5, 3–4 Ivy), who began the season as favorites to finish atop the Ivy League, initially mounted a tit-for-tat contest against the Crimson (6–4, 4–3) after both got off to inauspicious starts, with their opening drives ending in error. Big plays powered the game, which remained back-and-forth with no team establishing dominance until the final frame, when Harvard broke through to ultimately grab the 45–27 victory and snap Yale’s two-year winning streak in the historic rivalry. The Eli defense was unable to contain the Crimson offense, even after Harvard’s starting quarterback was carried off on a stretcher late in the fourth quarter. Offensively, the Bulldogs felt the absence of injured starting quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20, and even an appearance by running back Zane Dudek ’21, who has been sidelined by injury for most of the season but contributed clutch runs against Harvard, could not rejuvenate the offense enough to overcome the Crimson.
“You get to a tight spot in the third quarter and into the fourth,” head coach Tony Reno said. “They took the game over in the fourth quarter. From a big picture point of view, their seniors did a nice job, especially up front. It was a great ballgame until that point. We are a very young team. We really showed it in the fourth quarter with our lack of strength.”
Harvard opened the game by moving the ball into Yale’s end of the field thanks to the combination of senior starting quarterback Tom Stewart and league-leading rusher Aaron Shampklin. But as the Crimson continued its drive, linebacker Micah Awodiran ’21 forced a fumble to put the Bulldog offense on the field at Yale’s 47-yard line.
The Elis squandered that opportunity, gaining just four yards in five plays. Although rookie quarterback Griffin O’Connor ’22 notched an 11-yard pass to wideout Reed Klubnik ’20, both attempts by Yale to run the ball resulted in losses. And, while O’Connor placed a pass on target for a 31-yard gain, Harvard’s coverage intercepted and turned the ball back over to the Crimson.
On Harvard’s next drive, the Elis managed to contain the Crimson run game but could not stop Stewart, who powered the series through the air with big throws, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to close out the 84-yard drive, which handed the Crimson a 7–0 lead.
In response, Yale’s rookie quarterback — who, against Princeton last week, threw a pair of picks on consecutive drives to open the Elis’ game before leading the offense to outscore the Tigers on both the third and fourth quarters — and rookie wideout Jaylan Sandifer ’22 put together a solid series finished by a short rush from running back Alan Lamar ’20 into the end zone to even the score.
The Crimson and the Bulldogs traded short drives for the remainder of the first quarter and beginning of the second. After a trio of O’Connor passes fell incomplete, Harvard regained the ball on a punt at its own 38-yard line. Harvard pulled ahead again when wideout Tyler Adams ran the ball 62 yards straight into the endzone as Yale’s defense chased after him.
Although Yale’s next drive spanned just nine yards, safety Rodney Thomas II ’21 countered the measly showing with a huge interception on Harvard’s first play. Invigorated by the pick, Team 146 got off a quick rush by Lamar before running back Zane Dudek ’21 made an appearance and rushed for 33 yards. O’Connor closed out the drive with a 16-yard pass to wideout JP Shohfi ’20 in the end zone on an out route to make it a tie game again.
Long passes from Stewart — who ended the first half with 214 yards on 12 completions — continued to make the difference for Harvard. In four plays, the Crimson moved the ball 77 yards. A 43-yard Stewart bomb while the quarterback was rolling to the right and a 19-yard pass, combined with a strategic dive into the endzone, gave Harvard a one-score lead just before halftime.
Dudek, who resurrected himself for the 135th installment of The Game, began the second half with a 25-yard reception to spark an exceptional Eli series. A few plays later, Klubnik reeled in a 48-yard rocket that almost ended in a touchdown as he was tackled just before reaching the pylon. Yale could not seem to get anything going in the red zone, but a personal foul on a tackle aimed at Dudek gave the Bulldogs a new set of downs deep into enemy territory. O’Connor capped off the drive with a sneaky one-yard rush into the line to tie the game.
The Elis managed to stop the Crimson in a three-and-out on the next drive and took the ball down the field for a field goal to take a three-point lead.
The contest remained a one-score game nearly throughout. But the Crimson offense kicked in in the fourth quarter, and the Elis’ odds of winning dwindled rapidly.
“You try to make [Yale] play as much assignment football as you can, rather than attack football,” Harvard head coach Tim Murphy said. “If you can create a diversion … there’s a little bit of three dimensions to it that make it more challenging to play downhill… it certainly helped us.”
For the remainder of the game, the Elis were only able to put up three more points, and the Crimson dominated the final frame to pile on their own. Even after Stewart was ruled out with just four minutes left, Harvard’s offense charged on. In the plays immediately following Stewart’s exit, the Crimson put together another insurance goal when Devin Darrington found the endzone on a 16-yard rush.
Eerily similar to last week’s finish against Princeton, O’Connor took control of the offense with roughly four minutes left and a sizeable lead in front of him. Surveying the field, the rookie signal-caller was hit as he dumped the ball off downfield. Instead of finding a receiver in white, the ball sailed into the hands of safety and captain Zach Miller, allowing the Crimson to lineup in the victory formation and cement the score at 45–27.
“Our game plan was foolproof,” Miller said. “Our guys up front executed their job, putting pressure on [Yale] … that last interception…all I had to do was catch it.”
Despite the disparity on the scoreboard, Yale and Harvard both shared similar statistics — although Harvard dominated the run game with nearly four times more rushing yards than the Elis, the two teams matched up on first downs and passing yards. But, unlike the game against Princeton, Yale crumbled in the final moments, allowing a one-score game to turn into a lopsided loss.
The last time the Yale football team had a losing conference record was in 2016 when the Bulldogs went 3–4 but defeated Harvard 21–14.
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