Lukas Flippo

Yale football fittingly closed out a season to remember with a sensational victory against Harvard, delivering the Blue and White its second Ivy League championship in three years.

The Bulldogs (9–1, 6–1 Ivy), a team picked to finish first in the annual Ancient Eight preseason poll last summer, did not get off to the hot start most college football pundits predicted. Team 147 found themselves struggling to pull out victories against less-talented teams — an unconvincing style of football that finally caught up with them in their first road contest of the season against Dartmouth. A definite low point of the season, Yale suffered a 42–10 loss in what could have been a lethal blow to the team’s chances of securing an Ivy League championship.

A highly improbable last-second comeback against Richmond the following week gave the Bulldogs a much needed victory as they entered the second half of the season. That spark stayed lit, as the squad would go on to run the table in the four weeks leading up to the ultimate contest of the season — scoring a game average of more than 50 points and producing over 500 yards of total offense in the process.

But on Nov. 23, Team 147 found itself needing a win against Harvard in order to close out the season as Ivy League champions. A double overtime marathon ensued, as Yale overcame a 17-point deficit late in the fourth quarter to win 50–43.

“People ask me questions about this rivalry all the time,” head coach Tony Reno said. “They ask, ‘What makes it so unique?’ and ‘What makes it the greatest rivalry in all of sports?’ It was on full display today. You had two incredible football teams that battled play in and play out … When you look at our team and our campaign, we started the season with the goal of being an elite football team. That doesn’t mean just winning. It goes along with how you conduct yourself in your day to day life. Do you really play for each other? Are you someone who does things because you want to and not because you have to? Do you put yourself last everyday and your teammates first? This team is celebrating an Ivy League championship because of the guys next to me and the players downstairs that did all those things all season long.”

Graphic: Megan Graham

Against Harvard, quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 was gunslinging early for Yale, finding receiver Jaylan Sanidfer ’22 on the first play of the game for a 50-yard gain. After sputtering in the red zone, however, the Bulldogs were content with a field goal attempt, which kicker Sam Tuckerman ’20 put through the uprights to make it 3–0. Harvard, however, immediately responded with a 60-yard play of its own to set up shop in Eli territory. The Blue and White defense nevertheless held steady, conceding a field goal which tied the game at three apiece to end the first quarter.  

After a Crimson punt pinned Yale behind its own 20-yard line during the second quarter, Rawlings threw an untimely interception that set the Crimson’s offense up with excellent field position. Ten seconds later, quarterback Jake Smith fully capitalized with a 30-yard run into the end zone for six. The score held at 9–3 as a Yale defender managed to get a hand on the extra point attempt. Another unfortunate turnover from Rawlings later in the quarter, this time from a bulldozing sack, would again lead to a dominating Harvard drive that finished with running back Aidan Borguet rushing 47 yards down the field and past the pylon for the score. This put the visiting Crimson up 15–3 over Yale, and as the Elis ran out the clock to close out the half, the latter headed to the locker room with its first halftime deficit since a matchup against Richmond more than a month earlier. 

Harvard did not let the long-delayed halftime extinguish any offensive momentum, putting together a touchdown drive in the opening minutes of the third quarter to go up 22–3. When the Bulldogs needed to answer back, they did. After the Blue and White recovered a bobbled Crimson fair catch, Rawlings fully capitalized on the excellent field positioning to set up a 4-yard touchdown run from back Zane Dudek ’21 to decrease the Crimson lead to 22–10 in the third. 

“I wasn’t really focused on what the scoreboard said,” Rawlings said. “I was telling the guys that the mindset we should have going forward in this game is to just have fun — to do our jobs and to have fun. I love playing this game with these guys, I have been so blessed to have even been given the opportunity to play for this university in the first place. This game is a testament to the team’s ability to believe in itself no matter what the circumstances are.”

Photo: Daniel Zhao

After stifling Harvard on its ensuing drive, Rawlings would subsequently lead his team on another drive into Crimson territory, culminating in a Tuckerman field goal and a score of 22–13 halfway through the third quarter. Yet, Borguet again exposed the Bulldog defense on Harvard’s ensuing drive in the form of a 60-yard run into the end zone — extending the Crimson’s lead 29-13. Yale remained unwilling in its efforts to let up, as Rawlings concocted a nine-play, 72-yard drive that he would finish himself with a 5-yard run past the pylon. After a botched two-point attempt, the score would be 29–19 in the Crimson’s favor. Not a minute later, Borguet, on a run up the gut of the Yale defensive line, weaved his way past defenders as he had been doing all game long, eventually finding the end zone 67 yards later. The Crimson now laid claim to a commanding 17-point lead with 13 minutes left in the game.

The Bulldogs chipped into this lead in the fourth quarter on a four-minute drive that finished with Sam Tuckerman’s third field goal of the evening. Down 36–22 with nine minutes remaining, a comeback was still within the realm of possibility. 

Rawlings had now completely taken control of the game. On his next drive, needing a touchdown to keep the Bulldog’s hope of an Ivy League crown alive, Rawlings led a precise drive down the field that culminated with a lob of a pass into the end zone — a fade that was miraculously one-handed by receiver Mason Tipton ’23 at the back corner of the end zone to make the score 36–29 with just a minute and a half remaining on the clock.

Photo: Josh Chough

The game was about to come down to a do-or-die onside kick. For the Bulldogs, a successful onside kick meant keeping its season alive — at least for one more minute. For Harvard, successfully defending against a play that was a long shot at best meant delivering a crushing blow to a historic archrival. 

As darkness descended over a floodlight-less stadium, Tuckerman delivered a beautiful onside kick that Eli receiver Reed Klubnik ’20 managed to come down with. The game was then literally in the hands of Rawlings, who put together a season-defining drive of perfect throws and elusive runs that finished with a dart of a pass caught by captain and receiver JP Shohfi ’20 at the goal line with 18 seconds remaining. In a story that had everything, Yale just added a final chapter — overtime.

“Coming into overtime, we were so confident in ourselves,” Shohfi said. “We had confidence all throughout the game, but especially in that moment. We were ready to go. It didn’t matter whether there were lights or not. It didn’t matter what time of day it was. We were ready to go again and again and again. It also didn’t matter what the score read. We were just going to keep going until the clock read zero. That was one of the most special experiences that I have ever been a part of.” 

Head coach Tony Reno shares a postgame embrace. (Photo: Lukas Flippo)

On Harvard’s first play of overtime, Smith delivered a silencer for the remaining Yale fans in the form of a 25-yard touchdown pass to an unguarded Crimson receiver. Rawlings, now needing a touchdown to force another overtime, delivered with a pass to wideout Caden Herring ’20 in the end zone, knotting the contest up at 43–43. The Bulldogs got the ball back at the 25-yard line to begin double overtime. After a 19-yard connection to Shohfi that set the Elis up four yards away from the end zone, Dudek would not be denied a touchdown on his ensuing four yard run — giving the Bulldogs a 50–43 advantage and their first lead since the first quarter. Team 147’s defense was now tasked with closing out the game by preventing a Harvard touchdown.

And for four downs, Yale stood as strong as they had all game — holding Harvard a yard short from the first-down marker. The four-and-a-half hour game was over.

The Elis, down by as much as 19 points, had won, securing the Ivy League crown for the second time in three years.

Jared Fel |