At the end of the first half, Yale leads Harvard 17–3 in the 134th playing of The Game.
After a slow offensive start, Team 145 seized the lead from the Crimson midway through the second quarter behind a strong defensive showing and the resilient play of quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20. Rawlings responded to throwing his first interception in three games by finding wide receiver J.P. Shohfi ’20 for a touchdown, and the Bulldog defense, which dominated throughout the first half, tacked seven points onto the Yale lead with a scoop-and-score by cornerback Malcolm Dixon ’20.
The normally dynamic Yale offense struggled mightily in the opening quarter, however the stout Eli defense was up to the challenge of limiting Harvard’s attack. The field-position advantage went decidedly Harvard’s way as the Crimson started two of its three first-quarter drives beyond its 38-yard line, but Team 145 limited the visiting side to just three points through 15 minutes of play.
Apart from three large gains by wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley on Harvard’s opening drive, the Bulldog defense nullified both the Crimson’s passing and running attacks. First years Jake Smith and Aaron Shampklin started at quarterback and running back, respectively, but struggled to do much against Yale’s dominant defensive line, as the Elis registered two sacks in the first quarter.
Offensively, quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 appeared out-of-sync with his receivers from the start as he failed to find the right timing and distance on many of his throws. Penalties also hampered the struggling Eli attack with false starts that put the offense in second- and third-and-long scenarios. Star rookie running back Zane Dudek ’21 only carried the ball three times in the first quarter, as the Bulldogs were forced to throw their way out of tough situations.
After the two teams traded three-and-out possessions to begin the second quarter, Yale’s offense began with its best field position of the game at Harvard’s 49-yard line. However, Rawlings threw an interception to Crimson linebacker Jack Guillory as the Elis ultimately squandered their opportune field position.
Harvard continued its offensive struggles with another three-and-out series before Yale’s offense finally came to life. On the ensuing series, Shohfi caught a 46-yard reception to bring the Bulldogs inside the red zone before capping the scoring drive off with a nine-yard touchdown grab in the back-left corner of the end zone on third down.
Two plays later, Smith fumbled on a delayed option pitch, and Dixon promptly recovered the loose ball and raced into the opposing end zone for a 19-yard fumble return touchdown. The Bulldogs’ conference-leading defense produced its second turnover in as many series when defensive end J. Hunter Roman ’19 recovered another fumble by Smith in Crimson territory. After a 15-yard reception by WR Ross Drwal ’18 on fourth down moved Yale into the red zone, the Bulldogs ultimately settled for a 25-yard field goal by kicker Alex Galland ’19 to head into halftime with a 17–3 lead.