There was no sign of Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick-a Harvard grad-or former NFL tight end (and current main squeeze of Jessica Simpson) Eric Johnson-a Needham native and Yale grad-but it felt like every other Harvard and Yale alumni invaded Cambridge on Saturday afternoon. The two halves couldn’t have been more different as a defensive battle turned into an offensive shootout, the Crimson came out on top 34-24 in front of 31,123 at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge for their program-record sixth straight victory.
“It was like a heavyweight fight, we landed the last punch,” said Harvard head coach Tim Murphy, who just completed his 19th year at the helm of the Crimson. “I’m so proud of my team for showing resiliency, resolve and mental toughness.”
On paper, this looked sure to be a blowout as the Crimson came in at 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the Ivy League with an Ivy League record-setting offense (in terms of points scored). Yale (2-7, 1-5 Ivy League) had stumbled through another terrible season, this time under first-year head coach Tony Reno (a former Harvard assistant coach). Both teams basically sleepwalked through the first half as it was tied 3-3 at halftime. The funny t-shirts and signs spotted in the crowd proved to be way entertaining than the plodding football on the field.
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Early on, both teams’ offenses sputtered in the red zone: Yale senior kicker Philippe Panico (a Boston native that went to Buckingham, Browne & Nichols) hit a 29-yard field goal with 21 seconds left in the first quarter and Harvard junior kicker David Mithrandir hit a 23-yard field goal at 12:50 of the second quarter. It was more of the same in the third quarter as Mithrandir added a 37-yard field goal for a 6-3 Crimson advantage.
Harvard senior quarterback Colton Chapple (209 passing yards, 2 TDs; 128 rushing yards, TD) finally broke the touchdown-less action with an 18-yard run, giving the Crimson a 13-3 lead with 4:51 left in the 3rd quarter. Yale head coach Tony Reno admitted that being down 10 points at that point switched up his mindset: “I realized we had to open it up more so I brought in Furman (junior Henry Furman, a wide receiver they converted to quarterback). That changed the game, he made plays (158 yards passing and a touchdown).”
Yale woke up with a 46-yard pass from Fulmar to junior wide receiver Cameron Conduits (6 catches, 82 yards) which got it down to Harvard’s 3-yard line. Sophomore running back Tyler Vargas (96 yards rushing) ran it in two plays later from three yards out after taking a shotgun snap and initially looking like he wanted to pass. The Bulldogs were back in it, down only 13-10. After a Harvard 3 and out, Yale continued to move the ball as Furman connected on a 33-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Grant Wallace (11 catches, 118 yards).
Shockingly, Yale took a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter as Furman found Wallace in between triple coverage for a 12-yard touchdown catch. Furman kept the play alive with his legs and lofted it in the end zone on 3rd and 3 from the 12. Harvard answered right back with Chapple hitting junior wide receiver Andrew Berg (6 catches, 70 yards) for a 32-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone. The most impressive part was that Berg was covered tightly but he still managed to hang on. The Crimson wrestled back the advantage, 20-17 with 11:52 left in the fourth quarter.
Yale senior defensive tackle Nick Daffin had the defensive play of the game with an interception of Chapple after the quarterback made the curious decision to throw it when he was getting taken down and nobody was open near him. “That was a stupid play by me, after that I just had to bury it and move on,” said the Crimson’s signal-caller who set an Ivy League record this year for total offense. Once again, the Bulldogs converted the Crimson turnover into points as Varga punched it in from two yards out on 3rd and Goal.
Chapple immediately redeemed himself with a 62-yard run down to Yale’s 8-yard line. After a pass interference penalty, Chapple found junior tight end Cameron Brate for a 4-yard TD catch in the back of the end zone. Chapple explained that Brate had told him to throw it high if he was covered. The Crimson were back ahead 27-24 with 4:44 remaining. After forcing a 3 and out by Yale, Harvard was trying to waste the clock but senior running back Trevor Scales (177 rushing yards) had another idea as he went 63 yards for the clinching score, 34-24 with 1:08 left. The Crimson had survived a valiant effort by Yale.
Asked what he was thinking after his touchdown, Scales said in his well-spoken manner, “I just thought of my mom and wanted to tell her that ‘I made it!’ I’m so honored to be called a Harvard football player.”
For Scales, Chapple and the rest of the Crimson seniors, they continued the legacy of being unbeaten in all four of their years against Yale. “It is pure elation,” noted Chapple. “All of our hard work has come to fruition.” Harvard fell one game short of back-to-back Ivy League titles as Penn beat Cornell but that couldn’t wipe the smile off of Murphy’s face. “It’s great for our program, there is so much parity in our league. Our effort was incredible; my seniors are such winners with great heart.”