Yale received control of the football for the last time this year two minutes before the end of The Game Saturday. At that point the Elis were located on their own ten yard line and trailed Harvard, 14-6. A touchdown, with a two point conversion, would have tied the score.
No serious attempt was made, enough to, get that touchdown. Quarterback Brian Rapp called short pass plays, and failed to ask for time out in between. One astute observer said Yale wanted the clock to run out: the air was so bitter that any sensible person would have ended the contest as soon as possible.
The weather may have diminished Yale's enthusiasm for football but that was probably not the real reason for its reticence. Harvard's line, and the peripatetic Bill Taylor were more decisive.
For despite an unusually good defense performance, the Ell varsity was rather outclassed in the 79th gridiron meeting of "the ancient and honorable" rivals. The Crimson had 234 rushing yards as opposed to Yale's 85, and seven more first downs.
Still, Yale was a two touchdown underdog and it is to the Blue's credit that it managed to stay in contention almost until the end. The Crimson was, indeed, in triumph flashing, but the fans had to stay until the last white line was passed used until the final verdict of 14-6 was secure.
A capacity crowd of 39,000 witnessed Saturday's historic battle, in which both teams played slightly below their potential. Undoubtedly the weather and the tension contributed to this, but it was not at all untypical of a Harvard-Yale game.
Midway in the first period, for instance, out of town visitors had the opportunity to experience the exquisite agony of a crucial fumble so familiar to Stadium regulars.
The bobble was preceded by some superb Harvard offensive play. After Yale's early field goal attempt fell short, Harvard took over the ball on the 20. The Crimson's first three plays moved it 12 yards, and a clipping penalty on a Bulldog advanced the ball to the 42.
Here Mike Bassett flipped to Hobie Armstrong, who handed off to Bill Taylor on a double reverse. Taylor sprinted for a few yards, and then lateraled to Mike Bassett on his left. This bit of razzle dazzle was good for 14 yards, and it was succeeded by an exceptionally deft run of Bill Grana's for 15 yards.
A few mundane maneuvers brought Harvard to the Yale 15. Bassett then asked Armstrong to carry over tackle. Armstrong did this, and more. He forced his way all the way to the Yale five and then fumbled. The Elis' Stan Thomas recovered.
The fumble stands out in one's mind, but there were also a number of things Harvard did well. Halfback Taylor, playing his final game, did just about everything he tried perfectly. He gained 98 yards rushing, played good defensive ball, and saved the Crimson again and again with his punts.
Grana's blocking was excellent, and had he not been injured early, the game would not have not been, so close. Brad Stephens, Frank Ulcickas, Ed Smith, and Dick Diehl did outstanding work on the line, particularly in defensive situations.
The Crimson penetrated Yale's turf deeply and successfully early in the second period after a short punt by Tim O'Connell gave Harvard the ball on its own 40. The highlights in this drive were Taylor's courageous sideline catch of a Bassett pass for 16 yards, and Taylor's 23 yard gain on a double reverse to the Yale five.
Grana made the run possible with a crushing back, his last of the season. He left after the play with a broken bone in his foot. Taylor completed the march with a four yard gain over left tackle for the touchdown, his tenth of the season.
The Crimson was greeted by a much tougher and meaner Bulldog in the third quarter. In fact, the dog was downright, menacing. Only Taylor was able to gain appreciable yardage.
The Bulldog was more defensive, but at first he showed little offensive spark. Then suddenly, a curious drama was staged on the field.
Yalie John Cirie took a Taylor punt on his own 41, and dutifully headed up the field. He was generally ignored by most of the Harvard team however, who furiously attacked several Yalies on the other side of the field.
Crimson tackle Ed Smith finally spotted Cirie at midfield, and attempted, un-successfully, to tackle him. He did succeed, though, in inadvertently blocking out two other would-be tacklers. Thus protected, Cirie quietly went on his way to the end zone, making the score 7-6. Yale's bid for two more points was denied by Frank Ulcickas and Smith.
Harvard moved out of reach in the final period when Harshbarger took a short O'Connell punt on his own 34 and returned it 21 yards. Four plays later Fred Bartl crashed over the goal line, and Hartranft again connected on the conversion kick.
There was a surge of excitement when Harvard's Jeff Pochop recovered Lee Marsh's fumble on Yale's first play, but a holding penalty nullified Bassett's touchdown run several plays later, and a field goal attempt was short.
Taylor made a valiant try for the touchdown before Bartl's carry, but just failed. Injured on the play, he left the field on a stretcher. The crowd gave him a tumultuous ovation, both in honor of his play in The Game, and his magnificent career.
The victory, combined with Princeton's grudging loss to unbeatable Dartmouth, gave Harvard second place in the Ivy League. It also secured a 6-3 season for the Crimson, and its third Big Three crown in four years. And as J. Bennington Peers III has shrewdly noted, it's the Big Three title that really counts.