NEW HAVEN, Conn.--It's official. Harvard is the best team in the Ivy League. You can say that after you've beaten everybody else in your league.
Harvard (9-1, 7-0 Ivy) never completely dominated Yale (1-9, 0-7) in its 17-7 win, but the talent gap between Harvard's defense and Yale's offense was so apparent that the conclusion was never really in doubt.
That doesn't mean Yale didn't make it interesting at the end. The Elis scored a touchdown with 10:36 left in the game to close Harvard's lead to 17-7. They then stopped the Crimson at their own 20-yard line on fourth-and-two.
With momentum seemingly swinging to the Elis, Yale drove 61 yards to the Harvard 19-yard line as sophomore quarterback Joe Walland completed five-of-seven attempts and scrambled for another seven yards. However, the Crimson defense showed the character which has made it the cornerstone of this championship team.
On first down, Walland overthrew sophomore receiver Jake Borden. Senior safety Jeff Compas provided tight coverage on the next pass attempt--another incompletion to Borden.
Harvard's defensive line registered its seventh sack of the day on third down, as senior tackle Jason Hughes threw down Walland for a loss of seven yards.
On Yale's last play, Compas once again defended on a pass attempt to Borden.
"We had a lot of opportunities in that game," said Yale Coach Jack Siedlecki. "We got ourselves in positions where we had a chance."
Harvard took over with 54 seconds left in its perfect 7-0 Ivy campaign and kneeled down twice to preserve its first nine-win season since 1919.
Harvard had sprinted off to a quick start, as a personal foul on Yale made a kickoff return to the Harvard 41-yard line become first-and-ten at the Bulldogs' 44-yard line.
On the second play, sophomore Chris Menick ran right for three yards to give him Harvard's single-season rushing record for good, and he capped off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
"Menick's got the intangibles," Siedlecki said. "He isn't the fastest back in the league, he isn't the shiftiest back in the league, but he's the best back in the league."
"I had a great time," Menick said. "Today was the culmination not only of the season but also of all the hard work the seniors have put in over four years."
With the score, Menick set a singleseason touchdown record for the Crimson and also seemed to have buried Yale early.
The perception was reinforced when Yale missed an open receiver on a bomb on its first possession. Three possessions later, even after a personal foul extended a Yale drive, the Bulldogs were stuffed twice on second-and-one at the Harvard fiveyard line.
It did not seem like Yale would ever be able to score after junior Joe Weidle blocked the field goal attempt.
"He comes real hard off the corner," said Harvard Coach Tim Murphy. "It was ,a big play not only because it kept them off the board but also because it helped with a small momentum swing."
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs' defense played Harvard tough until a poor punt gave Harvard good field position.
"The first touchdown was too easy," Murphy said. "Subconsciously out there after the first drive, everybody says, 'OK, it's going to be another 30, 40 point game for Harvard,' and we kind of shutdown."
Senior Colby Skelton, Harvard's all time leading punt returner and receiver, got the offense started again with an aggressive play on a 29-yard punt by freshman Mike Murawczyk.
Harvard used runs by sophomore quarterback Rich Linden and Menick to drive 44 yards to the Yale 16-yard line. On third-and-seven, Harvard showed the clutch offensive performance it has all season, as Linden dropped into the shotgun and found senior Jared Chupaila at the right flag for a touchdown.
Chupaila was in single coverage with freshman Josh Phillips and caught the ball in front of the defender. Phillips only weakly wrapped up Chupaila's ankle, and the senior stepped through his arms and into the endzone.
With the score 14-0 at halftime, it seemed that The Game had been decided, because it didn't seem that Yale would be able to score any points at all.
At the half, the Bulldogs had completed only four of 13 passes while allowing five sacks. All Yale rushers combined had gained only 29 yards on 21 rushing attempts.
The opening of the second half did not give the Bulldogs any more encouragement after they got to the Harvard 24-yard line. The Elis tried a fake field goal, but a false start nullified the play. Compas then made a tackle on fourth down to end Yale's second scoring threat.
After sophomore Mike Giampaolo booted a 41-yard field goal to complete a 64-yard Harvard drive to end the third quarter, it seemed as if Yale had no life left.
But just as the Elis stormed back in last year's Game, they did so again, as Walland suddenly found the hot hand. Although Yale couldn't run the ball, it began to find some holes in the Crimson coverage.
Walland scrambled twice for 28 yards on Yale's next possession then completed three straight passing attempts.
"Putting me back in the shotgun and getting me away from the line [helped]," Walland said. "We executed for the first time in a while."
On the other end of the last pass was junior flanker Ken Marschner, who made a sensational catch in the back of the end zone, as he appeared to catch the back end of the football.
But that was merely an aberration. The story of The Game was Harvard's defense stiffening whenever Yale got close and Crimson special teams setting up the two touchdowns.
Even on a day when Harvard's explosive offense was held in relative check, contributions from the rest of the team were more than enough to beat an obviously-less-talented though equally-spirited opponent.
"We played hard," Siedlecki said. "It was a well-played game."
"They don't give any style points in football," Murphy said. "We had a lot of style points in a lot of wins this year, but the bottom line is we got it done."
So the 114th Game became a coronation, as the greatest team in recent school history showed that its talent, heart and determination were more than the rest of the Ivy League--even a pumped-up Yale team--could handle.
HARVARD 17YALE 7