Johnson's Grab Wins 116th Game For Yale
NEW HAVEN, Conn.--The Harvard football team has led or been tied in the fourth quarter of every single game it lost this year.
And Yale senior quarterback Joe Walland made sure that this Game was no different.
With Harvard ahead 21-17, Walland took over with 2:53 left and methodically marched his team downfield, ultimately finding junior wideout Eric Johnson in the end zone with 29 seconds left in The Game.
Johnson's controversial catch gave Yale (9-1, 6-1 Ivy) a 24-21 victory and a share of the Ivy League title in front of a crowd of 52, 484.
"It's been a very tough season," Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said. "We played incredibly hard every single week, and we lost just a couple of football games right down the wire."
On second-and-goal from the Harvard 4, Johnson ran a skinny post pattern in the end zone. The pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and Johnson had to dive to make a shoestring catch. However, television replays seemed to indicate the ball hit the ground first.
Murphy thought the pass should've been ruled incomplete.
"Maybe I'm looking at it through rose-colored glasses, but I thought the ball hit the ground," he said.
Johnson said he had no doubts about the play.
"I caught it. I caught that ball," Johnson said. "It was an inch from the ground, but I caught it."
Regardless of the play, the momentum was on the Elis' side by that point, and Harvard (5-5, 3-4 Ivy) already had its fair share of breaks that would have put the game away.
Senior quarterback Brad Wilford orchestrated the only sustained Crimson drive of the day early in the fourth quarter--with a big assist from an Eli penalty for a late hit that brought the Crimson across midfield.
On first-and-10 from the Yale 48, Murphy pulled out an old favorite from his bag of tricks--the halfback pass. Freshman Brent Chalmers, in for injured senior Chris Menick underthrew wide-open freshman wideout Kyle Cremarosa. Cremarosa, came back to the ball through triple coverage and somehow made the catch at the Yale 18-yard line.
On the next play, senior tailback Troy Jones bounced out to the left sideline for a touchdown and a 21-17 Harvard lead with 12:19 left in the game.
It looked like that score would stand when senior cornerback Kane Waller intercepted a Walland pass with just under five minutes left. It was only Walland's fourth interception of the season, against 17 touchdowns.
But the offense, taking over at its own 41, went three-and-out. Worse, Jones fumbled on third-and-7, losing 10 yards on the play. That gave Yale great field position and gave probably the greatest quarterback in Yale history one final chance.
"We've made big plays all season," Walland said. "We run the two minute drill better than anyone in the league. We were calm and relaxed and made plays."
Walland and Johnson absolutely crippled the Crimson. Walland went 42-for-67, throwing for 437 yards, the most Harvard has ever given up in a game. Likewise, Johnson caught 21 balls for 244 yards, averaging 11.6 yards per catch.
The pair were able to rack up their numbers because Siedlecki decided to scrap the running game in the second half. Eli senior tailback Rashad Bartholomew carried the ball just once after halftime as the Crimson had shut him down in the first. He finished with 57 yards on 13 carries.
Over the past four games, the Harvard defense has given up just 114 rushing yards on 101 carries.
"This is the first time I have ever abandoned the running game completely," Yale Coach Jack Siedlecki said. "I just knew that we were going to have to win this through the air."
Walland executed his record-setting day despite running a 103.1-degree fever and requiring hospitalization on Friday night for tonsillitis.
"Eric Johnson is a hell of a football player, but Joe Walland is special," Murphy said. "Walland is one of those quarterbacks who wills things to happen. He should have legendary status in this neck of the woods now."
The Crimson led for most of the game, and took a 7-3 halftime lead.
Walland came out of the half firing and brought his team to the Harvard 20-yard line, where junior placekicker Mike Murawczyk lined up for a 37-yard field goal attempt.
But on the second-most exciting play of the day, sophomore free safety Shawn Parker blocked the kick and senior safety Mike Brooks took the loose ball all the way down the field for a touchdown, handing Harvard a 14-3 lead.
Aside from the block, the third quarter belonged to the Elis.
On its next possession, Yale attacked the soft spots in the Harvard zone with Walland finding Johnson four times over the middle from the shotgun. Walland scrambled for nine yards on first-and 10 from the Harvard 18-yard line to bring the ball to the Crimson 9.
The 63-yard drive was capped with a nine-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Tommy McNamara.
"Harvard has a great defense up front," Walland said. "We knew we had to throw the ball to win and we stuck with it."
Another Crimson three-and-out brought about another long Yale series which Harvard finally stopped at the Bulldog 20-yard line.
But Harvard could not stop Yale late in the third. Johnson and captain Jake Fuller swapped long receptions, including a 21-yard catch over the middle by Johnson to bring the ball to the Harvard 31-yard line.
Walland found Fuller in the front left corner of the end zone at 14:23 of the fourth quarter to temporarily hand Yale a 17-14 lead.
Wilford had difficulty moving the ball in his final collegiate game. He completed 13-of-28 passes for 143 yards and one touchdown. Most of his troubles stemmed from a furious Bulldog pass rush led by senior defensive end Peter Sarantos, who, despite not registering a sack, reigned in the Crimson backfield.
Harvard had a better running game than expected with Menick, its all-time leading rusher, out with a knee injury. Jones and Nwokocha filled in adequately combining for 29 carries and 99 yards.
"I don't know what their coverage was," captain Chris Eitzmann said. "All I know is they had pressure all the time. We had guys open, but every time we did, it seemed like Wilford was scrambling."
Neither team had much success moving the ball during the first half, where the kicking game reigned supreme.
Harvard's first touchdown was indirectly set up by a Giampaolo punt that pinned Yale at its 1-yard line.
The Bulldogs failed to advance the ball any further and a short punt gave Harvard the ball at the Yale 21 with 1:56 in the half. Wilford connected on a seven-yard pass to Jones to hand Harvard a 7-3 lead.
Murawczyk hit a 44-yard field goal at 3:48 of the first to open the scoring. In a game the Crimson lost by three points, Giampaolo continued his kicking woes at The Game, sailing a 24-yarder wide right at the start of the second quarter.
Giampaolo missed an even shorter chip shot in last year's 9-7 Yale victory.
By capturing the Ivy title, the Bulldogs completed their turnaround from 1997 when they went 1-9 and Harvard brought home the crown.
It occurred in front of the largest crowd at the Yale Bowl since 1989, the last time Yale won the Ivy.
"There's no other place in Division I-AA that you can play in front of that many people," senior defensive end Jeff Hockenbrock said. "That's pretty amazing."
Brown beat Columbia 23-6 to share the title with Yale. With the loss, Harvard now falls to 46-63-8 all-time against the Bulldogs.
Also with the defeat, the Crimson says goodbye to an outstanding senior class, especially on defense, led by linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski, who finished the game with 395 career tackles, a Harvard record. And second on the list is teammate Aron Natale with 276.
Yet as has happened all season, the veteran defense couldn't stop the final drive and The Game--and their careers-- ended with hordes of Yalies storming the field.
"Every game we lost, we lost late like this," Eitzmann said. "It gets more frustrating."
But it was fitting.