For the past two years, the only consistency the Harvard football team has maintained is its ability to let games slip out of its fingers.
And it happened again yesterday afternoon in front of a crowd of 30,898 at Harvard Stadium.
A combination of seven Crimson turnovers, a tough Eli defense and the spectacular play of Yale senior wide receiver Eric Johnson sealed the 34-24 win for Yale in the 117th playing of The Game.
Although junior quarterback Neil Rose, sophomore wideout Carl Morris and senior tailback Chuck Nwokocha set school records during the afternoon, Harvard was unable to capitalize on its offensive feats. Even a 94-yard kickoff return by Nwokocha at the start of the second quarter could not preclude Harvard's second-half woes.
Nwkocha's touchdown set a school record for the longest scoring play in the history of The Game.
"You've got to give credit to Yale," Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said. "They're a fast, athletic defense and they forced turnovers."
In the middle of the fourth quarter, with Harvard up 24-17, Yale stopped a Crimson drive deep in Harvard territory and regained possession of the ball on its own 47-yard line after a Harvard punt.
Yale senior running back Rashad Bartholomew, who had 123 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, gained four yards on first down, running behind the right side of the Eli line.
On second-and-6, Yale junior quarterback Peter Lee, who completed 25-of-37 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown, threw as he was hit by Harvard junior defensive end Marc Laborsky. Johnson made the reception over the middle for a long gain to the Harvard 36-yard line.
Bartholomew got the call on first down and he ran for two yards to the Crimson 34-yard line.
On the next play, Yale was called for an illegal shift, which backed Yale up five yards and gave the Elis a long second-and-15 situation. Lee found junior wideout Tommy McNamara for an eight-yard gain to the Harvard 32 after the penalty.
Lee dropped back to pass again on the next play and, finding no one open, scrambled to his right all the way to Harvard's 14.
On first-and-10, Bartholomew gained five yards on an off-tackle play to the right side.
The Elis gave Bartholomew the ball again on the next play, and he gained only a yard to give Yale third down and 4 to go at the Harvard 8.
Harvard called a timeout to set up its defense before the next play. Whatever the Crimson discussed in the timeout, it didn't work.
Lee dropped back to pass and saw Johnson running a slant route into the end zone. Lee threw the pass to Johnson high and to his left. In what was the most impressive play of The Game, Johnson tipped Lee's pass to himself with his left hand before grabbing it with his right hand just before he went out of the back of the end zone.
Johnson's improbable catch tied the score at 24 with 8:35 to go in The Game.
"Johnson is just a spectacular player," Yale Coach Jack Siedlecki said. "We laugh everyday in practice because he makes catches like that every day."
Harvard sophomore wideout Sean Meeker returned the ensuing kickoff to the Crimson 25 where the Harvard offense took over.
Junior quarterback Neil Rose, who set the single-season record for touchdown passes for the year, dropped to pass on first down and tried to hit a deep pass over the middle, but Yale senior linebacker Chris Eger got his hands on the pass and nearly intercepted the ball.
On the next play, Rose looked to get the ball downfield but was pressured by sophomore nose tackle Jason Lange and was forced to throw the ball away.
On third-and-10, Rose was pressured again, this time by multiple Eli pass rushers and forced out of the pocket. He threw off balance downfield but his pass floated in the air too long and junior free safety Ryan LoProto picked off the pass.
Yale took over at Harvard's 44-yard line. On first down, junior defensive tackle Ryan Fitzgerald sacked Lee for a three-yard loss.
On second down, Bartholomew rushed up the middle for a gain of five yards. Lee then found McNamara for a gain of almost five yards that set up fourth down-and-inches at Harvard's 34-yard line.
Bartholomew took the ball on an inside run and gained one yard to secure an Eli first down.
Lee dropped to pass on first down and found McNamara on the left sideline for a six-yard gain. On second- and-4, Lee found senior wideout Billy Brown for a Yale first down at the Crimson 24.
Bartholomew got the ball on first down and gained three yards to 21-yard line. Lee found Brown open in the back of the end zone over cornerback Andy Fried, but the pass bounced off Brown's facemask and dropped incomplete.
On third-and-8, Lee tried to complete a short pass to Johnson, but Harvard sophomore free safety Niall Murphy hit him as soon as he touched the ball and forced the ball out.
Yale senior kicker Mike Murawczyk then made a 34-yard field goal to put the Elis up 27-24 with 4:31left in The Game.
Yale's kickoff was fielded by Laborsky and returned to the Harvard 35.
On first down, sophomore running back Matt Leiszler took the ball on a draw from Rose in the shotgun, but he was tackled by sophomore defensive tackle Matt Lange in the backfield for a loss of three yards.
Rose's pass to Leiszler in the flat was incomplete on the next play, which brought up third down with 13 yards to go.
Rose operated from the shotgun with trips to his right and found junior receiver Sam Taylor on a slant at the 50-yard line.
On the next play, Rose threw a pass down the sideline, but the ball was picked off by junior cornerback Ray Littleton, who returned the ball down to the Harvard 10-yard line before he was pushed out of bounds by Rose.
"I was a curl defender on that play," Littleton said. "They ran double slants, the quarterback didn't like the inside guy and didn't see me, so the ball came right to me."
Bartholomew took the ball up the middle for a gain of four yards on first down and goal after the interception. The Crimson called its second timeout after the play with 3:08 to go in The Game.
On second down, Lee rolled to his left and threw to junior tight end Jeff Ditman, but the coverage by junior free safety Shawn Parker was solid, and the pass fell incomplete.
On third-and-goal from the 6, Bartholomew took the ball on a run off the left side untouched into the end zone. Bartholomew's run made the score 34-24 with three minutes remaining. With the extra point, Murawczyk became the all-time leading scorer for Yale.
On the kickoff, Meeker bobbled the ball and managed to return it only to the six-yard line.
On first down, Rose found Taylor at the 23-yard line for a first down.
Rose then dropped to pass but he was nearly picked off by LoProto. Operating out of the hurry-up offense, Rose passed to sophomore Nick Palazzo over the middle, but his pass was broken up by good Yale coverage.
On third-and-10 at the 24, Rose threw for sophomore wide receiver Carl Morris, who set the single-season record for completions this year, but Rose missed him and the ball again fell incomplete.
On fourth-and-10 at the 24, Rose tried to force a pass down the field, but it was intercepted by senior strong safety Than Merrill at the Harvard 39 with 2:10 to go.
Bartholomew took the ball on first down but was stuffed by the Harvard defense. Harvard took a time out to stop the clock at 2:02.
On third-and-10, Bartholomew ran the ball up the middle for a gain of two yards as the clock wound past 1:00. Yale then accepted a delay of game penalty before punting the ball to Harvard. Yale downed the punt at the Harvard one-yard line.
Harvard spread four wide receivers in an attempt to jumpstart the offense. Rose rolled to his left and tried to force the ball to Morris in quadruple coverage, but the pass fell incomplete.
On the next play, Rose found Taylor at the 27-yard line, but he was hit by three Eli defenders and fumbled the ball away to Yale.
On the ensuing play, Lee knelt to run out the remaining 10 seconds on the clock and seal the 34-24 Yale victory.
"We just had kids make plays in coverage," Siedlecki said. "The wind was a big factor out there. We took a bit of a gamble, we made the decision to give them the wind [at their backs] in the third [quarter] and challenged our defense to hang tough."
Obviously, this was a gamble that paid off for Yale. Murphy denied that the wind was a factor in The Game, despite the fact that Rose's passes seemed to hang in the air longer when he was throwing into the wind in the fourth quarter.
"The wind wasn't a big factor," Murphy said. "If you're down in the middle of Harvard stadium, the direction changes, it swirls. Our guys didn't think it was a big factor."
Yale's defense was able to step up and shut down the Harvard offense throughout the third quarter. Though Harvard was able to get in the red zone on a couple drives in the third, the Crimson came up with no points in the quarter.
On Yale's opening drive, Lee found Bartholomew on a middle screen for a gain of seven yards. On second down, Bartholomew ran for a loss of two through the middle of the Harvard defense. On third down, Lee found McNamara two yards short of the marker, which forced a Yale punt.
On Harvard's first drive, after an incompletion and a short Palazzo run up the middle, Rose found Morris at Harvard's 33-yard line for the 1st down.
On first-and-10, Palazzo gained nine yards on a sweep around the right side. On the ensuing play, Palazzo gained four yards running behind the right side.
On the next play Morris dropped a pass, even though he was wide open in flat.
Rose found Morris on the next play at the Yale 45-yard line though they needed to get to the 44. On fourth down and a yard to go, Harvard elected to punt the ball away to the Yale 20-yard line.
On Yale's first play, Lee dropped back to pass, stayed in the pocket, but when he tried to scramble, R.D. Kern hit him hard.
On second-and-10, Fitzgerald sacked Lee. On third-and-13, Lee found McNamara on a drag route. Harvard blitzed on the play, but failed to put any pressure on the quarterback.
Bartholomew carried on the next play to the left side for a gain of one.
On the next play, Lee passed to Johnson, who was hit hard and fumbled directly into the hands of Harvard cornerback Andy Fried, who returned the ball to the Yale 15-yard line.
The first play of Harvard's second drive was a swing pass to Palazzo from Rose, which fell short. On second down, a slant pass to Morris was incomplete, as the ball was thrown well behind him.
On third-and-10, Rose found sophomore wide receiver Dan Farley on a hook route after Rose eluded the rush of three Yale players who chased him out of the pocket.
On fourth-and-5, Rose kept the ball on the scramble and ran to the Yale six-yard line, one yard short of the first down.
Yale took over on downs and gave the ball to Bartholomew, who was stuffed by the interior of the Harvard defense on the first play of the next drive.
Lee then dropped back, faked the play action to Bartholomew, then rolled to his right and kept the ball, gaining three yards, even though junior fullback Tim Keppel was uncovered down the sideline.
On third-and-6, Harvard was called for an offside penalty, which gave Yale a free five yards and a third-and-1 situation. Lee dropped back and threw the ball to the 37 on a short out route for the first down.
Bartholomew ran up the middle on the next play for no gain. With second down and nine yards to go, Yale lined up in a five-receiver set and ran a middle-screen play to Johnson that gained 20 yards. On the ensuing play, Johnson caught the ball on a slant route for nine yards.
Bartholomew again took the ball up the middle and again got stuffed. On third down with one yard to go, Yale ran a naked bootleg to the left and Lee found senior tight end Jeff Ditman for the first down on an out pattern.
On first-and-10 from the Harvard 30, Johnson caught a screen pass that gained three yards.
On second-and-7, Bartholomew ran untouched through the right side of the Yale offensive line and sprinted past the Harvard defense for a 27-yard score.
On the kickoff to start the next half, Yale squibbed the kick to the Harvard 35-yard line. On first-and-10, Harvard was called for a false start. On first-and-15 from the 30, Rose pitched to Leiszler on an option to the right that gained eight yards.
On the next play, second down with eight yards to go, Leiszler gained eight yards off the left side. Leiszler then picked up the first down on third-and-short with a tough run behind captain Mike Clare to end the first quarter.
On first-and-10 from the Harvard 47-yard line, Leiszler ran for a loss of two. Harvard then came out with four wide receivers and passed the ball on a wide receiver swing pass, which gained five yards.
On third-and-7, Rose dashed through the middle of the Yale defense on a quarterback draw that just barely picked up the first down.
On first-and-10, Rose found Nwokocha on a deep post. On the next play, Rose found Morris on an identical deep post to bring the ball down to Yale's 7-yard line.
Leiszler was stopped quickly on first and goal, but Rose found Morris for a score on second down. Morris, who was running a wide receiver screen, ran untouched into the end zone. With freshman kicker Robbie Wright securing the extra point, the score was tied with 11:48 to go in The Game.
On the kickoff, Harvard squibbed the ball to the Yale 37-yard line, where the Eli offense took over.
Bartholomew ran off tackle to the right for a gain of to Harvard's 40-yard line.
On the next play, Lee found Ditman in the flat for a gain of four yards. Yale then gave the ball back to Bartholomew, who took the ball down to the Harvard 25 off the Yale left side, eluding several would-be Crimson tacklers.
Bartholomew ran again over the left side on the next play for a gain of three yards. Lee dropped back to pass on second-and-7 and found Johnson who took the ball to the Harvard 11-yard line. Bartholomew ran on first and ten to gain one yard on the play.
Lee dropped back to pass on second-and-9, but not liking his options downfield, took off running and got to the Harvard 6.
On third-and-4, Lee found McNamara, who took the ball to within inches of the first down marker. On fourth-and-inches at the 1, Lee faked the ball to Bartholomew up the middle, the rolled to his left and found Johnson who was running an out route in the back of the end zone. With the pass, Lee put Yale up 14-7 with 8:19 to go in The Game.