For the first time since 1913, the Harvard football team finished its season with a perfect record, defeating Yale (3-6, 1-6 Ivy) 35-23 in New Haven Saturday to win the Ivy League championship.
In the 118th edition of The Game, Harvard (9-0, 7-0 Ivy) relied on its seniors for steady leadership and its youth for game-breaking plays as the Crimson completed a perfect season before 51,634 spectators at the Yale Bowl.
“We had to play our absolute best today, and we did it,” Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said. “It’s gratifying to see a bunch of young men do everything you ask from them from the beginning to the end of a season. This group of kids is a blend of talent, leadership and unselfishness the likes of which I have never seen before.”
Though the Crimson never trailed in the contest, Yale threatened throughout the second half, right up to its final drive when the Elis marched to the Harvard 6-yard line with over a minute remaining. But on the game’s final play, Harvard senior safety Andy Fried intercepted Yale quarterback T.J. Hyland at the Crimson goal-line to clinch the win.
Four seconds remained on the game clock after the interception, but the Harvard fans stormed the field anyway while players and officials futilely attempted to hold back the rush. Yale’s coaching staff consented to allow the clock to expire and Harvard celebrated at midfield.
“It was incredible to see all the student support, and we’re very glad to share our championship with the 10,000 men of Harvard,” Fried said.
The turning point in the game occurred late in the third quarter with Harvard ahead 22-17.
Following an incomplete pass on third-and-5 from midfield, punter Adam Kingston trotted onto the field as Harvard lined up to punt. But it was sophomore linebacker Dante Balestracci, not Kingston, who took the snap. Dashing to the right, Balestracci gained the first down, then lateralled the ball to Kingston, who sped 36 yards to the Yale eight-yard line.
Three plays later senior quarterback Neil Rose ran untouched up the middle for a three-yard touchdown. The play shifted momentum in Harvard’s favor and temporarily crushed the spirit of the Bulldogs.
“I guess the cat’s out of the bag now—Adam Kingston was an outstanding wide receiver in high school,” Murphy said. “We drew up the play before the game in a coaches’ meeting because we knew we had to be aggressive.”
Rose’s sneak extended Harvard’s lead to 28-17. Yale wouldn’t go away, however. The Bulldogs stopped Harvard superstar receiver Carl Morris on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt and then answered with an eight-play, 63-yard scoring drive. A 15-yard touchdown reception by P.J. Collins—his second score of both the game and his career—cut Harvard’s lead to 28-23 with 9:21 remaining in the fourth quarter.
But this was Harvard’s day to shine, and the Crimson fought back with a nine-play, 75-yard drive to keep the Elis at bay. Rose was 4-for-5 for 62 yards on the series, unfazed by the prospect of losing an undefeated season. Rose found Morris in the end zone from 16 yards out to put Harvard on top by the game’s final margin.
“We lost to a better team today. They have one heck of an offense,” said Yale captain Tim Penna. “They are a championship team.”
Harvard’s victory was especially gratifying to 22 members of this year’s senior class, who had endured three straight losses to Yale in The Game.
“We were really up for this game,” Rose said. “Between having lost the last three years to Yale, trying to win an Ivy League Championship outright and keeping our record unblemished, that’s just about all the motivation we needed as seniors.”