Yesterday afternoon was just as perfect—even though it did not end with an Ivy League title.
“We wanted to go out the right way,” said senior tailback Nick Palazzo after his team’s 20-13 win before a sellout crowd of 30,323 at Harvard Stadium. “Some of us seniors are going to be lucky enough to play again, but a lot of us won’t. We didn’t want to go out on a somber note. Coach said before the game, ‘You don’t get what you deserve, you get what you earn.’ And we earned this.”
You bet they did. The Crimson was up against a determined Yale squad that had won three in a row.
The cold, gray day and a stingy Bulldog defense combined to limit Harvard to 127 total yards and zero points in the first half.
In the second quarter, Murphy substituted sophomore Ryan Fitzpatrick for captain Neil Rose at quarterback, who had struggled early and completed just three of nine passes for 63 yards and an interception.
The change proved to be exactly what Murphy’s team needed.
With Rose rushing for just nine yards on three carries, Yale was able to hang back and double-team senior wideout Carl Morris, limiting him to just one catch for 11 yards in the first half.
With Fitzpatrick, Harvard’s leading rusher with 523 yards, Yale was forced to bring an extra player into the defensive front to protect against the run.
“In the first half, we probably played the best defense we had all year,” said Yale linebacker Ken Estrera. “But then the quarterback change threw us off. It shouldn’t have, but it did.”
A 20-point third quarter gave the Crimson all the offense it needed.
Fitzpatrick—who did not turn the ball over once this season—was as efficient as ever, running for 72 yards (including TD runs of four and five yards) and completing 7-of-12 passes for 135 yards.
Fitzpatrick’s exploits on the ground opened things up in the passing game, and Morris finished his final game in a Harvard uniform with four catches—three of them spectacular—for 106 yards.
“The difference in the game was that they had a quarterback who could run the ball,” Yale coach Jack Siedlecki said. “They put us in a situation where we couldn’t put as much attention on the wideouts. Then we had to fool around with our safeties a little more, so they had Morris isolated and made a couple big plays.”
When asked if he was as proud of this year’s team as the 2001 championship squad, Murphy’s response was emphatic.
“Absolutely,” he said. “As a class, this team has won more back-to-back games than any team in Ivy history,” Murphy said. “And today, I was just so pleased with how our guys responded. There was no championship on the line, but our guys played like it was.”