In The Game of the year, it took the Harvard football team nearly an entire half to find its most effective offensive weapon of the day—the mobile attack of sophomore quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
And on this cold and blustery day, the discovery paid off as the Crimson (7-3, 6-1 Ivy) beat Yale (6-4, 4-3) 20-13 in the 119th playing of The Game before 30,323 fans.
Fitzpatrick replaced senior captain Neil Rose late in the second quarter, igniting the Crimson offense.
With Fitzpatrick at the helm, the Crimson exploded for 20 unanswered points in the third quarter, in a span of just 6:43.
“The third quarter was really the crucial part of the game for us,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy. “If you’re going to win the Harvard-Yale game you’ve got to capitalize. And we did.”
On its first possession of the third quarter, the Harvard offense, fed by a steady dose of runs from Fitzpatrick and senior tailback Nick Palazzo, mustered a six-play, 29-yard drive, capped off by a 4-yard touchdown scamper by Fitzpatrick to pull ahead of the Bulldogs, 7-6.
On the day, Fitzpatrick amassed 72 yards on the ground on 18 touches, including two touchdowns.
Yale coach Jack Siedlecki touted the toughness of the Crimson signal caller.
“He’s a big kid running with the football,” Siedlecki said “Every play he gets that extra yardage. He’s not a tailback, but he ran the ball well enough to keep you honest.”
Fitzpatrick also made his mark through the air, completing 7-of-12 passes for 135 yards.
On perhaps the biggest play of the game, Fitzpatrick made a long distance connection to senior wide-out Carl Morris. The ball left Fitzpatrick’s hand and Morris gained just enough separation from the Yale defender to grab the spiral in stride.
The 50-yard completion advanced Harvard to the 8-yard line and gave the team an opportunity to garner some breathing room.
As he has done time and time again, Fitzpatrick finished the 58-yard drive by outracing the Yale defense to the left edge of the end zone on a 5-yard sprint. On the ensuing kick, senior Anders Blewett missed the first PAT of his career on his 59th attempt.
The Crimson’s third and final score came with 4:19 left in the third quarter. Starting at its own 43, a 39-yard Fitzpatrick-Morris collaboration moved Harvard to the Yale 18. The drive culminated in a 1-yard touchdown burst from Palazzo. In his last game in a Crimson uniform, Palazzo ran the ball 26 times for 99 yards.
Early in the game, the Crimson didn’t seem to be on the track to victory, however.
In the first half Harvard’s offense was forced to punt four consecutive times and turned the ball over twice, once on downs and once on a Rose interception.
Morris was virtually silent as he gained negative-1 net yards going into halftime. In fact, the Crimson was held scoreless for the entire first half for the first time since the ’98 Harvard-Yale contest.
“Neither team wanted to lose the game,” Murphy said. “It was like two boxers who didn’t want to get hit by the knock-out punch. You just didn’t want to screw it up.”
The Yale offense performed well early, mounting an impressive 76-yard drive on 13 plays late in the first quarter.
Sophomore tailback Robert Carr capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown dash, but the Elis botched the extra point, giving themselves a 6-0 lead.
On a day when the weather was less than ideal, bobbled snaps and botched punts were aplenty as a myriad of special teams mishaps characterized a gritty game.
“Obviously, early it was hard to adjust to that kind of wind,” said Yale tight end Nate Lawrie. “We got back on track but it was too little, too late.”
With the Crimson comfortably ahead 20-6, Yale drove for 56 yards on nine plays, capped off by a 24-yard touchdown toss from Bulldog quarterback Jeff Mroz to junior wideout Rob Benigno. Sophomore John Troost kicked the point-after, putting Yale within seven.
Harvard was unable to counter on its next few drives but did shave a considerable amount of time off the clock and stymied the sputtering Eli offense.
With 42 seconds left in regulation, Yale had one final chance, starting on the Harvard 20-yard line.
The Bulldogs advanced to their own 35 after a pass interference call on sophomore cornerback Brian Niemczak, and Yale’s hopes of victory glimmered just 65 yards away.
On the next play, however, Harvard junior cornerback Benny Butler drove the final nail into the Elis’ coffin, intercepting a Mroz pass and dashing any hopes of a Yale comeback.
“I thought our defense did a tremendous job,” Murphy said. “Our defense made them do what they weren’t as happy doing, that is, throwing the football.”
The Game was over. Harvard 20, Yale 13.
Even this victory was bittersweet, however, as Penn defeated Cornell today to seize sole possession of the Ivy Crown.
“We set out to win the championship,” Morris said “We came up a little short, but we ended on a high note. We beat Yale.”