Crimson Defense Finishes Strong

Yale’s ground game shreds Harvard’s defense, but the unit gets the necessary stops

COMEBACK TRAIL
Joseph L. Abel

Harvard coach Tim Murphy congratulates sophomore quarterback Liam O’Hagan after the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter.

NEW HAVEN—The Harvard football team seemed to know how to stop the run.

Earlier this season. the Crimson was able to hold Brown’s All-American running back Nick Hartigan in check when it defeated the Bears by a double-overtime score of 38-35. Coming into Saturday’s game, Harvard boasted the second-best rush defense in all of Division I-AA.

But Yale turned the Crimson’s defense on its head for the first three quarters of play this weekend, time and again finding gaping holes in the defensive line. Over the more than four hours of play, the Bulldog tandem of Mike McLeod and Jordan Spencer carried the ball for 177 yards. The duo continually sliced through the Crimson defense, cutting substantial time off the clock while Yale was trying to hold on to its lead.

“We were having a little trouble with their snap counts and their changing up a lot,” junior Michael Berg said. “We weren’t able to get into a rhythm.”

Late in the game, however, the experienced squad fought back to help Harvard claw its way back into the contest. In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs were held to a lone field goal. Yale relinquished possession twice on turnovers and once on downs late in the game when the Harvard run defense held tough to stop Spencer twice in a row.

After beating Yale with key plays from both its secondary and defensive line, Berg attributed part of the defense’s development this season to practicing against one of the best offensive units in the Ivy League.

“We like to think that we go up against the best that we are going to see all season in practice every day,” Berg said.

COMEBACK KIDS

Down 21-10 entering the fourth quarter, sophomore Liam O’Hagan led the Crimson charge to equalize the score and eventually pull out the win.

Coming back in the final period has become a trend this season for Harvard with O’Hagan at the helm.

In the season opener against Holy Cross, the Crimson started the last frame down 21-20, but a 48-yard pass from O’Hagan to senior wide receiver Ryan Tyler proved to be the gamewinning score.

A week later against Brown, Harvard needed a last-minute, length-of-the-field drive to tie the score against the Bears and send the game to overtime in a contest the Crimson evnetually won.

With this experience behind them, the Harvard players said after Saturday’s game that it helped to remain composed during Saturday’s pressure-filled overtime affair.

“The Brown game really helped us,” sophomore cornerback Steven Williams said. “Overtime is not something you work on in practice, [like] being able to keep a level head and don’t worry about the turnovers and missed field goals.”

“So many times you said, how many more breaks can we catch, how many more breaks can we make,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “Our kids just found a way to get it done. We’ve been in that situation a lot of times.”

THIRD AND FOUR

With tailgates ostensibly shut down by halftime, the Yale Bowl boasted a final attendance of 53,213, the most of any collegiate football game in New England this year...Although the Crimson was 5-of-15 in third-down conversions on the day, it managed to convert on all three of its fourth-down attempts. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, finished the day 10-of-22 on third down...With five straight wins in the Harvard-Yale rivalry, the Crimson now has its longest streak in the 122-year history of the Game...Saturday was not only the first triple-overtime game ever in the Ivy League but at four hours, was the longest in league history.

—Staff writer Gabriel M. Velez can be reached at gmvelez@fas.harvard.edu.

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