Harvard Overcomes Turnovers

GANG TACKLE
S. JESSE Zwick

Senior Rob Balkema and junior Ryan Tully combined to bring down Yale running back Jordan Spence. Tully and Balkema combined for 18 tackles on the day, finishing second and fourth on the team, respectively.

NEW HAVEN­—With four turnovers in three overtimes of play, the extra frames were not pretty in Harvard’s 30-24 win over Yale on Saturday.

But ultimately, it did not matter much to the Crimson players or fans as all the mistakes were erased with a two-yard touchdown run by junior Clifton Dawson to defeat the Bulldogs.

Junior defensive tackle Michael Berg helped put Harvard’s turnovers in the past when he dove toward the sideline and got his fingertips under a tipped pass—that defensive end Desmond Bryant managed to get a hand on—to end the Bulldogs’ possession in the third overtime. The interception was Berg’s first, not only in college but in his entire football career.

In the second overtime, the Bulldogs cut short Harvard’s momentum by intercepting sophomore Liam O’Hagan in the endzone. But Yale could not convert, and coughed up the ball when sophomore defensive end Brad Bagdis stripped the ball from the hands of D.J Shooter as he tried to gain a few extra yards for the first down. Thomas recovered the fumble on the 15-yard line—a spot that would have been well within the field-goal abilities of Yale kicker, Alan Kimball.

Over the course of the three overtimes, Yale turned the ball over on all of its possessions.

“There were a lot of mistakes in the game on both sides,” Yale coach Jack Siedlecki said. “But they were all effort. You can’t fault a guy for trying to get the extra couple yards and make that play that would make the difference in the game.”

In regulation, the game changed when, with 13:58 left in the fourth quarter, sophomore Steve Williams read Yale quarterback Jeff Mroz perfectly, picking off his pass and running it 18 yards in for a touchdown. Williams’ score closed the gap to 21-16 in favor of the Bulldogs and came on the heels of O’Hagan fumbling the ball on the Yale 12-yard line.

“Steven’s interception­—in terms of change in momentum in the game—was unbelievable,” Murphy said. “I think you can say quite fairly if we don’t force that...there is no way I cannot see Yale seizing that momentum.”

“It was exactly what we needed to turn the momentum around,” Williams said. “It’s about the highest I have been this season.”

The Bulldogs had prevented the Crimson from maintaining its momentum right from the start when they forced the sure-handed Dawson into fumbling the ball inside the Yale five-yard line on the opening drive of the game. Dawson took the handoff and was on the verge of breaking the plane of the goaline before the ball slipped from his hands and was recovered by the Bulldogs.

The scoring chance proved to be the Crimson’s best in the entire half.

“I knew that our defense would give the offense another opportunity to make up for that,” Dawson said. “I tried to put it aside and focus on the rest of the game.”

In the end, the three Yale turnovers in overtime play mattered more than the three that Harvard had during the contest—including another fumble and another interception by O’Hagan.

“We made too many mistakes, but despite that, for the lack of a better way to put it, we willed those ones,” Murphy said. “The two defensive takeaways we had at the end were like something I have never seen before—again, it felt like we just willed them to happen.”

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

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