Not Just a Game

While Harvard and Yale enter today’s contest with vastly different consequences at stake, both teams will bring the same intensity to the gridiron in the 126th playing of a rivalry with significance beyond football.

Lufted Up
Jessica S. Lin

Senior receiver Matt Luft and the Harvard offense look to continue their decade-long dominance of Yale in the 126th playing of The Game.

The Game '09

A heartbroken Harvard football team (6-3, 5-1 Ivy) will seek to release its frustrations from last weekend’s loss to Penn against Yale (4-5, 2-4) in the 126th edition of The Game in New Haven, Conn. this afternoon.

Coming off a loss that takes its Ivy League title hopes out of its hands, the Crimson and busloads of supporters will head to the Yale Bowl looking to end the season on a positive note.

“There’s a tremendous amount of pride on the line, there’s a tremendous amount of history and tradition,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy says. “For all those reasons, it’s probably the best thing that could happen to us after the loss to Penn. So we’re excited to play again. It’s tremendously important for our team, our program, and our university.”

The Crimson was undefeated in league play throughout the 2009 campaign until its matchup against the Quakers (7-2, 6-0) last Saturday. Harvard had aspirations for its third-consecutive Ivy League title, but it was denied after junior quarterback Collier Winters failed to cover the couple of inches necessary to reach the endzone late in the fourth quarter.

Bad weather played a part in the sloppy play, but the sun will shine on the Yale Bowl today when the two oldest Ivy League teams face off. The Crimson will hope for sunnier skies, as the team waits to hear the result from the Penn-Cornell game. As unlikely as a Quaker loss is, combined with a Harvard win it would give the Crimson at least a share of the Ivy title for the third year in a row.

The season also boiled down to The Game last year, when Harvard beat Yale, 10-0, to share the title with Brown.

On the other side, the Bulldogs are coming into the matchup with the intention of ending a two-game losing streak. It’s been a rough season for Yale, which began its conference campaign with a loss to the Big Red—the only Ivy win for last-place Cornell—but claimed a pair of league victories against Dartmouth and Columbia. But after suffering its latest losses to Brown and Princeton, the Bulldogs are now tied for fourth place with the Lions, Tigers, and Big Green. A win over Harvard would redeem a somewhat disappointing campaign after three consecutive winning seasons, including a 9-1 showing in 2007.

“Their team is better than the record reflects,” Crimson captain Carl Ehrlich says. “They’ve had a bunch of tough losses and they have a lot of talent. You know they’re going to come out with all they’ve got in a game like this, so we have to be ready.”

It will be a tough job for the Bulldogs, since the Crimson is coming into The Game boasting the second-best defense in the league and leading in scoring and rushing offense. Harvard’s balance stands in stark contrast to Yale’s ineffective offense—which ranks sixth in the league—and a defense that is second in points allowed.

Last year’s contest at Harvard Stadium saw the Crimson come out victorious after the Harvard defense and intense winds kept Yale scoreless. Junior Gino Gordon did the brunt of the work for the Crimson, carrying the pigskin for 168 yards and a touchdown on 39 attempts. A fumble recovery by Ehrlich with two minutes left in the game sealed the deal for Harvard, marking the team’s seventh win in the past eight years against the Bulldogs. The loss signaled the end to former Eli head coach Jack Siedlecki’s tenure and the start of a new era under sophomore quarterback Patrick Witt and head coach Tom Williams.

Witt, a Nebraska transfer, has grown into the starting role, throwing for 1,259 yards and eight touchdowns in shared time with junior Brook Hart, last year’s starter. While Hart briefly regained the top job at midseason, Witt has reclaimed the role and threw for 290 yards and a touchdown in last week’s loss to Princeton.

The Crimson will have to stop a resurgent Witt to pick up its eighth win in the last nine years and third straight in the rivalry.

“It’s an unbelievable experience, and nobody’s going to be thinking about losing to Penn,” senior linebacker Sean Hayes says. “Everyone, especially the seniors on the team, will be going out one last time on the field. So the game [last Saturday] is a tough pill to swallow, no doubt. But all eyes on Yale now.”

—Staff writer Brian Campos can be reached at bcampos@fas.harvard.edu.

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