Crimson Eyes Ivy Perfection
With the Ivy League title already clinched, the year’s final contest may seem—in some sense—meaningless, merely the last time the seniors will don the Crimson or the Blue and White.
But that’s not how the players—nor the 50,000 fans in attendance—will see tomorrow’s contest at the Yale Bowl, the 128th showdown in one of the most hallowed rivalries in college sports.
“At the end of the day, this is our biggest game of the season,” says junior running back Treavor Scales. “Regardless of the stakes, we have always treated it as such and will continue to do so. It’s not an opportunity for us to take our foot off the gas pedal here. We’ve got to keep on accelerating and finish the season on a high note.”
Harvard (8-1, 6-0 Ivy) comes in as the favorite against Yale (5-4, 4-2) after sweeping through league play unscathed and setting historic highs in offensive productivity. Averaging 39.4 points per game in conference play, the Crimson capped its run with a title-clinching 37-20 win over Penn on Nov. 12.
While not as prolific as its Harvard counterpart, the Bulldogs still boast a strong offensive attack. Led by senior quarterback Patrick Witt, Yale has tallied 232 points in its first nine games, good for third best in the Ancient Eight behind Harvard and Cornell.
Witt—a former Nebraska transfer and a 2010 first-team All-Ivy recipient—continued frustrating opposing secondaries this season, averaging 238 passing yards and nearly two touchdown tosses per contest.
For the Bulldogs, The Game’s most important play may have come off the gridiron. Witt, a Rhodes Scholar finalist, faced a dilemma that received national attention: with The Game and his Rhodes interview both scheduled for the morning of Nov. 19, Witt would have to choose one or the other. Eventually, Witt selected the former, withdrawing his Rhodes application.
“I’m not sure that [Witt’s choice] had to do with playing in The Game. I think it had to do with being with his teammates and fulfilling his commitment when he chose to be a member of a team,” Yale coach Tom Williams explains.
With Witt behind center, the Yale offense becomes far more potent.
“[Witt’s] a great player, and he’s definitely the heart of their offense,” says captain middle linebacker Alex Gedeon. “It definitely adds a big element to their offense. It’s going to force us to keep a lot more DB’s on the field and also concentrate on defending the pass.”
The Bulldogs will likely rely heavily on the pass against the Crimson, as Harvard boasts the league’s best rush defense, allowing just 91.2 yards per game. Even Dartmouth running back Nick Schwieger—the 2010 Co-Ivy League Player of the Year and the current league leader in rushing yards—managed just 51 yards against Harvard on 15 attempts.
“If we can control the line of scrimmage, we’ll control the game,” says senior defensive tackle Josue Ortiz. “That’s how we won the past league games, and that’s how we intend to win the next one.”
Ortiz—considered by some to be the strongest player in Ancient Eight football—leads the defensive line with a league-topping nine sacks, including two last week in the critical victory over Penn.
Over the past three seasons, Ortiz has consistently stepped up on the biggest of stages, and in last year’s contest between Harvard and Yale, the defensive tackle notched 1.5 sacks in addition to a critical blocked punt.
“Josue gets to the ball carrier, he gets to the quarterback, [and] he makes big plays,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy says. “At the end of the day, I think he will go down as one of the great defensive linemen in Harvard football history.”