WILLIAMSBURG, Va.--Take the two oldest schools in the country and pit them against each other in a game celebrating 100 years of football, and you can't avoid an encounter with ghosts.
Saturday at Zable Stadium, located right in the heart of colonial Williamsburg, the ghosts of football past and present rattled their chains and shuffled their sheets.
Before the game even started, the captains of several old William and Mary teams marched onto the field for a commemorative photograph, and with balding heads and fattened bellies, most looked like ghosts of their younger football selves.
Then, those to whom the gridiron torch had been passed lined up against each other, and Harvard Coach Joe Restic's last game against the Tribe began.
The retiring coach paced the sidelines as his team stumbled to a 45-17 defeat, and he moved one contest closer to retirement. Harvard football has 699 wins to its name, but it could not get its 700th Saturday.
Reasons for the Crimson's defeat abound: poor execution against the Tribe's powerful air attack, an inability to keep up with the faster and stronger William and Mary squad, a failure to move the ball offensively with any type of consistency.
But, Harvard was also the victim of one particular back-breaking play that has a suspicious resemblance to something that happened during last season's William and Mary game.
Last year, the Crimson played the entire first half of the contest evenly with the Tribe until William and Mary blocked a Harvard field goal attempt in the final seconds of the second quarter and ran it back for a touchdown. After that, the Tribe controlled the rest of the game for a 36-16 win.
Down just ten points in the third quarter Saturday, Harvard held William and Mary on third and goal, forcing the Tribe to attempt a field goal.
When William and Mary kicker Chris Dawson missed the kick wide left, the Crimson offense roared onto the field to take possession of the ball on its own 29.
The first play of the drive, which could have cut the Tribe's lead to three points, started with a handoff to junior Mark Cote and ended with a fumble and strong safety Andy Ruckman's return for six William and Mary points.
"We stopped them, and then we got the play we wanted to get but they get the fumble and a touchdown," quarterback Mike Giardi said.
After that Tribe score, the Crimson suffered two more, and Harvard marched to the locker room without its 700th win.
Although Harvard failed to move past a historic barrier as a team, Giardi thumbed his nose to the football ghosts by breaking a Harvard record that has lasted 78 years.
With his touchdown in the last four seconds of the first half, the senior quarterback tallied the 22nd rushing score of his career and surpassed Charlie Brickley '15 in that category.
After the game, Giardi said he wasn't aware of the record and didn't know he had broken it.
"All I know is that we lost today," Giardi said. "[The record] is no big deal and I'd rather have the win."
With one more touchdown, Giardi will break Brickley's record for the most touchdowns in a career, but the senior quarterback will have to wait at least one more week for that. Who knows, maybe Harvard will get its 700th win on the same day that Giardi becomes the top touchdown-scorer in Crimson history.
You can bet on one thing, though. The ghosts of Harvard football will show up for that contest too.
Y. Tarek Farouki is a Crimson staff writer. He thought Ebenezer Scrooge had it easy.