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On a day when Neil Rose, Carl Morris and Chuck Nwokocha broke school records, turnovers and an inability to convert in the fourth quarter prevented the Harvard football team from finishing off Yale yesterday afternoon at The Stadium.
Yale (7-3, 4-3 Ivy) handed Harvard (5-5, 4-3) its third Ivy League loss yesterday. In all three losses, Harvard held a fourth quarter lead, only to relinquish its advantage and lose control of the game by the final buzzer. Though yesterday's contest against the Elis did not end with a last-second field goal, Harvard held a 24-17 lead and was in the driver's seat with ten minutes remaining in the game.
But unfortunately for the Crimson, Harvard gave Yale more than enough opportunities to comeback, throwing three interceptions and fumbling twice in the last nine minutes. Yale scored the final 17 points of the game en route to its third consecutive victory against Harvard.
Too Many Turnovers
Harvard turned the ball over seven times, four of which occurred in the fourth quarter. Harvard committed five turnovers last week in a 36-35 loss at Penn, giving the team 12 in its last two games. This is a problem area where Harvard will need to improve for next season.
"We've got a lot of guys coming back for next year," Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said. "Now, they are all trying to do their job out there, but quite frankly, they must understand that [in the future] I am not going to accept performances like this. There's a fine line between trying and executing, but twelve turnovers in two games is unacceptable."
After Neil Rose opened the fourth quarter with a beautiful pass to Carl Morris on a post pattern for a 19-yard touchdown, Yale answered with a seven-yard touchdown score to tie the game at 24-24.
Harvard had the ball at its own 25-yard line with 8:22 remaining on first down, but two straight incompletions by Rose forced a third-and-10 situation with the momentum on Yale's side. Rose rolled to his right, and, under heavy pressure, tried to force a pass into a slew of Yale defenders. Yale's free safety Ryan Loprotto picked off the pass as Yale took over at Harvard's 44-yard line.
The Bulldogs capitalized with a Mike Murawczyk 35-yard field goal. The kick gave Yale its first lead since midway through the second quarter, 27-24.
Following the field goal, Harvard took over at its 35-yard line. A 17-yard pass to Sam Taylor on 3rd-13 seemed to jolt some life into Harvard's offense. Yet, any momentum the Crimson may have obtained vanished on the following play. Yale's junior cornerback Ray Littleton stepped in front of Morris and took Rose's pass 45 yards the other way to set up another Yale touchdown, the nail in the coffin for Harvard's chances.
"Littleton's interception was a killer," Murphy said. "Yale is clearly the best defensive team in the league, and you just can't try to make too many things happen at once. We've gotten past it0 this year before, but we paid the price [against Yale]."
A Sean Meeker fumble on the ensuing kickoff pinned Harvard back at its own seven-yard line. Though the game was likely out of reach, Than Merrill's interception at the Harvard 39-yard line with 2:02 to play was icing on the cake. On Harvard's final offensive play of the game, Taylor caught a 27-yard pass from Rose and desperately tried to lateral the ball. Yale's senior linebacker Chris Eger came up with the loose ball, a fitting end to a miserable last quarter for the Crimson.
"Next year, everyone has to play with a killer instinct in the fourth quarter," Murphy said. "You have to play angry when the game's on the line, and we haven't done that this year."
Breaking School Records
Despite the interceptions, Neil Rose had an outstanding season, asserting himself as one of the best quarterbacks in Harvard history. The Hawaiian native broke the single-season touchdown record with two TD strikes to Morris. Rose finished the year with 18 touchdowns and 2,655 yards, also a school record.
Morris broke Harvard's single-season receptions record and tied the single-game mark, catching the ball 13 times on the day for a total of 60 receptions on the season. Morris also tied a Harvard record with eight touchdowns as a receiver for the year.
"I knew about the records going into the game, but I wasn't thinking about it during the action," Morris said. "I'm not a big records guy. I'm more into the final numbers on the scoreboard, so the records don't mean too much."
Senior running back Chuck Nwokocha branded his name into the annals of Crimson history with his 94-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. The return, a nifty scamper down the right sideline where Nwokocha juked and broke tackles before outrunning the entire Yale special teams unit for the final fifty yards, was the longest ever against Yale and the first against the Bulldogs since 1983.
Numerous Yale players broke records of their own in The Game. Senior wide receiver Eric Johnson became Yale's all-time leading receiver in both yardage and receptions. His 86 catches this year is also a school record.
Additionally, Johnson set a Yale record with 13 touchdowns on the season, the most for a receiver in one season. Johnson tied the game at 24 with an unbelievable one-handed catch in the back of the end zone with 8:35 remaining in the fourth quarter. He finished the contest with thirteen catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
"This means so much to me, not only for all the records, but to play in
Boston in front of all my hometown fans...that's just unbelievable," Johnson said.
Johnson is from Needham, Massachusetts and was recruited by Harvard. Last year, Johnson made "The Catch," a reception that won the game late in the fourth quarter for Yale.
"I guess his one-hander could be," The Catch Part II,'" Yale quarterback Peter Lee joked about this year's instance of deja vu. "I thought the one today was a more difficult catch."
Two other Yale seniors broke longstanding records on Saturday. Murawczyk, Yale's senior place kicker, broke the school scoring record with 208 career points. Tailback Rashad Bartholomew, who rushed 29 times for 123 yards and a touchdown, became Yale's all-time rushing leader. Bartholomew ends his Yale career with 3,016 yards, breaking the record set by Dick Jauron, the current head coach of the Chicago Bears.
In every Harvard-Yale game played in an election year since 1980, a Harvard victory has been followed by a Democratic candidate's inauguration into the White House. A Yale win has spelled Republican victory. This is good news for George W. Bush fans. Bush, of course, also attended Yale in his undergraduate days ('68) while Gore ('69) is a Harvard alumnus. Since 1936, the trend has held 12 of 15 times.
Always Next Year
Rose and Morris each have two more years of eligibility, though Rose is a junior who was injured last season. Running backs Nick Palazzo and Matt Leiszler are sophomores and will return to the backfield next season. Meeker is only a sophomore, and junior wide-out Dan Farley will also be prepared to play next year.
On defense, Dante Balestracci, who set a Harvard record for tackles in a season as a freshman with 94 tackles, will be back for three more years. Right cornerback Andy Fried, who had a 15-yard interception and a 34-yard fumble recovery yesterday, is a junior, as is fellow corner Andy Fried. In fact, of Harvard's 22 starters, a whopping 17 are underclassmen. This is excellent news for a team that likely will be favored to win the Ivy League in 2001.
"We've got a tremendous nucleus and should have a chance to be a very solid football team next year," Murphy said. "We've got 30 of our top 46 players coming back. Neil Rose had a remarkable year. Carl had an outstanding season and is a truly great receiver. But, there's tremendous room for improvement. I hope we can put it all together."
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