For the junior running back who surpassed Harvard’s all-time rushing record of 3,330 yards mid-season and is in the top-10 in the Ivy League in rushing, all-purpose yards, scoring touchdowns, and total offense, high expectations existed as the Crimson entered the Yale Bowl.
And Dawson did not disappoint.
Leading the team with 33 carries for 128 yards rushing and 10 catches for 85 yards, Dawson put his heart and soul into the game Saturday.
“I didn’t come in expecting to be the primary receiver,” Dawson said. “But I kept thinking, I have the next eight months to rest my body.”
And his devotion paid off.
After being down 21-3 in the third quarter, the game looked like it might be a blowout.
But Dawson helped put Harvard back on track with his first touchdown, a 16-yard reception to make the score 21-10.
After hard-fought third and fourth quarters, The Game went to the first overtime in its history.
Two and a half drama-filled extra periods saw four turnovers and no changes to the 24-24 tie.
“Some of the things we saw down the stretch were very hard to believe,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “There were so many times where you said, how many more breaks can we catch? How many more breaks can we make?”
But when the ball made it back into Crimson hands in the third overtime, Harvard finally took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the ball to the eight yard-line.
Everyone knew what time it was.
Chants flowed through the minds of the silent fans standing atop the benches in the stands: “Clifton Dawson...Clifton Dawson.”
First play, Dawson muscled his way to a two-yard gain. Second play, a four-yard gain. This was it. Either Dawson would bring it in, or sophomore kicker Matt Schindel would get his second chance at a game-winning field goal.
The ball was snapped and passed smoothly into Dawson’s hands. Moving right, he plunged through the Bulldog defenders and into the endzone. Harvard clinched a 30-24 victory and the Crimson’s first five-game winning streak in the history of The Game.
“It was too stressful,” cornerback Steven Williams said. “I’d rather it had been a blowout or something like that. But we’ll take the win either way.”
As fans rushed the field victoriously, their mental chants became verbal.
“Clifton Dawson...Clifton Dawson...Clifton Dawson.”
Although he is now looking for rest after a long season, shut-eye may not be an option for this running back any time soon.
Dawson may have broken the school’s rushing record, but for the rest of this year, sports fans and non-sports fans alike will look at him and see the hero of The Game.
—MADELEINE I. SHAPIRO