Missed field goals, tipped punts, and costly fumbles highlighted a grinding 125th edition of The Game, but when it came down to it, Harvard made the big play—as it has almost all season—to escape unscathed.
With time ticking down and Yale (6-4, 4-3 Ivy) threatening inside Harvard’s 10-yard line, the Crimson (9-1, 6-1) put together six defensive plays to stop the Bulldogs, culminating in an Eric Schultz sack that knocked the ball loose from quarterback Brook Hart’s grasp and into the arms of Carl Ehrlich.
The senior-to-senior connection quelled a late-game threat from Yale and gave the Crimson its seventh victory in eight years over the Bulldogs, 10-0 in front of 31,398 fans at Harvard Stadium.
“I think our defense has done an incredible job this year of coming up with big plays in critical situations and being resilient, being able to perform under pressure, that’s kind of been our m.o. this entire season…We haven’t always been perfect, but we’ve been able to come up the big play when we’ve needed it,” Schultz said.
The victory gave the Crimson a share of the Ivy League title, its second championship in as many seasons and third in the last five. Brown will hold the other piece of the title after its 41-10 win over Columbia.
“I’m very, very proud of our seniors,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “Back to back Ivy League champions. Chris Pizzotti, who was here for five years, helped us win three Ivy League championships, and this is a special senior class.”
The Game was a defensive battle to the finish. On a cold day at the stadium, both teams used ground-based attacks to counter a punishing wind. With a run-first offense at heart—bolstered by last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year Mike McLeod—and the best run defense in the league, the conditions seemed to tip the scales in Yale’s favor. But a workmanlike performance from Crimson sophomore Gino Gordon and a dominating effort from Harvard’s front seven never even gave the Bulldogs a real chance.
Harvard established a run game early, as the offensive line created huge holes for the sophomore to run through on eight of the Crimson’s first 12 plays from scrimmage.
But it wasn’t until Yale misplayed a ball on the Crimson’s first punt that things really got going. The Crimson took over at Yale’s 13-yard line and inched its way through the red zone, as Gordon capped off the drive with a 4-yard spurt up the middle and into the end zone. The lone touchdown of the day gave Harvard a 7-0 lead with 8:07 left in the first frame, a score that wouldn’t change for nearly 50 more minutes of play.
“We knew that, based upon playing a great defense in Yale, they’ve had a lot of baseball scores. They hadn’t allowed a touchdown to the top three Ivy League teams they’d played previous to us. We knew it would be a close game, we knew it’d be a relatively low-scoring game, so we did what we had to win,” Murphy said.
After the Crimson successfully recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, the run game took over again. This time senior quarterback Chris Pizzotti got in on the action, as he would continue to the rest of the day. Combining designed runs, options, and heads up plays, Pizzotti would combine with Gordon for 242 of Harvard’s 261 rushing yards on the afternoon—the sophomore himself carried 39 times for 168 of them.
“I was happy with the 39,” Gordon said. “This week coach challenged us to run the ball. He wanted to run the ball. He said ‘if we run the ball well, we’ll win the game.’ Everybody stepped up on the offense. The offensive line, they stepped up, they had huge holes, and I pretty much just ran through them all day.”
While that second drive ended in a missed field goal from junior kicker Patrick Long, it seemed the Crimson would be able to control the ball as well as the pace of the game throughout the day.
Yale didn’t have its first offensive possession until 3:25 remained in the first—a harbinger of clock problems to come for the Bulldogs, who held the ball for just 20:45 to Harvard’s 39:15 overall.
“We had some opportunities to continue drives, and whether it was a dropped ball or a misthrown ball or whatever it might have been, we did not make plays to keep our offense on the field, to keep our defense off the field and put the ball in the end zone,” Bulldog coach Jack Siedlecki said.
An ugly second quarter saw Yale move the ball a bit better, although the Bulldogs struggled in their first of two total possessions in the red zone. Unable to get to the goalline, they were forced to settle for a 19-yard field goal that wobbled wide left of the goalposts.
The Crimson, too, would get in on the special teams struggles, as one McLeod and one Harvard fumble later, the Crimson found itself inside the red zone for the third time on the afternoon. With a chance to extend its lead to two possessions as time expired on the first half, Long missed his second field goal shot of the day on a tipped ball that didn’t even make it in range of the uprights.
The teams entered the half with just seven points separating them. The game was far from out of reach, and it would take a continued solid effort from the defense to ensure things didn’t get too interesting.
As well as the defensive corps played in the first half, limiting Yale to 80 total yards of offense, the second half they put on a clinic. The Bulldogs mustered only 10 yards of offense after the break, as the Harvard defense forced five three-and-outs and a fumble in the final two quarters and limited the Bulldogs to a net of -4 yards in the fourth frame.
“Going into these final games, our defense, it was great to be a part of it, because it was a unit that I feel like it was really senior-led, we had a ton of experience…So I think the confidence that we’ve had as a defense has come from our experience and the, like I said, the resilient mentality that the guys on the unit have.”
Long added some insurance points on a 23-yard field goal after a 13-play, 44-yard drive that consumed over six minutes of the clock. But in the end, the points weren’t a factor, as even a 48-yard punt return from sophomore Gio Christodoulou that set the Bulldogs up at the eight couldn’t give Yale the offensive edge it needed.
“This team, I said it last week at Penn, we have not been a dominant team in any respect. We’ve just been a team that’s been extremely resilient, very mentally tough, and when we’ve had to come up with a big play we did,” Murphy said.
“We had plays like that almost every game, we certainly had our share of those last week at Penn,” Murphy added. “Again, I think you recruit great kids with great character, we really preach the mental aspect of the game just in terms of being able to deal with adversity, and once again, our kids in a very challenging situation stepped up.”
—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Check TheCrimson.com for more updates throughout the weekend. Below, The Crimson's sports writers were on the scene to give you in-depth analysis and updates from Harvard Stadium.
10,000 men of Harvard gained victory today.
1:06, 4th quarter: Pizzotti scrambles to the 25, and it's a first down. Pizzotti will kneel out the clock on a 9-1, Ivy Championship season.
1:10, 4th quarter: the Crimson takes a timeout after letting the clock run all the way down, and it looks like Harvard will run it out.
2:02, 4th quarter: ERIC SCHULTZ HAMMERS HART FROM BEHIND AS HE DROPS BACK, CAUSING A FUMBLE THAT'S RECOVERED BY CARL EHRLICH AT THE YALE 13. A huge play by the Crimson's defense at a key moment.
2:07, 4th quarter: Yale tight end John Sheffield gets lit up by Zych and drops the pass, 2nd and goal for the Bulldogs.
2:11, 4th quarter: it looks like great coverage from Berry, but the officials call pass interference on Berry and it's 1st-and-goal from the 2.
2:16, 4th quarter: Hart in the shotgun, and there's a false start on the Bulldogs. It'll bring up 4th-and-goal from the 8, and they're going to go for it.
2:35, 4th quarter: a short run by Hart and a 2-yard completion brings up 3rd-and-goal from the 4. Hart drops back to pass, and Collin Zych breaks it up. It's 4th-and-goal for the Bulldogs, and Yale is going for it.
3:20, 4th quarter: GIO CHRISTODOULOU RETURNS THE PUNT TO THE CRIMSON 8, and Yale is in prime position. A major special teams breakdown by the Crimson there.
4:14, 4th quarter: a delay of game, then a false start for the Crimson, and it's 2nd-and-15 at the 19.
5:49, 4th quarter: Gordon breaks a tackle in the backfield and scampers to the 24 while staying in bounds.
6:57, 4th quarter: after a measurement, it's a first down for the Crimson after a short run by Gordon.
7:30, 4th quarter: a Pizzotti sneak and a Gordon run bring up 3rd-and-2 at the 9 with the clock running.
8:33, 4th quarter: Mante's punt rolls down at the 1, and Harvard will start there needing to chew some clock.
9:24, 4th quarter: Glenn Dorris blows through the attempted block on 3rd-and-2 to drop McLeod for a 3-yard loss and bring up a 4th down.
10:29, 4th quarter: it's another terrible punt by Hull, possibly tipped by the Yale rush. 21 yards on the punt, and Yale takes over at the Crimson's 47.
11:00, 4th quarter: an incomplete screen pass and two runs by Gordon means a three-and-out for the Crimson, and it appears Harvard will let the clock run down before punting it away.
12:06, 4th quarter: Berry fair catches the punt at the 18, and that's where the Crimson will start.
12:13, 4th quarter: an incomplete deep ball on 3rd-and-12 from Hart, and an offensive pass interference call is declined to bring up fourth down.
13:20, 4th quarter: Conor Murphy hammers Hart for a sack back at the 35. It's a 10-yard loss, and Hart never saw Murphy coming from the back side.
13:32, 4th quarter: Long line-drives the kickoff to Christodoulou, but the shorter kick gives Yale the ball at the 45 after a solid return.
13:39, 4th quarter: Yale mustered just 14 yards of offense in the third quarter, and has just 94 yards on 29 plays on the game. A phenomenal effort from the Crimson's defense thus far.
13:39, 4th quarter: Gordon breaks free to the 7, Patrick Long makes his first field goal of the afternoon from 24 yards out, and it's HARVARD 10, YALE 0.
14:22, 4th quarter: a disastrous play for Harvard, as Pizzotti gets drilled and throws it out of bounds wildly. He gets called for grounding, and it's 3rd-and-goal from the 17.
14:45, 4th quarter: Gordon gets no gain on first down, and now it's 2nd-and-goal for the Crimson.
End of the 3rd quarter: it's Gordon again, and this time he takes a second-down handoff to the Yale 4 for a 1st-and-goal Crimson. The Harvard offense is giving the Bulldogs a steady dose of Gordon, who now has 26 carries for 104 yards.
1:30, 3rd quarter: Gordon converts a third down on the handoff, and Harvard has 1st-and-10 at the Yale 14.
3:20, 3rd quarter: a QB sneak from Pizzotti picks up another first down, and the Crimson has 1st-and-10 at the Yale 25. It's the deepest penetration so far for the Harvard offense in the second half.
4:44, 3rd quarter: Pizzotti rolls right on the play action and throws for Luft. The ball goes right through the hands of Yale DB Casey Gerald and falls into the arms of Luft just before he goes out of bounds. It's a first down for the Crimson.
4:49, 3rd quarter: Yale goes three and out, with two incompletions and a two-yard run by McLeod. Berry fields the punt at the 49 and gets a yard to the 50 before being slammed down.
5:51, 3rd quarter: Yale gets a third-down stop as Pizzotti goes deep for Luft, but the ball is slightly underthrown and batted down by Yale's Steve Santoro. The Hull punt it downed at the 5, and that's where the Bulldogs will have to start there.
7:25, 3rd quarter: Gordon busts a good run to the 47, then a reverse to Chrissis gets the ball to the Yale 42, where it's 1st-and-10 Crimson.
8:55, 3rd quarter: Gordon carries twice to set up a 3rd-and-1 at the Crimson 35. In other Harvard news, the men's soccer team is tied 0-0 with UMass after regulation in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
9:55, 3rd quarter: Hart fails to complete a wide receiver screen on 3rd-and-7, and the Bulldogs punt again from the Crimson 37. Mante doesn't kick it nearly as well this time, and shanks it out of bounds at the 26. It'll be 1st-and-10 Crimson there after a media timeout.
11:27, 3rd quarter: Pizzotti on another run, and in a controversial call it's a fumble. Yale recovers, and the Bulldogs have the ball at the Harvard 41.
11:55, 3rd quarter: Pizzotti runs again, converting another third down, and the Crimson gets to the 33.
13:18, 3rd quarter: Yale can't get anything going, as it's a three-and-out for the Bulldogs. Mante's punt is a boomer, but trickles into the end zone and Harvard will take over on the 20.
Beginning of the 3rd quarter: the Bulldogs will get the ball first to open the second half. Christodoulou returns the kick to the 35, and we're underway.
Halftime: the wind continues to blow hard here at the Stadium, as the Yale band showcases Eli creativity by doing essentially the same sketch that the Penn band did last week.
Halftime: A few quick stat updates. The score is 7-0 Harvard, but the stats are much more unbalanced than that. The Crimson has 203 yards of offense, as Pizzotti is 10-for-16 for 92 yards. Gordon has 14 carries for 54 yards. For Yale, McLeod has 14 carries for 50 yards, and Brook Hart is 2-for-2 for 27 yards.
0:01, 2nd quarter: Long completely shanks the field goal attempt, NO GOOD. It's still Harvard 7, Yale 0, and Hart takes a knee for Yale to end the first half.
0:05, 2nd quarter: Gordon gets killed at the 15 for a 4-yard loss, and the Crimson winds the clock down to 5 seconds remaining before attempting a half-ending field goal.
0:49, 2nd quarter: it's going to be 3rd-and-9 on the 11 after an incompletion on a screen pass.
0:52, 2nd quarter: yet another third-down conversion, this time on a completion from Pizzotti to Lorditch. On first down from the Yale 12, Pizzotti takes off on a design run, picking up 1 to the Yale 11. Harvard takes a timeout, and it's 2nd-and-9 at the Yale 11
2:25, 2nd quarter: another third-down conversion, and the Crimson has 1st-and-10 at the Yale 25 as we approach halftime. If Harvard could get to the half with a two-score advantage, it would be a huge boost to the Crimson.
3:36, 2nd quarter: Pizzotti picks up a first down on 3rd-and-5, scrambling against a Yale defense that is playing deep against the Crimson's receivers.
4:21, 2nd quarter: McLeod fumbles, and this time Spadafino recovers at the Harvard 49. Yet another reversal of fortune early in this game.
5:49, 2nd quarter: Pizzotti hits a deep ball to Iannuzzi at the Yale 41, but coughs up the fumble and it's recovered by the Bulldogs. A wasted opportunity for the Crimson.
6:30, 2nd quarter: Mante MISSES THE FIELD GOAL WIDE LEFT after Hart is stopped at the 3 on third down. So a 24-yard attempt sails wide, and it's 1st-and-10 Harvard at the 20 with the score still 7-0 Harvard.
9:04, 2nd quarter: McLeod rumbles to the Harvard 8, and it's 1st-and-goal for the Bulldogs.
9:59, 2nd quarter: McLeod gets stuffed for no gain on first down, then Hart gets sacked despite a hold on the Yale offense. Harvard accepts the penalty, and it's 2nd-and-20 for the Bulldogs.
11:05, 2nd quarter: Yale gets a first down on a measurement after three runs from McLeod, and the Bulldogs are on the Harvard 26.
12:50, 2nd quarter: 3rd-down draw fails, and Thomas Hull's punt is a short one, out of bounds at the Harvard 36. It might have been tipped by the Yale rush, but either way the Bulldogs have great field position.
14:15, 2nd quarter: a fair catch at the 12 for Berry on the punt, but on the first play Matt Luft fumbles after the completion and the ball goes out of bounds at the 4. The Crimson will face 2nd-and-18 from the 4.
14:50, 2nd quarter: Ryan Barnes BLOWS THROUGH THE LINE FOR THE SACK, and Yale will have to punt. Huge play from Barnes for the second week in a row.
End of the 1st quarter: Two runs from Mike McLeod take us to the end of the quarter, and the Bulldogs will face 3rd-and-3 at the Harvard 38.
1:36, 1st quarter: Yale QB Brook Hart takes off with no one open, scrambling to the Harvard 45 for a first down.
1:43, 1st quarter: After two big gains get Yale to the 39-yard line, the Crimson stops McLeod for no gain and the Bulldogs call a timeout, facing 2nd-and-10 at their own 39 when play resumes.
3:25, 1st quarter: after the Crimson can't convert a 3rd-and-5, Patrick Long MISSES A FIELD GOAL from 32 yards out. The Bulldogs take over at the 20, trailing 7-0.
5:14, 1st quarter: Pizzotti nearly gets demolished, but dumps it off to Gordon on the screen and he rumbles to the Yale 21 for a first down.
6:39, 1st quarter: the Crimson offense continues to move at will, picking up two first downs and setting up a 2nd-and-2 at the Yale 25.
8:07, 1st quarter: Harvard tries an ONSIDES KICK, AND IT CATCHES YALE OFF-GUARD. Anthony Rotio recovers the onsides for Harvard, and the Crimson is in business again.
8:07, 1st quarter: On 3rd-and-1 from the 4, Gordon takes the handoff from the shotgun and powers in, TOUCHDOWN HARVARD. Patrick Long adds the extra point, and the Crimson turns the Yale error into a touchdown. Gordon is looking very quick and finding big holes against a stout Yale defense. 3 plays, 19 yards, 1:29 on the drive.
9:44, 1st quarter: after an incompletion on 3rd-and-3 from the Yale 35, Harvard chooses to punt, but the punt hits a Yale player and is recovered by the Crimson. Harvard has 1st-and-10 at the Bulldog 13. Huge break for the Crimson.
12:36, 1st quarter: another first down for the Crimson as Pizzotti completes it to Lorditch at the 44. On the ensuing play, Pizzotti scrambles, jukes Abare, and gets to the Yale 48.
13:10, 1st quarter: Pizzotti short-hops Chrissis on first down, then Gordon takes the handoff from the shotgun, gets to the outside, and gets to the 31 for a 17 yard gain.
13:46, 1st quarter: three straight runs by Gino Gordon and the Crimson has a first down at the 14 after a measurement.
Kickoff: Ladies and gentlemen, we are underway. Yale's Tom Mante kicks off, and Adam Chrissis falls after catching it at the 4, and the Crimson will start there.
1:00 before kickoff: Vic Gatto and Brian Dowling accompany Matt Curtis and Bobby Abare to midfield for the coin toss.
3:00 before kickoff: former Harvard fullback Noah Van Niel '08 just sang the national anthem, and the Crimson has come on the field.
11/22/08, 14:40 before kickoff: the bands are on the field in front of a mostly empty Harvard Stadium, but people are lined up at the ticket gate to get in.
4:30pm, 11/21/08: Check back tomorrow as The Crimson's writers on the scene give you in-depth analysis and updates of the 125th playing of The Game from Harvard Stadium. The Ivy title is on the line as the Crimson and the Bulldogs clash in front of a capacity crowd.