NEW HAVEN, Conn.—There had been a few flashes of hope, but for the majority of the game, Harvard had been unable to finish. In one play, all of that changed.
On fourth and four midway through the fourth quarter, the Crimson, down 10-0 and back at its own 30, decided to go for it. After wasting its first two downs on incomplete passes and with the third good for only six yards, Harvard turned to junior tailback Gino Gordon—the team’s leading rusher for the past two seasons.
As he ran into a sea of Bulldogs, the Crimson’s hopes for a comeback seemed to be over.
But Gordon had other ideas, running to the left side of the field and using a spin move to break a tackle.
Suddenly the field was wide open, and Gordon kept running up the left sideline, making it to Harvard’s 49 before Geoff Dunham tripped him out of bounds.
“All of a sudden, we had new life,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said.
Two plays later, senior Matt Luft was in the endzone to make the score 10-7.
From then on, the Crimson had its way offensively with the Bulldogs, looking again like the Ivy power it has been for the last three seasons.
“[Gordon’s run] was a turning point in the game,” Yale coach Tom Williams said. “If we make that play, we feel like we could win the football game.”
GAMBLE GOES AWRY
At the end of the fourth quarter, Harvard’s defense had finally figured out Yale sophomore tailback Alex Thomas, as sophomore Sumner Webster and senior Ryan Barnes had thwarted his past two attempts. Yale was stuck at fourth and 22 on its own 25-yard line.
But waiting in the wings was Bulldog punter Tom Mante, the league’s leader who had averaged 51.3 yards per punt that day. With a long boot off Mante’s foot, Yale could push the Crimson far enough back that, with 2:25 left in the game, it would be difficult to make a winning drive.
Instead, the ball went to Bulldog safety John Powers.
“We thought that if we had executed that play and got the necessary yardage, the game was over,” Williams said.
The freshman found a pocket of space on the left side of the field, where he attacked the unsuspecting Crimson behind a wall of Bulldog blockers.
“You’re a genius if that play goes,” Murphy said.
But the distance was too long for the freshman, and Harvard junior defensive back Anthony Spadafino caught on, tackling Powers seven yards shy of the first down.
“If [the play did] not [work], [we thought] that we’d be able to run the clock out,” Williams said.
But shortly after taking over at Yale’s 40, junior quarterback Collier Winters found classmate Chris Lorditch for the winning touchdown.
“We were playing to win the football game,” Williams said. “We had set that play up all year, and we thought it was worth the 22 yards.”
The Bulldogs entered Saturday’s matchup with the worst rushing offense in the league, averaging just 93.8 yards per game. But Harvard simply had no answer for Yale’s run game in the first three quarters.
“We knew we could run the ball on their defense,” said sophomore Alex Thomas, who had 124 yards. “We just gashed them.”
Thomas’ yardage marked the first time a Bulldog rushed for more than 100 yards since Mike McLeod ’09 ran for 138 last year against Princeton. Harvard, whose opponents averaged 82.7 rushing yards per game, seemed an unlikely victim of a breakout, but the sophomore fed off a strong performance by his offensive line.
“My job was easy: just follow their blocks,” Thomas said.
Given that Yale had amassed only 112 rushing yards against Princeton, it was understandably surprising when Thomas ran for 35 yards on Yale’s opening possession to set up a 26-yard field goal by junior Alex Barnes.
“They came out tough, and they had us on our heels for a long time,” Crimson captain Carl Ehrlich said. “We were just a little shocked.”
Also surprising was Rodney Reynolds’ three-yard touchdown run with 4:43 left in the first quarter. The senior tailback’s touchdown was the first of his career and Yale’s only one on Saturday. Reynolds’ previous action against Harvard had all come in JV games.
“He’s been through a lot of adversity in his career here at Yale,” Thomas said. “He’s never really had a real opportunity, and he’s really stepped it up.”
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