When a pendulum swings through the air, a drag force will inevitably cause its swings to get smaller and smaller until it stops. That’s reality, and that’s life.
The swings of the momentum pendulum that was the 131st playing of The Game were nothing like reality. They began small, and then grew bigger, until the final swing catapulted this matchup between Harvard (10-0, 7-0 Ivy) and Yale (8-2, 5-2) to perhaps one of the biggest in history.
First, a small swing went in Harvard’s direction. Senior quarterback Conner Hempel, who has been intermittently playing this season due to a bevy of different injuries, was finally back. An athletic, dual-threat play-caller, Hempel’s presence was huge both for the Crimson’s offensive production and for his leadership on the field.
However, Hempel’s return also led to the next swing away—Hempel had practiced a total of a day and a half since he injured his shoulder against Dartmouth three weeks ago, and coupled with the near-freezing temperature, looked rusty out of the gates. Miscommunication with his receivers turned into a turnover on downs.
Then there was a slightly larger swing back. The defense held strong for a three-and-out, and senior defensive back Ryan Jones blocked his second punt of the season. The Crimson had possession inside the 10-yard line, and with a nearly 60 percent red zone touchdown conversion rate, looked poised to tack seven on the board.
But the pendulum swung towards Yale once again, when Harvard’s offense—which racked up just 26 total yards in the first quarter—lost a yard on that possession and had to settle for a field goal. And it didn’t stop there, as Bulldogs running back Tyler Varga made short work of the nation’s second-ranked FCS rushing defense to finish Yale’s drive in the end zone. Harvard trailed heading into halftime for just the second time all season.
Harvard coach Tim Murphy’s words at halftime gave the pendulum a huge push. The third quarter was all Crimson, as Hempel and company came to life—the senior found junior wideout Andrew Fischer four times for 96 yards in the third quarter alone—to score 14 straight points. The defense added another score when senior linebacker Connor Sheehan recorded his third pick-six of the season.
It seemed like the Crimson had put this one away, up 17 with just 15 minutes of play to go. But Mother Pendulum had one more swing in Yale’s direction, and this one was a doozy.
The Bulldogs quickly marched down the field to begin the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 10, and then an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty coupled with a shanked punt gave Yale the ball in Harvard territory.
The next Crimson drive—off a botched handoff, which led to a fumble—gave the Bulldogs the exact same field position. Both drives began at the Harvard 46, and both drives ended in the Harvard end zone. One Yale score later—this one a field goal—and the pendulum had swung all the way back. All of a sudden, with four minutes to go, a sure win had become a tied game.
A natural pendulum would be all swung out. But this pendulum had a little extra left in it for Harvard, and its final swing saw Hempel find Fischer streaking down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown with less than a minute left. Any hopes of an Eli miracle comeback were dashed when the swing continued as linebacker Scott Peters intercepted Yale quarterback Morgan Roberts. 31-24, Harvard.
It might not be unsurprising that it would take some otherworldly force to swing the Harvard football pendulum against the drag force that was the mountain of adversity this season. From a secondary that was the definition of inexperienced to a slew of injuries that threatened the Crimson offense at every skill position, this force seemed to keep Harvard’s streak alive in the most unlikely of times.
But perhaps the force isn’t so otherworldly. Perhaps it is grounded in the “sheer willpower” that Murphy has consistently talked about in press conferences this year—the sheer willpower that has caused the young secondary, led by captain Norman Hayes, to lead the league in pass defense, and the sheer willpower that has enabled backups like Scott Hosch to step up when Hempel and others have been sidelined for weeks on end with injury.
That sheer willpower, instilled by Murphy and his coaching staff, gave the Crimson its eighth consecutive victory over Yale on Saturday, gave Murphy’s squad the outright Ancient Eight crown, and resulted in just the third time in 100 years that Harvard has gone undefeated.
And even though Hempel, Hayes, and others will graduate, that sheer willpower and resiliency will likely remain in the concrete walls of Harvard Stadium, passed on through the legacy of the 10,000 men of Harvard, to give the new generation of Harvard football the same force that Murphy’s squad found every week this fall to counteract the pendulum of reality.
—Staff writer Samantha Lin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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