The word “rivalry” calls up powerful images in the minds of people from the Northeast. On the ice, one might think of cross-border battles so loud and ferocious that they threaten to become international incidents. On the gridiron, perhaps you’d imagine million-dollar superstars trading bombs, each trying to cement his legacy as the premier quarterback of the new millennium. On the hardwood court, it’s the epic battle of the coasts, complete with mythic warriors sporting nicknames like “Magic” or “Legend.” And on the diamond, the red stockings of the Boys of Summer shine in contrast to the drab grays and blues of their pinstriped opponents. And the college rivalry gets downright bestial, with birds and dogs ripping each other to shreds. Every rivalry is unique, every match-up built to historic proportions, every victory savored as the triumph of the season. But there is a rivalry older than all of them. It predates the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, the NHL Stanley Cup and even the World Series. It is so old that it is referred to simply as “The Game.”
It is the Harvard-Yale rivalry, and it happened for the 127th time Saturday at Harvard Stadium. Yale led the overall rivalry, 64-54-8, but Harvard had won eight of the last nine games, dating back to 2001. On Saturday, that trend was pushed to nine of the last 10, as Harvard beat Yale, 28-21. Running back Gino Gordon led the Crimson attack, scoring two touchdowns.
Although Harvard played a sluggish first half, gaining only 77 yards through the first two quarters, the Crimson turned it around immediately in the second half. Down 14-7 at halftime, wide receiver Marco Iannuzzi caught Yale’s kickoff at the 16-yard line and began a diagonal sprint to the left sideline. Iannuzzi broke a few tackles, then several key blocks opened up a gap for him around mid-field. Iannuzzi juked the last few tacklers as he blazed across the rest of the field, not slowing at all until he was safely in the end zone. Iannuzzi’s 84-yard touchdown return tied the game just seven seconds into the second half.
Aside from tying the game, Iannuzzi’s touchdown also stole momentum from Yale. The defense came out on fire in the third quarter. On the first offensive drive following the kickoff-return, Harvard forced a three-and-out. On Yale’s second drive of the quarter, Harvard defensive tackle Josue Ortiz broke through the line and blocked Yale’s punt, which rolled out of bounds at Yale’s 23-yard line. Harvard eventually scored on a 2-yard touchdown run from Gordon, his second of the day, putting the Crimson up 21-14.
Gordon’s first touchdown tied the game 7-7 with 2:24 remaining in the first quarter. It capped off a seven-play, 64 yard drive- the longest by either team. The highlight of the drive came on first-and-10 on Harvard’s 49-yard line. Quarterback Collier Winters threw a screen pass to a wide receiver, who then ran back towards the center of the field, flea-flicking the ball back to Winters. Winters then floated a perfect pass to a streaking Iannuzzi, who easily caught it and ran all the way to the Yale 5-yard line before going out of bounds. Gordon then scored on a fourth-down option run from 1 yard out.
After Gordon’s second touchdown, the Crimson defense held once again, forcing Yale to punt twice in two drives, the second time as part of a three-and-out. Harvard then took advantage of great starting position- Yale’s 36-yard line- to put the game out of reach. Winters finished Harvard’s drive- and Yale’s chances- with a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Alex Sarkisian at the front right pylon, putting the Crimson up 28-21.
Running back Alex Thomas was Yale’s star, scoring three touchdowns and rushing for 76 yards. Two of his touchdowns came in the first half, giving Yale leads of 7-0 and 14-7. His third touchdown cut Harvard’s lead to 28-21 with 3:15 left in the game. Harvard’s defense, however, held off several Yale incursions into the red zone, only allowing the touchdown after their offense fumbled a Yale fourth-down turnover after just one play, giving the Bulldogs the ball at Harvard’s 19-yard line. And even though Yale scored on that drive, they ate up so much clock time that they had almost no chance of scoring on their final possession. Harvard’s punt pinned them at the 17-yard line with just 2:02 to play. They could not cover nearly enough ground before time ran out.
Despite allowing 338 yards of total offense to the Bulldogs (nearly double the Crimson’s 178 total yards), Harvard’s defense was a force on Saturday. The Crimson sacked Yale quarterback Patrick Witt (17/28, 198 yards, one interception) six times, including once for an 11-yard loss inside Harvard’s 10-yard line. They kept the Crimson in the game long enough for the offense to figure out how to score.
There was a stadium-silencing moment at 9:53 in the fourth quarter. On second-and-6 from the Yale 32-yard line, Collier completed a 5-yard pass to Gordon, who then began to run laterally with his head down. He was met head on by Yale linebacker Jesse Reising, and their helmets collided. Both players fell to the ground and lay there motionless for several minutes. Gordon would eventually get up, walk off on his own power, and later return to the game. Reising, unfortunately, had to be taken away on a stretcher. He was taken to the hospital, however ABC News is reporting that it was for precautionary purposes only, and that Reising had movement in all of his extremities when he was carted off. Both players received standing ovations from teammates and fans alike.