For the last 50 years, historians of Yale-Harvard football have been fixated on the 1968 game. Documentaries have been produced. Books have been written. It’s participants have been glorified.
Perhaps you know the story: Unbeaten Yale, with iconic quarterback Brian Dowling, led unbeaten Harvard 29-13 with 42 seconds to play only to see that lead dissipate into a 29-29 tie. The Crimson newspaper would summarize it the next morning with the notorious headline: “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.”
It’s been considered the greatest game in the history of a series that to many symbolizes the sport.
But you know what, times change and opinions can, as well. And 50 years from now, when the next generation settles into Yale Bowl for the “The Game,” there’s every reason to believe they’ll be talking about the confluence of marvels that made Yale into a champion there in 2019.
Down by 12 at the half, trailing by 17 with 13:03 to play, with a share of the Ivy League championship at stake and darkness descending, Yale scored 17 unanswered points in the final 8:51, including two touchdowns in the final 68 seconds to force overtime.
And then after each team scored a touchdown in the first overtime, Yale junior Zane Dudek scored from the 4 and the Bulldogs defense held on fourth-and-5 to give them a 50-43 win – and share of their second Ivy title in three years – before 44,989 fans.
‘What they did in this game requires talent, but it also means having complete faith in the other guy. That’s what happened today,” Yale coach Tony Reno said.
For those who are not big football fans, the game will be remembered for another reason. During halftime, a coordinated on-field protest of students from both schools regarding fossil fuels and climate change, delayed the start of the third quarter by more than an hour.
“As a staff we discuss everything that could possibly be happening in a game. Like, what happens if lightning hits,” Reno said. “To be honest with you, we went into our lightning plan. We got the guys food, offered them the hydration, we did some stretching. We treated it [the delay] as if it was lightning, we made the planning worth it.”
Although no one could have possibly known it at the time, the delay, once coupled with the length of the game, would immerse the two overtimes in the gloaming.
“Coming into overtime, we were so confident in ourselves,” Yale captain JP Shohfi said. “We had confidence all throughout the game, but especially in that moment, we were ready to go, it didn’t matter whether there were lights or not, it didn’t matter what time of day it was. We were ready to go again and again and again. It also didn’t matter what the score read, we were just going to keep going until the clock read zero. That was one of the most special experiences that I have ever been a part of.”
Harvard’s 36-19 lead was the product of the remarkable work of freshman halfback Aidan Borguet. He scored four touchdowns – 47, 59, 60 and 67 yards – on the way to greatest single-game rushing performance (269 yards) in the history of the series. It appeared Harvard, which had lost four straight, was on its way to a major upset.
Then things changed. Senior kicker Sam Tuckerman’s third field goal of the game, from 35 yards with 8:51 to play, cut Harvard’s lead to 36-22.
After first allowing it to kill 4:40 off the clock on their next possession, Yale forced Harvard to punt and took the ball on their own 4 with 4:11 to play.
“I wasn’t really focused on what the scoreboard said,” said Yale quarterback Kurt Rawlings. He completed 33-of-53 passes for 417 yards and three touchdowns. “I was telling the guys that the mindset we should have going forward in this game is to just have fun — to do our jobs and to have fun. I love playing this game with these guys and have been so blessed to have even been given the opportunity to play for this university in the first place. This game is a testament to the team’s ability to believe in itself no matter what the circumstances are.”
Completing seven passes, Rawlings and Yale’s offense moved the ball to the Harvard 10 at which point Rawlings connected with freshman Mason Tipton in the end zone with 1:28 to play. Tuckerman’s extra point brought Yale to within seven points.
Then came the biggest play of the game. Shohfi had already recovered a pair of onside kicks this season, the second of which helped power the Bulldogs come-from-behind win over Richmond. If they were to win this game, they first needed a third.
Tuckerman’s kick bounced to the right side and there to grab it in full stride was senior Reed Klubnik at the Yale 47.
“There are three guys whose names you might not know whose job it is to run through defenders and free up space for me and JP (to get the ball),” Klubnik said. “Tuck kicked the same exact kick yesterday (at practice) and I dropped it. But it turned out pretty different this time.”
Rawlings hit Tipton for 15 yards, Klubnik for another 14 and then rushed for seven yards to move the ball to the 17 with 48 seconds to play. Finally, with the ball on the Harvard 7 and 22 seconds to play, Rawlings hit Shohfi for a touchdown and Tuckerman’s conversion sent the game into overtime.
On the first play of the first overtime, Harvard’s Jake Smith hit Cody Chrest for a 25-yard score. Yale then countered with a nine-yard scoring pass to senior Caden Herring to force a second overtime.
After Dudek scored, Yale linebacker Ryan Burke stopped Harvard’s B.J. Watson a yard short of a first down on fourth-and-5. Yale had won.
What do you think? Might it at least have rivaled the 1968 game?
“This game was a lot better – because we won,” Reno said.