Photos by Kevin McCarthy
NEW HAVEN - Sometimes the event just doesn't live up to the hype. Sometimes it just can't. Take The Game, for instance.
Bobby Abare (44) and Brady Hart (33) of Yale team up to stop Harvard running back Chen Ho, who played prep ball at Avon Old Farms. It was one of the few Yale stops of the day as the Crimson cruised to an easy 37-6 win over the Bulldogs.
Yale and Harvard both entered Saturday's game undefeated in Ivy League play, and both ranked in the top 25 among FCS schools (formerly known as Division 1-AA). Yale was led by junior tailback Mike McLeod, a New Britain native who had run roughshod over virtually every rushing record in the hallowed Yale record book.
Yale was out to correct last season's nearly unblemished record, when only a loss to Princeton separated the Elis from perfection. And while this ancient rivalry may have dated back to 1876 -- a rivalry that counts the likes of Dick Jauron, Calvin Hill, Stone Phillips, Tommy Lee Jones and, of course, Brian Dowling among its illustrious alumni -- anyone stuck in traffic approaching the Yale Bowl, stretching all the way back Route 34 to the parking lot called the Wilbur Cross Parkway, could tell that this year's version of The Game was going to be something special.
And then the game started.
Behind a stifling defensive effort that limited Yale to its lowest rushing total in 24 games, No. 25 Harvard claimed sole possession of the Ivy League title with a 37-6 win over No. 11 Yale Saturday afternoon before 57,248 fans at the Yale Bowl. The Crimson also denied Yale's chance at a perfect season, as the Bulldogs finish 9-1 with the loss.
"We didn't have a lot of success doing anything today," said Yale captain senior nose guard Brandt Hollander. "It was just not our day."
The Crimson struck just 1:08 into the game on a broken play, as quarterback Chris Pizzotti scrambled to his right and then pulled back, lofting one towards an open Matt Luft in the end zone from 40 yards out.
"They did the scramble drill, where some guys go long and some guys come back," said Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki. "We lost one of [the receivers]."
That marked the first time all year a Yale opponent has done anything other than punt (eight times) or fumble (once) to end its first drive against the Bulldogs. It was one of many uncharacteristic stumbles that would cost the Elis their perfect season.
Harvard increased its lead with a 58-yard drive at the end of the first quarter. The key play was a third-down conversion at the Harvard 47 where Hart just missed intercepting Pizzottti's pass; instead it wound up in the hands of receiver Mike Cook for a seven-yard gain. Six plays later, Pizzotti hit an open Luft over the middle and he raced into the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown. Patrick Long's extra point went wide left.
Attempting to come back from their largest deficit of the year, the Bulldogs tried relying on the Ivy League's leading rushing attack. They went for a first down on fourth-and-two at the Harvard 40 on the second play of the second quarter, but Payton Award finalist junior tailback Mike McLeod of New Britain fell short.
"It was a simple [isolation] play," McLeod said. "Everything got clogged up right in the gap. I tried to cut it outside, but the field was still pretty muddy from all the rain. I tried to cut and I slipped."
That set up the Crimson offense for a 60-yard touchdown drive that ended with Ho diving into the end zone from one yard out.
Less than two minutes later the Crimson took advantage of a rare Eli special teams error when a high snap forced sophomore punter Tom Mante to scramble with the ball. He was brought down at the Eli 15. On the very next play Pizzotti rifled one to wide receiver Mike Cook for a 27-0 lead at 7:51 of the second. The lead grew to 30-0 after a 60-yard drive ending with a 19-yard field goal by long with 10:07 left in the third period.
"We felt good at the half, since we had a little success going into the second half with the goal line stand," Hollander said. "But we didn't get much momentum going and didn't make the plays we needed to make."
McLeod Finally Stopped
Adding to Yale's frustration was the fact that McLeod, who had been playing with a broken toe since the Penn game, was clearly not himself. After a five-yard pass to tight end Jason Miller in the end zone made it 37-0 with 13:32 remaining, McLeod spent the rest of the game on the side line. He rushed for only 50 yards on the day - far below his season average of 174. His conference-record streak of 19 straight games with a score also game to an end against the Crimson.
Mike McLeod, the junior tailback from New Britain who has broken virtually every rushing mark in the Yale record book (shown here earlier in the seaso vs. Lehigh), was finally stopped by the Crimson. He has been playing with a borken toe for most of the season.
"I guess now that the season's over I don't have to hide anything," McLeod said. "It hurts. It limits me. I'd say I was 60-70 percent. We tried some new stuff to have me play and it didn't work. I want to be out there, but it's difficult. I know my limits. I could not run. I wasn't effective."
The Bulldogs did get one more highlight out of Christodoulou, who returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown with 4:15 left. Yale missed the extra point, making the final 37-6.
McLeod finished with 50 yards on 20 carries, and Yale's 66 total rushing yards represented the team's lowest total since the 2005 Penn game (50). Abare finished with a game-high 14 tackles. Pizzotti had 316 yards passing and Luft had 160 yards receiving.
Harvard (8-2, 7-0 Ivy) finishes with its 12th Ivy League title, while the Bulldogs were denied their 15th. Yale (9-1, 6-1 Ivy) finishes with nine wins in a season for just the third time since the 1960 team, which remains the last perfect Yale squad with its 9-0 record.
The Bulldogs honored their 28 seniors prior to The Game. That group helped Yale to a 17-3 record over the past two seasons, including an Ivy championship last year.
"I told the seniors that I'm really proud of them," said Siedlecki. "It was a rough day for all of us ... for the young guys, this season is something to build off for next year."