Harvard Prevails in The Game, 30-24 in Triple-Overtime

Harvard Prevails in The Game, 30-24 in Triple-Overtime

Nov. 19, 2005

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - In an epic three-overtime battle between two ancient rivals, a two-yard run by TB Clifton Dawson gave the Crimson a 30-24 win over the Bulldogs in The Game Saturday afternoon at the Yale Bowl, Class of 1954 Field. The play ended a 169-play, four-hour marathon in front of 53,213 fans on hand for the 122nd edition of Harvard-Yale.

"We're never going to see anything like that again," said Yale captain Jeff Mroz, who completed 17 of 34 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown in his Yale finale.

Harvard QB Liam O'Hagan started hot, connecting on his first seven passes, but went cold at the right time for Yale. He overthrew an open Dawson on a potential touchdown on first-and-10 from the Yale 15. Two plays later, he had WR Ryan Tyler open in the end zone but his throw was too low. Harvard settled for a 28-yard field goal by Ryan Schindel.

The Bulldogs (4-6, 4-3 Ivy) were pinned back at their own 12 by a Harvard punt at the end of the first quarter, but pieced together their first effective drive of the day. TB Mike McLeod had a 15-yard run that converted a third-and-one from the Yale 21. WR Todd Feiereisen had the next big conversion, tipping a pass and then catching it for an 18-yard reception on third-and-nine to get the ball into Harvard territory. McLeod converted a third-and-two with a five-yard run down to the Cantab 32.

Three plays later Yale had its first failed third-down conversion of the drive, but it wound up working out for the Elis. Yale went for it on fourth down, with Mroz dropping back from the shotgun and surveying his options. With the middle clogged, he spotted WR D.J. Shooter behind the defense down the left sideline and unleashed a laser down the field. The pass appeared to be headed beyond Shooter's grasp, but he made an amazing leap forward to haul the ball in and fall into the end zone. PK Alan Kimball's extra point gave Yale a 7-3 lead at 11:07 of the second.

The Yale defense asserted itself on the drive after the touchdown, dropping O'Hagan for a sack on third-and-six (by DL Brandt Hollander) and then, after a five-yard facemask penalty gave Harvard another chance and made it third-and-one, stopping Dawson well short of a first down (Hollander again).

Harvard's next drive ended quickly as well. On the first play, O'Hagan was flushed from the pocket and scrambled to his right. With DL Kirk Porter bearing down on him, he spotted an open receiver down the right sideline and fired the ball there. But Yale FS Nick Solakian came out of nowhere to make a leaping interception at the Crimson 37.

The Bulldogs did not get any points off the turnover, but the Yale defense forced a Crimson punt from the 13 and that set the offense up at the Harvard 42 for the final drive of the half. This one turned into a test of wills. An 18-yard run on a draw by TB Jordan Spence got the ball to the Harvard 17, and three plays later WR Ashley Wright surged ahead after making a catch for a first down at the Crimson six.

McLeod then got four with a tough run up the middle, then one more to get the ball to the one with a minute to play. Mroz kept the ball from there and appeared to be in, with several Bulldogs raising their hands in celebration but none of the officials doing so. That set up a dramatic fourth down.

Undeterred, Yale let the game clock run down to six seconds, called timeout, and prepared for the play with the ball a hair's width away from the goalline. Mroz willed his way forward, taking advantage of a surge on the left side of Yale's line. After a few dramatic seconds, the officials raised their hands and Kimball came on to make the lead 14-3 at halftime.

By the half Yale had already racked up 87 yards rushing against a Crimson defense that came in allowing only 83 per game.

"We were definitely having trouble with their snap counts," Crimson NT Michael Berg said. "They were changing it up a little bit and we were having trouble getting into a rhythm."

The Bulldogs got the ball to start the second half and continued their efficient and effective offense. McLeod had three straight runs for a total of 15 yards, then Mroz completed an 18-yarder to Feiereisen and a 21-yarder to WR Chris Denny-Brown. On third-and-four from the five the Bulldogs set up in the shotgun with four wide receivers, but it was McLeod who got the ball and raced up the middle for a touchdown and a 21-3 lead.

Harvard (7-3, 5-2 Ivy) got back in The Game with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Dawson at the halfway point of the third.

A wild sequence at the start of the start of the fourth drew the Crimson closer. Yale appeared to have stopped Harvard's momentum when SS Matt Handlon recovered a Crimson fumble at the Bulldog 12. But three plays after that Crimson CB Steve Williams grabbed a Mroz pass and raced untouched into the end zone to pull Harvard within five. O'Hagan's pass attempt on the two-point conversion fell incomplete, leaving the Yale lead at 21-16.

"Up until that point we had made all the big plays," Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. "We had turned them over. Then, we had four turnovers in a quarter of football."

After an ineffective Yale drive the Crimson got the ball at the Harvard 43 with a chance to take the lead. On third-and-two at the Eli 49, O'Hagan took the ball right on an option but did not have a good enough grip on it while DE Brandon Dyches came up to deliver a hit. DE Brendan Sponheimer emerged from the pile with the ball at the Harvard 48.

That set up a 26-yard field goal by Kimball that extended Yale's lead to eight points with 6:26 remaining. But Harvard got a 22-yard touchdown pass from O'Hagan to WR Alex Breaux with 3:37 to play, and O'Hagan ran up the middle on a draw for the two-point conversion. That tied the score at 24.

The teams traded ineffective possessions to end regulation and send The Game to overtime for the first time. With the sun all but gone, and the temperature dropping, sloppy play ensued. Yale lost a fumble on its first play, but Harvard missed a 37-yard field goal that could have won it.

Harvard then started the second overtime with the ball, but O'Hagan's pass into the end zone from the 12 was intercepted by CB Andrew Butler. Yale's drive ended after two plays, however, when the Bulldogs lost another fumble on a pass play from the Harvard 23.

"They were all effort plays," Siedlecki said of the fumbles. "You can't fault a guy for trying to get the extra yards."

Yale got the ball to start the third overtime, but a diving interception by Berg at the 25 ended that.

That led into The Game's conclusion. Harvard got the ball to the eight thanks to a 15-yard completion from O'Hagan to FB Kelly Widman and then turned to Dawson to keep control of the ball. He did just that. His first run got two yards and his next got four. With the ball on the two for third down, the Crimson showed no signs of thinking field goal. Dawson got behind the right side of the line and into the end zone for the game-winning score.

report by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity