A rout of Yale brings another Ivy League trophy.
Rebounding from a rocky start, the football team defeated its first six Ivy League opponents and scripted a stunning finale by routing a previously unbeaten Yale squad, 37-6. The Yale Bowl upset dashed Old Eli’s hopes of completing a perfect season, and brought Harvard its fourth outright Ivy title since 1997. Not since the grand opening of the Bowl in 1914, when Harvard spoiled the occasion with a 36-0 shutout, had Yale been so abjectly humiliated by a Crimson squad.
The lopsidedness of The Game was a source of wonder even to those responsible for it. “People had pretty much left us for dead [when our record was] 1-2,” said head coach Tim Murphy. “We dreamed we’d get this result, but we didn’t dream we’d get this kind of dominance.” Harvard’s ferocious defense, led by end and captain Brad Bagdis ’08, held high-scoring tailback Mike McLeod to 50 yards rushing. Senior quarterback Chris Pizzotti, in his first start against Yale, completed 27 of 41 passes for 316 yards—the most for any Harvard passer in a Yale game—and four touchdowns. The Crimson offense ran 91 plays to Yale’s 56. “This is the ultimate, perfect, storybook ending,” said Bagdis. “It’s just phenomenal.”
Running the Table
|at Holy Cross
The team’s stellar Ivy campaign began with a 24-17 defeat of Brown in the first night football game ever played at the Stadium (see “Lights! Camera! Action!” November-December 2007, page 83). That win was bracketed by hard-luck losses to two Patriot League teams, Holy Cross and Lehigh, each in the last half-minute of play.
In another stroke of adversity, a shoulder injury at Lehigh ended quarterback Liam O’Hagan’s season. O’Hagan had put up league-leading total-offense numbers as a sophomore, but had struggled the next year. This fall he’d begun well, passing for two touchdowns and running for a third in both the Holy Cross and Brown games.
But better times were at hand. Pizzotti, who’d started five games a year earlier, took over at quarterback and excelled. The Crimson defense had already shown its mettle, coming up with three drive-breaking interceptions against Holy Cross, making three more against Brown, and denying Lehigh an offensive touchdown. Fierce defensive play would be a consistent strength during the season.
In the team’s second Ivy League test, the defense forced five Cornell turnovers in a 32-15 victory that marked the start of a seven-game winning streak. Back at the Stadium, in the team’s last nonleague game, Harvard defenders intercepted four Lafayette passes, with cornerback Steven Williams ’08 returning the fourth for a 91-yard score. The defense had another four-interception day a fortnight later, picking off one Dartmouth pass at the Harvard three-yard line and another in the end zone to arrest scoring drives. Senior safety Doug Hewlett had three of the steals, the most in one game for a Harvard player since 1967. At Columbia, the defense had six quarterback sacks.
Picking up where O’Hagan had left off, Pizzotti quickly established himself as the league’s best passing quarterback. He had a big day against Princeton, completing 23 of 35 passes for two touchdowns and 365 yards—the fourth-highest single-game passing yardage in Harvard annals. The footwork of sophomore back Cheng Ho, who ran for more than 100 yards against Holy Cross, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Columbia, helped balance the Crimson offense.
With the season’s end two weekends away, only Harvard and Yale were still unbeaten in league play. Every other team had at least two losses, ensuring that The Game would decide the Ivy championship.
Penn—always a tough team, but with three league losses on its record—was Harvard’s last Stadium opponent. Quaker back Joe Sandberg, the Ivies’ second-ranking rusher, injured a knee on the game’s first play, and without him Penn was held to 198 yards in total offense—Harvard’s best defensive effort so far. With 43 seconds left in the first half, a 20-yard pass from Pizzotti to wide receiver Corey Mazza ’07 (’08) staked Harvard to a 7-0 lead. Receiver Matt Luft ’10 made a leaping catch in the end zone for a second-half score, and Ho broke off tackle for a 20-yard touchdown to clinch it, 23-7.
Yale extended its unbeaten streak with a 27-6 victory at Princeton. Co-titlists with the Tigers in 2006, the Eli were now within range of Yale’s first outright Ivy title since 1980, its first unbeaten-untied season since 1960, and its first 10-victory season since 1909. But it wasn’t to be.
For the first time since 1968—the year of the storied 29-29 tie—Harvard and Yale went into The Game with spotless records in Ivy play. The prospect of an epic clash between archrival teams stirred excitement in the media and elsewhere. “This is going to be a game people will talk about forever,” Yale coach Jack Siedlecki told the Boston Globe’s John Powers ’70.
Yale had a right to be cocky. The previous year’s team had treated Harvard to a 34-13 mauling. The Blue had the Ivies’ best rushing attack and its top-rated defense. Junior tailback McLeod led the nation in rushing with 174 yards per game, and had scored 23 touchdowns. Yet almost nothing went right for the Eli.
Not even the coin toss. Harvard won it and chose to receive. Pizzotti came out throwing, and just 68 seconds into the game he had Harvard on the board with a 40-yard pass to Luft in the end zone. Late in the quarter Luft scored again on a 33-yard aerial. The Crimson added points on its next two possessions, with Ho diving in for a one-yard touchdown and sophomore receiver Mike Cook snaring a 15-yard pass at the goal line. In Yale’s previous five games, its defense had allowed a total of 47 points. By halftime Harvard had 27. Yet things could have been worse: the half ended with the Crimson at Yale’s one-yard line.
A third-quarter field goal by sophomore kicker Patrick Long and an early-fourth-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Jason Miller ’09 completed Harvard’s scoring spree. With four minutes to play, Yale reaped six consolation points on an 87-yard sideline punt return by freshman back Gio Christodoulo. The extra-point try went wide.
The Yale offense never got untracked. Slowed by a toe injury, McLeod netted only 36 yards in the first half and left the game after three quarters. Quarterback Matt Polhemus threw two interceptions and hit on just two out of 18 pass attempts.
Final Ivy League Standings
|Ivy and overall records
“We had a horrible day,” Yale coach Siedlecki said afterward. “They seemed to be in our backfield every play, whether we were running or throwing.…We got outplayed and outcoached.”
Indeed, Yale’s play was a study in futility. The respective times-of-possession reflected the Crimson dominance: 37:59 for Harvard, 22:01 for Yale. The Eli made just six first downs, giving up 25. Yale was limited to 66 net yards rushing and 43 in the air—109 yards of total offense against 434 for Harvard. Yale’s offense never got inside Harvard’s 25-yard line. If a single play epitomized Yale’s horrible day, it was defensive back Steve Santoro’s near-interception of a Pizzotti pass just before halftime. Santoro juggled the ball, lost control of it, and saw it land in the hands of Harvard’s Corey Mazza, flat on his back at the Yale six-yard line.
The Harvard faithful may talk about this one forever. Yalies will try to forget it.
Tidbits: Harvard has won six of the last seven Yale games, and four straight at Yale Bowl. Since the formalization of Ivy League play in 1956, Harvard leads in the series, 27-24-1.…And since 1960, when Yale last went unbeaten and untied, Harvard has robbed the Blue of a perfect season four times. In 1968 the Crimson scored 16 points in the last 42 seconds to gain the now-legendary 29-29 tie. In 1974 a 95-yard drive gave Harvard a 21-16 win with 15 seconds to play. And in 1979 the unbeaten Bulldogs were upset, 22-7, by a Harvard squad that had won just two games.
Déjà vu: Yale dedicated the Bowl on November 21, 1914, the day of that year’s Harvard game. The visitors had the bad grace to pin a 36-0 defeat on the Bulldogs, and the next day’s papers jested that “Yale had the Bowl but Harvard had the punch.” After a $21-million renovation, Yale rededicated the facility before the 2007 game. Again Harvard supplied the punch. …The official attendance was 57,248, the Bowl’s biggest crowd since 1989.
End of the line: Mike McLeod brought an 18-game scoring streak into The Game, but there it died. Harvard remains the only team on Yale’s schedule to have deprived McLeod of a 100-yard game.
Good right arm: Now 11-1 as a starter, Chris Pizzotti finished the season with 2,134 passing yards, 164 completions, and just four interceptions—the second-best single-season passing numbers in Harvard history.…Having missed the 2005 season with a herniated disk, Pizzotti will seek an injury waiver in order to play again next year. The waiver provision will also allow this season’s other starting quarterback, Liam O’Hagan, to return.
Ace receiver: Fifth-year senior Corey Mazza’s touchdown catch in the Penn game was the twenty-eighth of his career, tying the Harvard record set by two-time all-American Carl Morris ’03.…Fellow wideout Matt Luft caught eight passes for a record 160 yards against Yale.
Pickoffs: Cornerback Steven Williams, who ranked first in the nation in passes defended, tied a Harvard record by making his eighth interception of the season against Yale. It was the sixteenth of his Harvard career, breaking the record of 15 established by Ken O’Donnell ’49 in 1948.
Well-rounded: The fullback’s role in Harvard’s offense is to block, but Noah Van Niel did it all. The 250-pound senior had 25 carries, scored two touchdowns in the Lafayette game, caught 18 passes, and was a long-snapper for the kicking team. Snapping in the Penn game, Van Niel raced downfield and recovered the ball when it glanced off a Quaker defender. His alert play set up Harvard’s third score of the day.…Van Niel hopes to pursue an operatic career (see "Lights! Camera! Action!" November-December 2007, page 84). En route to the Columbia game, he was interviewed live on CBS’s The Early Show, and sang the tenor aria Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore.
Good grades: Six Harvard players were named to the ESPN The Magazine academic all-district first team—the most from any school in the country.
Postseason honors: Pizzotti received the Crocker Award as the team’s most valuable player, and was one of 11 Harvard players selected for the all-Ivy first team. Named to the offensive team were Pizzotti, Mazza, and linemen Andrew Brecher ’08, David Paine ’08, and James Williams ’10. The defensive selections were end and captain Brad Bagdis, lineman Matt Curtis ’09, linebacker Glenn Dorris ’09, and backs Hewlett, Williams, and Andrew Berry ’09. Nine others received second-team or honorable-mention citations.…Curtis, of Peabody, Massachusetts, and Pforzheimer House, will captain the 2008 squad. A government concentrator, he has been a two-year starter at tackle.
Seven and counting: Crimson teams have now won seven games or more in each of the last seven seasons—an Ivy League record, and Harvard’s best seven-year run since 1904–1910.
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