Sports your connection to The Boston Globe

Finishing touches

Hobbled QB spurs Harvard past Yale

NEW HAVEN -- Harvard coach Tim Murphy, who has lived through 10 of these clan wars now, didn't care what the scoreboard said. Not even with his football team up 18 points with a minute and 20 seconds to play. Not in this game. Not against a Yale varsity that scored points by the dozen every Saturday.

"At no time did I feel comfortable," Murphy testified yesterday, after his resurgent varsity (7-3, 4-3 Ivy) smothered Yale, 37-19, before 53,136 sun-splashed witnesses at the Bowl to finish a slip-sliding season on a magnificent note. "Even when the Gatorade came on my head."

How could a team win a game despite conceding 30 first downs and 555 yards on 98 plays? By making big defensive plays when it had to. And by relying on a one-handed, one-legged quarterback to bury the Bulldogs (6-4, 4-3) in a blizzard of points.

Last year at the Stadium, Ryan Fitzpatrick came off the bench in the second half to create three touchdowns in less than seven minutes and rally the Crimson to a 20-13 victory.

Yesterday, playing with a torn meniscus in his left knee, a sprained left ankle, and a right hand he broke last month, the junior from Arizona threw four touchdown passes, including a killer 79-yarder to Brian Edwards in the fourth quarter. Only two other Harvard QBs (Larry Brown in 1978 and Neil Rose here two years ago) had managed that against Yale. "Just one of those gut jobs," said Murphy.

Harvard, which had lost three straight games after winning its first six, simply had to have Fitzpatrick on the field, even on one leg. And it was certain that the man was suiting up for The Game, even if trainer Dick Emerson had to swaddle him in tape and braces from top to toe. "There was no way I wasn't going to be on the field," said Fitzpatrick, who took every snap. "I owed that to the seniors."

No Crimson team had lost its last four games after winning its first six, and this one didn't want that distinction. All it would take to beat the Bulldogs for the third straight time was three dozen points, 174 drive-building, clock-eating yards by freshman running back Clifton Dawson, and an inspired effort by the defense, which held the hosts to 6 points in the first half. "You can talk about Fitzy, you can talk about Dawson," mused Murphy, "but we got it started with our defense."

Harvard's defenders might have given up gobs of yardage but they held Yale, which had averaged 37 points a game, to its lowest total of the season. Yesterday, the red zone was the dead zone for the Bulldogs, who were inside the Harvard 20 three times in the first half and came away with just a pair of field goals by John Troost.

"Story of the game," said Yale receiver Ralph Plumb, who made 15 catches for 158 yards but no points. "We have 500 yards of offense and what do we score, 19 points? That's laughable. Awful."

Harvard, which had the ball for five fewer minutes than Yale and gained 137 fewer yards, scored 18 more points by zapping the Bulldogs when it had to.

The Crimson kept a second-quarter drive alive with linebacker Dante Balestracci bulling for a first down on a fake punt, then cashed in with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Fitzpatrick to freshman Corey Mazza. Just 25 seconds before the half, Fitzpatrick lofted a 10-yarder to Rodney Byrnes to put Harvard ahead, 17-6. Then, to start the second half, Fitzpatrick tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to backup tight end Kelly Widman (his first college catch) and it was 24-6.

Most years, that would have been a sufficient margin to win. But this Yale team had come from three touchdowns behind to take unbeaten Pennsylvania into overtime, then knocked off Princeton last week in double overtime after scoring on the last play of regulation.

As long as quarterback Alvin Cowan (34 of 64 passes for a school-record 438 yards and two touchdowns) had the ball in his hand and time on the clock, Yale figured to have a chance. "There was no point where we said, we have this game in hand," said Balestracci.

Back came the Bulldogs, 76 yards in eight plays, with Cowan tossing a 27-yard touchdown to tight end Nate Lawrie. Now, as the third quarter was dwindling, here they were again, first and goal on the Crimson 3, with a chance to draw within 4 points. On fourth down, Yale was still there with a choice: a gimme field goal or a touchdown.

The bid was for 6, with the NFL-bound Lawrie (at 6 feet 7 inches) up against cornerback Benny Butler (at 5-8). Had Cowan thrown an alley-oop, it might well have been a touchdown, but Butler had sufficient ups to knock it down. That set the stage for Fitzpatrick's bomb to Edwards, the wrong play at the perfect time.

All the Crimson wanted was 5 yards on third down, but Edwards was open past midfield. "He ran the wrong route," Fitzpatrick said. "That's why I wasn't even looking at him."

Edwards gathered the ball in on the gallop and Harvard was up and away, 31-13. "That broke our back," said Yale coach Jack Siedlecki. "We were down there, didn't get it. They answer with a length-of-the-field drive.

"That's how you win football games."

Yale had one more shot, a 15-yard touchdown pass from Cowan to Ron Benigno with 6:36 left. But when Crimson corner Gary Sonkur ran back an interception 37 yards for a touchdown with 1:23 to go, it was Gatorade time, no matter what the clock said. "It was huge," said Balestracci, "to finish with a victory."

Globe Archives Sale Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months