|Harvard kicker David Mothander is lifted in celebration by teammate Jack Holuba after Mothander scored from 5 yards out on a fake field goal in the second quarter. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
High point of Ivy climb
Harvard routs Yale, finishes 7-0 in league
NEW HAVEN - Their road to Ivy League perfection kicked off on a rainy, windswept night on the first Saturday in October at Harvard Stadium, captain Alex Gedeon and his band of brothers determined to erase the bitter taste of a season-opening loss at Holy Cross.
Colton Chapple, then Michael Pruneau stepped in under center for the hobbled Collier Winters, and the Crimson cut through Brown, 24-7, triggering a nine-week run defined by resilience, mental toughness, and excellence.
The finale, yesterday’s 45-7 dismantling of rival Yale in front of 55,137 in the 128th edition of The Game, was the finest hour for the Harvard football team.
Winters (27 of 42 passing, 355 yards) was at the trigger for an explosive spread attack that racked up 506 total yards and set a program record for points in a season. The 5-foot-11-inch fifth-year senior dived in for the tying score - atoning from his fumble inside the 5 on Harvard’s first possession - and tossed a pair of touchdown passes. That included a go-ahead 20-yard strike to senior Alex Sarkisian in the second quarter, capping a nine-play, 57-yard drive that was set up by a Yale turnover.
“A great way to go out on top,’’ said Winters after piloting the Crimson (9-1, 7-0) to their fifth straight win over Yale (5-5, 4-3), the 10th in the last 11 meetings, and first unbeaten Ivy run since 2007. (That 8-2 squad capped its 7-0 sprint with a 37-6 win at the Bowl.)
“It was annoying to cough up the ball after we got the offense rolling. But all year, we were just so confident in ourselves, that if there was adversity, we were going to be ready to keep pushing. We were able to get things rolling from there.’’
The Tony Reno-directed special-teams unit delivered a blocked field goal, from Masconomet Regional product Chris Splinter, a sophomore defensive back, in the second quarter. “A big play, it changed the momentum of the game,’’ said Yale coach Tom Williams, his team trailing, 14-7, at the time.
And the special teams also produced a 5-yard jaunt into the end zone in the second quarter from sophomore kicker David Mothander off a nifty pitch from Chapple, his holder on the fake field goal, for a 21-7 lead.
“It’s an easy call to make when you have confidence that it is going to go,’’ said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, now 13-5 against Yale. “You’re making a pitch to the kicker, and sometimes that’s a bit scary.’’
Not necessarily so, though, with Mothander, a three-sport athlete at Phillips Exeter and the starting QB his senior year at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in California.
Gedeon put the finishing touch on the scoring, his marvelous final season, and another stellar effort from the Crimson defense, taking a pick-six back 32 yards in the fourth quarter, the first touchdown for the senior linebacker since his days as the starting quarterback at Hudson High (Ohio).
“You [give] credit to all the seniors, and the energy, enthusiasm, and attitude they had this season was just amazing,’’ said Murphy.
“I’m very, very proud of our football team. The team chemistry was just exceptional. They really loved playing together.’’
They stuck together after the host Bulldogs struck first on a 24-yard hookup from Patrick Witt (24 of 39, 226 yards, 3 interceptions), their Rhodes Scholar candidate, to Jackson Liguori, on their third series of the game.
The Crimson answered, emphatically, surpassing their 37-point run in last week’s Ivy clincher against Penn with 45 unanswered points.
Winters bulled in from the 4 before hitting Sarkisian (7 catches, 97 yards) to make it 14-7.
Mothander followed his score with a 21-yard field goal to end the half and make it 24-7.
“It was amazing. I thought I had scored my last touchdown [at Phillips Exeter],’’ he said.
The Crimson broke it open with a 21-point blitz in the fourth quarter: impressive freshman Zach Boden bursting in from the 11, junior Kyle Juszczyk (7 catches, 107 yards) turning a swing pass from Winters (“a nice checkdown from Collier,’’ lauded Murphy) into a 60-yard rumble to the end zone, and Gedeon providing the capper.
“We were beat by a better football team, bigger, stronger, and faster,’’ said Williams. “Every loss is disappointing, and to lose to your rival school in that fashion . . . ’’
“It came down to us not executing against a good football team’’ said Yale captain Jordan Haynes, who had a team-high 11 tackles at middle linebacker.
And Harvard executing in all three phases of the game: stopping the run (Yale had 76 yards rushing), receiving game-changing plays from special teams, and going full throttle on offense.
“A lot of our offense, and scoring this year, was the result of having great field position, defense, special teams, all those things,’’ said Murphy. “Probably the best-balanced effort we have had here in a long, long time. And we had a fifth-year quarterback [Winters] who was a like a coach on the field.’’
“And without the leadership of Winters and the other fifth-year seniors [Ben Graeff, Josue Ortiz, Chris Lorditch], I don’t think we’re sitting here having this talk today,’’ added Murphy.
Or celebrating their run to perfection in the chill outside their locker room, darkness settling in, all hands joining together to raise the Ivy League trophy, before bellowing “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard’’ to a roar.
Craig Larson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.