Sporting Life

Sweet victory

Yale upsets Harvard in The Game, ending a nine-year dry spell.

Evan Frondorf ’14 is currently finishing a book on generic pharmaceuticals and drug pricing.

The scene on the field at Harvard Stadium that Saturday afternoon was a surreal one: Yale players forming dance circles, students in delirious embrace, fans gingerly making the daunting leap from the stands to join the on-field fray. It was joy mixed with bewilderment. How do we celebrate? Is this what it feels like to win? After nine years of disappointment for the Bulldogs, an unlikely team had just accomplished what was beginning to feel impossible: a 21–14 victory in the 133rd edition of The Game.

Getting the cathartic win required a little magic from head coach Tony Reno’s playbook and the best performance of the year from a young, injury-plagued team that had only won two games before the end-of-season showdown. Over the course of nine prior contests, Yale had fielded three different starting quarterbacks and had held such ignominious distinctions as the Ivy League’s lowest ranks in scoring defense and passing offense. Twice as many Bulldog passes were intercepted than were caught for touchdowns. Heading into The Game, ESPN’s stats department gave the Bulldogs a 10 percent chance at an upset.

Things did not start well: Yale’s first drive sputtered to a fast three-and-out, thanks to a quick sack by the Crimson. The two teams traded punts for 25 minutes, until Harvard got on the board first with a long running touchdown.

Then came Yale’s response. When an efficient drive stalled at the Harvard 19-yard line, it looked as if the Bulldogs might have to settle for an unsatisfying field goal attempt. But Yale faked the field goal on 4th and 4, as would-be holder Andrew Johnson ’18 took the ball and completed a pass to senior tight end Leo Haenni ’17 to put Yale a few yards from the goal line. Four plays later, freshman Alan Lamar ’20 carried the ball into the end zone. At the half, The Game was tied at 7–7.

Yale wasn’t done with the trick plays. The second half began with a surprise Eli onside kick, executed to perfection by Blake Horn ’18, who recovered his own kick to give Yale a momentum-building possession. “We’ve onside-kicked, squib-kicked, pop-kicked,” said Reno after the win. “If we think we have an opportunity to gain an advantage, we’re going to do it, no matter if we’re playing Harvard or playing anybody else.”

On the ensuing drive, quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20, starting for the third time, connected with another freshman—Reed Klubnik ’20—on a 28-yard touchdown pass. Harvard quickly responded with a touchdown of its own to tie the game once again, and looked to add a field goal in the middle of the fourth quarter. But a miss gave Yale the ball, and after a 14-play, 80-yard, nearly 7-minute drive, Rawlings once again found Klubnik for another Yale touchdown. With 4:14 left, the underdog win was in sight. Rawlings would finish the day without a turnover and as Yale’s leading rusher.

Harvard had two more chances to even the score, but a strong Yale defense continued to apply pressure. With eight seconds left, Jason Alessi ’19 broke up Harvard’s final pass on fourth down, sealing the Bulldog victory. As possession changed, Yale players crowded the field, unable to contain their excitement. The resulting penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct didn’t matter. The party had begun.

After the game, Reno downplayed the significance of breaking the streak, saying that this year’s team “has a one-game streak against Harvard—1–0. Next year’s team will have a one-game streak whether they win or lose.” But for all the cool postgame words, he had displayed a lot of emotion as time expired, hugging sideline coaches and players. And after the win, live on national TV, Reno joined in a rousing rendition of the “Bulldog” fight song with fan favorite Seb Little ’17. “This was a really tough season,” says Little, reflecting on his elation after the win. “There was a moment—the last eight seconds of the game—where I broke down a little bit. It felt as though it was all worth it, which is a feeling you don’t always get.”

It was a feeling shared, wholeheartedly, by Yalies across the world.

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