Harvard quarterback Colton Chapple will remember the tableau of victory 50 years from now. He’ll be able to recall the angle of the sun and feel of the fall air at Harvard Stadium.
Chapple watched as fellow senior Treavor Scales raced 63 yards toward the end zone with The Game-sealing points in Harvard’s 34-24 victory over archrival Yale on Saturday. Scales’s run on third and 13 with 1:08 left finally let the Crimson exhale in a game that was as emotionally exhausting as it was exhilarating.
It also meant that Chapple, Scales, and the rest of Harvard’s seniors ended their football careers undefeated against the Yalies, in the process propelling Harvard to its first six-game win streak in the history of the series.
At an institution that was founded in 1636, there aren’t a lot of firsts left to claim, but Chapple, Scales, and the Crimson seniors can claim pigskin pioneer status. Chapple, who threw an interception that set up a Yale touchdown run that had Harvard trailing, 24-20, with seven minutes left, admitted that he was forced to contemplate losing his final game to Yale, which really is a four-letter word around Harvard Yard.
“I’ve never seen Treavor run that fast, I guarantee you that,” said Chapple, who passed for 209 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 128 yards and a score on 18 rushes. “He was moving down the sideline. At that moment I knew that all of our hard work had come to fruition, just pure elation. I was so happy for the team. This group of seniors. It’s really indescribable.”
The same could be said of this 129th edition of the ancient rivalry between Harvard and Yale. The Game lived up to its capital letters. In fact, I think it earned a few more.
The 3-3 ennui of a first half that had all the excitement of filling out your tax forms did little to foreshadow a second half in which the teams combined for 52 points, 556 yards of offense, and five lead changes, four in the fourth quarter.
“Just a great college football game,” said Harvard coach Tim Murphy. “We had nothing left. We gave it everything we had. I’m just so proud of our kids. We didn’t just have to make plays. We had to make really big plays to win this game, just a great heavyweight fight and we landed the last punch.”
It was as good a college football game as you’ll find anywhere. That it took place with future lawyers, judges, and corporate CEOs playing it was only a bonus. You might find better players, bigger stadiums, and higher stakes, but you won’t find a better rivalry game than Harvard and Yale. Sorry, Michigan and Ohio State, there is only one The Game, with caps.
Every snap and undulation of emotion on the sidelines and among the 31,123 in attendance in the second half showed you just how much this contest means. The looks on the faces of the victorious Harvard players and the vanquished Yale ones told a better story than any ever written.
It’s not a mere game. It is the difference between deliverance and damnation.
“It means so much,” said Scales, who with 177 yards on 19 carries tied Eion Hu’s record for the most rushing yards against Yale, set in 1996. “As soon as you commit to Harvard you know at the end of the day about beating your rival. You know there is so much that comes with that game. There is so much that is riding on it. When people find out that you’re going to Harvard you’ll get Harvard and Yale grads that approach you with, ‘Hey, that’s the game you worry about.’ ”
The Game wasn’t supposed to be much of one. Yale, under first-year coach and former Harvard assistant Tony Reno, was mired in a 2-7 campaign. The Bulldogs have gone through quarterbacks this year like the Red Sox go through pitching coaches, using five because of injury.
The boys from New Haven were huge underdogs to a Harvard squad that was nationally ranked and came in averaging 40 points a game.
Reno pulled out every trick he had in the Book of Elis. Murphy said Yale was using defenses it hadn’t shown all year. On the opening kickoff of the second half, Yale ran a reverse. Reno employed three quarterbacks — starter Derek Russell, a Newton South alumnus, running back Tyler Varga, and Henry Furman, Yale’s fifth-string signal-caller and a former wide receiver.
It was Furman who made a bid to join the folklore of The Game. The Portland, Ore., native took over for Russell with Yale trailing, 13-3. He had the Yalies ahead, 17-13, with 13:30 left in the fourth quarter.
On third and 3 from the Harvard 12, Furman (13 of 20, 158 yards and a TD) rolled right and heaved the ball toward a sea of Crimson in the end zone. The ball somehow found an island of white in that sea of Crimson, sophomore wide receiver Grant Wallace (11 catches for 118 yards and a score).
It seemed like a sign, but it turned out Furman was a false idol on this day through no fault of his own.
The ancient antagonists swapped the lead before the Crimson went on top for good at 27-24.
Chapple found tight end Cameron Brate, who did his best Rob Gronkowski impression, outrebounding Yale defenders to come down with a 4-yard touchdown reception right in front of the goal posts with 4:44 to go.
It was at that same end of venerable Harvard Stadium that Scales would cement Harvard’s 11th win over Yale in 12 tries.
I wonder if that tips the scales in the old “US News & World Report” Best Colleges rankings?