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A brilliant and bizarre day at Yale Bowl

POSTED November 24, 2019
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson

                NEW HAVEN –  Early in the third quarter after Harvard’s Aidan Borguet continued to torture the Yale defense with another hey watch me run touchdown, this one for 59 yards, to give Harvard a 22-3 lead I turned my son and said, “Game time.” He replied, “Dad, you know better, you can’t be saying this now.” Still, I was thinking this is done.

                Game over

                With 11:24 left in the fourth quarter my wife turned to me and said, “I’m outta here,” and went back to the festivities in parking lot D.

                Game over.

                With 4:24 left in the game and Harvard leading, 36-22, my son Jon who was with his buddy Connor and had to go back to college said, “I’m think we’re going to leave.” I convinced him to stay one more series but the point was simple.

                Game over.

                At 4:40 we stood near the middle of iconic Yale Bowl’s new artificial carpet on a late afternoon and watched dusk and disappointment morph into pandemonium and a jubilant darkness as a throng of Yale supporters engulfed their Yale football heroes and did the dance of Ivy League champions.

                Game over for real.  Yale 50, Harvard, 43 (2 OT). An instant classic forever.

                I have spent a lot of Saturday afternoons at Yale Bowl.  Never one like this. In the 144-year history of the historic rivalry there has never been one like this. Maybe the famous (or infamous if you are a Yalie) 1968 game in which Harvard rallied for 16 points in the final 42 seconds to claim `victory’ in a 29-29 tie.

                But if Harvard has that, this one has Yale’s stamp on it forever.  This was about comebacks, Mother Nature, protests, player brilliance. The profusion of the unpredictable and unbelievable started at halftime and didn’t let up.

                In a clever and pre-planned stunt, students from both schools stormed the field at halftime for sit-down protest over Yale and Harvard’s connections with the fossil fuel industry. They were joined by others from the crowd who decided to hop on the bandwagon.

                They chanted, took selfies, read and refused to move, extending halftime to more than an hour before officials finally were able to break up the congregation. Kudos to the New Haven police for handling the situation in a manner that did not inflame the situation.

                We wondered if the game would continue. For a while we doubted it. But it did and it got crazier and to the benefit of the crowd of almost 45,000, it was football crazy.

                We kind of sat there in a morose state, having seen most of the second half far too often in recent decades that have been dominated by Harvard with a Yale win here and there. With a little over four minutes to go and Harvard, leading, 36-22,  we were resigned, but Yalies from youth we kept hoping.

                   I joked with my son, “Hey all we need is a 96-yard drive, then recover the onside kick and score again. Overtime. I was joking. Yale wasn’t.

                Kurt Rawlings who threw for 417 yards, finds freshman Mason Tipton in the corner of the end zone for 28-yard score and suddenly it’s 36-29. My son is going nowhere now. Still need the onside kick. A long shot but there was hope in the Bowl. About this time a woman in a Yale sweatshirt came over to us to thank us for staying. No thanks necessary.

                Then Reed Klubnik recovered the onside kick at the Yale 47-yard line with a little more than a minute to go. By now, the Bowl is going bananas and I’m thinking about all the people that left early in the quarter.

                With 18 seconds to go the seemingly impossible happens and Rawlings hooks up with JP Shofi for a seven-yard score. Suddenly it wasn’t a lovely day in the neighborhood it was an ecstatic day in the neighborhood. My son gets on the phone to my wife in the parking lot who left early and she thinks we’ve had way too many.

                Momentarily the wind is knocked out of the sails when Harvard scores on the first play in overtime. A magnificent comeback squashed. We hadn’t learned our lesson.

                Yale responds immediately when Rawlings hooks up with Caden Herring for a score. The question now was would darkness end the game. The teams moved to the opposite end of the field away from the scoreboard where we were for the second overtime and you could hardly follow the ball. We had to watch some plays on the video board because it was so much lighter.

                Yale quickly got a 4-yard run from Zane Dudek on its possession to go ahead, 50-43. On a fourth down Harvard’s B.J. Watson was stopped a yard short of the first down by senior linebacker Ryan Burke.  For the second time the Yale field was overwhelmed.

                Only this time it was in celebration not protest. This time it was what the Bulldog fans had come for. In the middle of the chaos was Rawlings (462 yards of offense), his long reddish hair flowing in the parade of hugs as Queen’s `We are the Champions’ blared out.  Yale scored 17 fourth-period points 14 in the final 3:08 and 47 second half points after trailing, 15-3, at the half.

                Shofi caught 10 passes for 103 yards. Klubnik had nine receptions for 141 yards. Nobody was better than Harvard’s Borguet who ran for 269 yards, a rivalry record, and scored four touchdowns on runs of 47, 59, 60 and 67 yards.  

                On the way down to the field, the ESPN cameraman, fist-bumped us and said, “I was looking through the camera and couldn’t see anything. This is the greatest game I’ve filmed.’             

                 Fifteen minutes after sunset (4:26) they partied on the Yale Bowl carpet and assuredly well into the night.  It was a freeze frame moment of magnificence in a day that won’t be duplicated.

                We started out Saturday morning hoping to see an Ivy League title. We got that and more. We got a game for all-time, performances for all time and craziness for all time.  

                Man, this was special.  

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