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With Outright Ivy Title on the Line, No. 19 Harvard Football to Face Yale in 139th Rendition of The Game

Members of the Crimson lock their eyes on the field in Harvard's triple-overtime defeat of Penn on Nov. 11, 2023.
Members of the Crimson lock their eyes on the field in Harvard's triple-overtime defeat of Penn on Nov. 11, 2023. By Nicholas T. Jacobsson
By Nadia A. Fairfax, Crimson Staff Writer

No. 19 Harvard football (8-1, 5-1) is to face famed rival Yale (6-3, 4-2) at the 139th rendition of ‘The Game’ this Saturday, Nov. 18 in the Yale Bowl.

The Crimson will head to New Haven with a share of the Ivy League title after defeating Penn (6-3, 3-3) in triple overtime. Harvard has had a historic season thus far, securing the program’s 18th conference title in history and 10th for head coach Tim Murphy. Murphy has also recently surpassed Yale Head Coach Carm Cozza in Ivy League wins, and with the recent Ivy League title, has tied with Cozza in Ivy League championships.

Sophomore quarterback Jaden Craig, who took over for junior quarterback Charles DePrima in the starting position, played a powerful game last week, where he secured the title with a two yard pass reception in the endzone. His performance earned him the NEFW/Grinold Chapter Gold Helmet award, and he earned Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career.

Craig’s performance this past week accounted for 20 out of the 25 points that Harvard scored. The quarterback managed two rushing touchdowns, one passing touchdown, and his two point pass reception to finalize the game.

“I’d say it was a really special feeling,” said Craig about being a part of such a memorable win last week. “We’ve been through a lot this year, and to have that big of a win was a great feeling.”

Sophomore wide receiver Cooper Barkate also had a remarkable game, catching eight passes over 125 yards and scoring one touchdown in one of his best performances of the season, alongside his performance against Brown.

“It’s huge,” Barkate reflected. “We get to go in not having to worry about winning the Ivy League title, so we already have that clinched.”

“Although we do want to win it outright, we don’t want to share the title, especially with our big rivals Yale,” the wide receiver continued. “So it’s definitely a huge relief not having that pressure on our back. We get to go in playing free, and we really have nothing to lose.”

The Harvard football offensive line huddles up on the sideline in the team's only loss of the season to Princeton on Oct. 21.
The Harvard football offensive line huddles up on the sideline in the team's only loss of the season to Princeton on Oct. 21. By Nicholas T. Jacobsson

The Crimson’s defense was mainly led by senior defensive lineman Thor Griffith, who had a career high 10 tackles, with two for loss. For the senior, the win last Saturday was a token of how much the team has improved.

“It was something that even before coming in, it was a goal for our class,” Griffith said of the conference championship. “One of the recruiting pitches they always said was ‘every class that’s been through with Coach Murphy has won a title’ and that streak kind of ended last year, so we’re so stoked that we were able to bring another one home. That feeling is pretty hard to describe even now.”

Harvard is gearing up to face a Yale team that was voted as the preseason favorite for the Ivy League, earning 122 points overall and 13 first-place votes. Harvard, by contrast, was voted fourth in the poll, behind Princeton and Penn respectively.

“They’re a great team and a great defense, a lot of good athletes,” Barkate commented. “A lot of things that are similar to the past week. We’re trying to have a balanced offense between the running game and the passing game.”

Last year, the Crimson hosted the Bulldogs at home and fell 19-14. The loss was an end to a 6-4 season for Harvard, compared to Yale’s 8-2 season.

“We’re just trying to build on the confidence that we gained throughout the last half of the year,” said Barkate when asked about specific things he’s looking to improve on in Saturday’s game. “After the loss to Princeton, we were kind of battling through that the rest of the year, and we’re just trying to build on that in our final game.”

In Harvard’s 150th season, it surpassed 900 wins after its defeat of Columbia, alongside at least a part of the Ivy League Title for the first time since 2015. A Harvard-Yale win tomorrow would be the Crimson’s 62nd win, compared to Yale’s 68 Harvard-Yale wins.

“Really everything,” said Barkate about what a win on Saturday would mean for the team. “For the seniors, even though I’m a sophomore, this game is really meant for our seniors. To have them go out with a win against Yale for an outright Ivy League championship, which we haven’t done in eight years, would be pretty big.”

The Harvard defense attempts to stop the Quakers' offense on Nov. 11, when the Crimson took down the Philadelphia school for a share of the Ivy League title.
The Harvard defense attempts to stop the Quakers' offense on Nov. 11, when the Crimson took down the Philadelphia school for a share of the Ivy League title. By Nicholas T. Jacobsson

A Bulldogs player to watch on Saturday will be senior quarterback Nolan Grooms, the reigning Asa Bushnell Cup Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year. Grooms enters the competition leading the Ivy League with 20 touchdown passes, and a 155 passing efficiency, ranking him 13th nationally in both categories.

“He’s a dual threat quarterback,” Griffith said of Grooms. “He can throw it, he can run it real well, so biggest thing for us is really containing him, making sure that he can’t really use his legs to the best of his ability, and want to get the chance to really let him up as much as possible and make sure that we can contain him, contain the running backs, and really just dominate the line of scrimmage.”

Harvard’s hope is to bring an unshared Ivy League Championship home to Cambridge — alongside another Harvard-Yale win.

“For me, it would be the perfect finisher for my Harvard career,” said Griffith about what a win this Saturday would mean for him and this program. “Just coming in with Covid, and then going out with a 9-1 [season] and an undisputed Ivy League championship, I feel like a lot of guys in my class would feel the same way.”

“For the program as a whole, an unshared Ivy League title is something that we haven’t done since 2015, so it’s been a while since we’ve been able to put one up there,” he continued. “And if we can put one up undisputed, that would be real special.”

Harvard-Yale will kickoff the 139th Harvard-Yale game in New Haven, Conn., at 12:00 p.m. EST. The game will be aired live on ESPNU.

— Staff writer Nadia A. Fairfax can be reached at nadia.fairfax@thecrimson.com.

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