Harvard scores late to beat Yale for 8th straight time in The Game, 31-24
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- The 131st edition of The Game will be remembered by The Finish.
Conner Hempel threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Fischer with 55 seconds to play and Harvard beat Yale 31-24 to capture the Ivy League title outright after blowing a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead on Saturday.
Harvard won for the eighth straight year over their longtime rivals, the first time either school has won eight consecutive games in the series since the 1880s.
But it ended with a wild final quarter.
"I've been involved in 21 of these and you think you've seen it all and then you haven't," Harvard coach Tim Murphy said after his team beat Yale for the 13th time in 14 years.
After seeing the big lead wiped out quickly, Harvard took over at its own 22 and marched into Yale territory before Hempel found Fischer for the game-winner.
"I had full confidence in Fisch that he was going to beat his man and come down with the ball," Hempel said. "I knew I was going to him right when the play was called. I'll never forget telling our running back to make his block because this is going to be the play that's going to win it."
But the Crimson had to hang on when Yale moved into Harvard territory before Scott Peters picked off a pass at the 15 to seal it.
"That will always be in the memory," Fischer said of his game-winning catch. "There was no doubt in our minds we could go out there and execute. It will be very memorable. I will always remember that."
Paul Stanton Jr. also had a 1-yard TD run for the Crimson (10-0, 7-0 Ivy), who finished off their 17th undefeated season with their 14th consecutive victory.
"Each season, anytime you win a championship or anytime you beat Yale it's very special, but I don't think it'll get more exciting than this one," Murphy said. "Way too exciting."
Tyler Varga rushed for two TDs and caught another for Yale (8-2, 5-2), which was seeking a share of the Ivy crown. It would have been the 14th in school history.
"The last time I sat here we were 2-8," Yale coach Tony Reno said of his team's season. "There was growth. Today we were playing for the league championship. These guys next to me did a good job of moving Yale football back to where it belongs - and that's playing for league championships."
Connor Sheehan returned an interception 90 yards for a TD, Hempel threw a 40-yard scoring pass as Harvard opened a 24-7 lead late in the third. Yale came back with three fourth-quarter scores, tying it on Kyle Cazzetta's 33-yard field goal with just under 4 minutes to play.
After Sheehan pulled the ball away from receiver Robert Clemens in front of Yale's sideline and raced down for the score with 6 seconds to play in the third, the Bulldogs answered with a quick scoring drive, capped by Varga's second scoring run of the game. The Bulldogs scored again on their next possession when Morgan Roberts hit Varga with a 7-yard TD pass, slicing it to 24-21 with 8:21 to play.
Yale won eight consecutive matchups with Harvard from 1880-89 (the schools didn't play every year back then).
Hempel had hit Fischer with the 40-yard toss late in the third quarter. Fischer, looking back into the sun near the 5-yard line, reached over a Yale defensive back to make the grab before stumbling into the end zone to make it 17-7.
Trailing 7-3, Harvard took the second half kickoff and marched 58 yards, taking the lead on Stanton Jr.'s 1-yard scoring run.
On a cold and windy day in the nation's oldest stadium - Harvard Stadium, which was built in 1903 - the Crimson went to the locker room behind after a half that was highlighted by a couple of their missed opportunities.
There was added pregame buzz to college football's oldest rivalry with ESPN's College GameDay visiting for the first time.