Sunday, November 20, 2011

Crimson Cement Legacy with Complete Victory

by Scott Reed
WHRB Sports
My Opinion

It was all over, as a day, a game, and a season stamped with greatness came to a close - the Harvard Crimson had finished 2011 with a 45-7 drubbing of archrival Yale. If the season was the Crimson's body of work, this was its magnum opus, its greatest performance, the final mark on the page to end its almost-perfect story. After picked by many to finish out of the Ivy League's top spot, Harvard, league title already in hand, left no doubt that it was the best the Ancient Eight had to offer.

Harvard came to New Haven looking for something intangible, something abstract. It had already clinched the Ivy trophy with a 37-20 win over Penn; hardware would not be won at the Yale Bowl. What the Crimson sought was a sense of fulfillment and completion. And of course, a chance to validate its newly-won championship, something head coach Tim Murphy alluded to in a pregame interview: "They may give me an Ivy ring," he said, "but I won't wear it unless we beat Yale." Such is the case with a rivalry.

The rivalry turned into a coronation on Saturday, however, as Harvard would not only beat Yale but would do so convincingly, handing the Bulldogs their worst loss in The Game in 30 years (the Crimson beat Yale by the same score in 1982). It was truly a complete win: Murphy called it the "best balanced, coordinated effort," that he had seen in many years. Offensively, the best scoring unit in the Ivy League delivered, recording 38 points (the final seven came on linebacker Alex Gedeon's interception return for a touchdown). The special teams unit put in its best game of the season - kicker David Mothander scored on a fake field goal, a Yale field goal was blocked, and Jacob Dombrowski punted for a 44 yard average. And the defense, which allowed an early Yale score, responded by shutting out the Bulldogs over the final 52 minutes and even recording a score for themselves on Gedeon's big play.

"Perfection" was how Murphy described the touchdown by Harvard's captain Gedeon, on what would be his final collegiate snap. It was the indeed the perfect way to end 2011, with the team's emotional leader providing an exclamation point to the game and the season.

Perfection also refers to, of course, Harvard's Ivy League record, as the Crimson went 7-0 in conference play for the first time since 2007, and, in this writer's opinion, cemented themselves at the best Harvard team since the undefeated 2004 led by Ryan Fitzpatrick. Unlike that 2004 team, it took some time to become apparent: the opening loss to Holy Cross was cause for concern, and Harvard had to deal with the temporary loss of its starting quarterback, senior Collier Winters. Yet, something about this team stamped it as great. After that Holy Cross loss, Harvard never seemed to be really challenged - its average margin of victory was 23 points, and all of its wins were by double digits. It was a team that appeared unstoppable at times. Perhaps it was the offense, a unit that scored more points than any Crimson team had in the modern era. Harvard scored at least 30 points in each of its final eight games, and at least 40 in five of those eight. Perhaps it was the defense that was simply impenetrable against the run, led by a two of the best defenders in the Ivy league, Gedeon and defensive lineman Josue Ortiz. Perhaps it was the way this team won, often with few turnovers or mental mistakes; being, as Murphy said, "the type of team that doesn't beat themselves."

Whatever it was, this team stamped itself as among the greatest in recent Harvard history. Saturday in New Haven provided the final opportunity for the 2011 Crimson to make its case, and it did so in a way that will last far beyond the fading Connecticut autumn.

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