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Viewpoint Hand it to Harvard: They made their point

November 18, 2018

BOSTON — There was a moment with 11 minutes left in this game when Devin Darrington pointed a finger at Yale, and history looked as if it might point its finger back at the Harvard sophomore running back.

At first blush it seemed like a punitive call. A call for sportsmanship gone a little awry. Yet there it was. As the recording of “Sweet Caroline” ended, the fans picked up the lyrics, “Hands, touching hands.” Only none of Yale’s hands touched Darrington as he raced 27 yards for the touchdown that would have blown open a double-digit lead.

About 6 yards before the goal line, however, Darrington turned and wagged a finger at the Yale defenders. Social media went nuts. Did he actually flip the bird at Yale defensive back Rodney Thomas II and the Bulldogs? Or was it his index finger? Either way, Darrington was called for taunting. No touchdown; instead there was a 15-yard penalty. Harvard settled for a Jake McIntyre field goal and only a four-point lead. Yale was in it.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said.

The 135th meeting between these two ancient rivals, the 50th anniversary of the legendary 29-29 tie, had gone back and forth most of the afternoon. With Fenway Park serving as the backdrop for the first time in a series that dates to 1894 and the Grover Cleveland administration, yes, this Saturday had all the earmarks of something weird, wonderful and unforgettable happening.

Would this be The Finger Game? Or at least The Finger-Wag Game? Would this be the most unforgettable hand gesture at Fenway Park since Carlton Fisk waved that ball fair down the left-field line in the 1975 World Series?

Nope.

The Yale defense couldn’t stop anyone when it mattered. As immature as Darrington was, the Yale defense was too young, too immature to handle Harvard’s older, stronger players as the final 11 minutes elapsed. Darrington would gash off a series of runs on Harvard’s next possession that ended with his 4-yard touchdown. And one play after quarterback Tom Stewart slid his way into a right hip injury on the iffy Fenway turf, Darrington broke off a 16-yard touchdown run to seal the Harvard victory.

Was it the bird? Or not? I watched the replay a bunch of times. He had gloves on and I can’t say for sure. Darrington wasn’t available to the media afterward. Say this much: Whatever finger he stuck up was the wrong one for his coach.

“The bottom line was (Darrington) was wrong,” Murphy said. “It’s that simple. It’s the right call. I’m just so grateful to our team he didn’t have to learn that lesson the absolute hard way of having to live with that for a year, or however many years.

“He’s a great kid. He’s going to be an outstanding football player. He’s tough as nails, but he was wrong. He got overwhelmed by the moment and did something that wasn’t particularly classy. That’s not what we do. That’s not who he is.”

There would be no 16 unanswered points in 42 seconds by Yale like in 1968. Yes, players from both teams would take part in the coin flip in 50-year celebration, but there would be no unforgettable “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29” headline. On a day when both sides talked about the historic nature of Fenway Park, there would be no historic finish.

Instead there would be this: Harvard 45, Yale 27.

There would be this: Harvard’s 579 total offensive yards would be its most in the history of The Game, and its point total would match its highest.

“The game got into a tight spot into the third quarter and into the fourth,” Yale coach Tony Reno said. “I thought they took over the game in the fourth quarter. They really did. Their seniors did a really nice job especially up front in taking control of the game. It was a great ballgame until that point.

“We are a very young team and we really showed it in the fourth quarter with our lack of strength and inability to get off the field on defense and our inability to make the play we needed to in the pass game. We had opportunities to match the score and didn’t get things done. We showed our youth there.”

Last year, Yale captured its first outright Ivy League title since 1980. It was a memorable season. This season was not.

Yale was picked in the preseason media poll to defend its title. Instead, the Bulldogs would finish with a 3-4 league record and 5-5 overall mark.

In some ways this was The Game To Decide Mediocrity. Yale won that much.

A lot of things did not go right for Reno this year. Zane Dudek, who ran for 1,133 yards last year as a freshman, fought a turf toe throughout the season. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings was lost for the season in the Penn game with multiple leg fractures. And the defense, brilliant in 2017, graduated a slew of players and was later hit by some injuries, too. Yale also lost its captain, Kyle Mullen.

Although he had been gone for some time, Yale didn’t announce the senior defensive lineman had left the team “for personal reasons” until late in August. In citing two sources, the Yale Daily News reported this past week that Mullen had withdrawn from the school amid a pending investigation by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct of an allegation that he committed “sexual penetration without consent.”

That’s a difficult thing to write about in a season-ending game column. But when a school gives zero indication of what Mullen had done and the facts don’t emerge until days before The Game, well, facts happen.

“We’re coming off a championship season and we’re excited to continue moving forward in the offseason with a young team,” Reno said.

“There were points in the season where we were able to do some things positively and have a couple of nice wins. We lost Kurt in the Penn game and things kind of changed for us. We knew we were really young on the defensive side of the ball and he kind of made things disappear in a way.”

On this day, freshman Griffin O’Connor threw for 328 yards on 23-for-48 passing with one touchdown pass and two interceptions. In the closing weeks he showed how good he can be in the coming years. Reno gave Rawlings a bunch of credit for helping to guide O’Connor, too.

Yet in the end, there was only a finger to point.

And that was at the Yale defense that couldn’t stop Harvard.

jeff.jacobs

@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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