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Iannuzzi’s runback. If you witnessed it, you know. If you didn’t, be advised that Marco Iannuzzi’s 84-yard kick return in the 2010 Harvard-Yale game will stand as another high moment in the fabled series, as memorable as Bob Cochran’s juggling catch in the 1954 game, Mike Lynch’s fluttery field goal in 1975, or Clifton Dawson’s end-zone rush at dusk in the triple-overtime thriller of 2005.

Unlike those late-game heroics, Iannuzzi’s runback came with 30 minutes to play. But it turned the tide of a game that Yale had controlled from the outset, igniting a second-half rally that put the Crimson on top, 28-21. The victory was Harvard’s fourth straight over Yale, and its ninth in the last 10 meetings between the archrivals.

This year the teams met as also-rans. Beset by injuries to key players, Harvard had lost its Ivy League opener to Brown, and had paid dearly for special-teams misplays in a 34-14 loss to league-leading Penn. Yale had lost to Penn by a single touchdown and had defeated its other Ivy opponents.

For two periods at the Stadium on November 20, Yale’s hour seemed to have come round at last. The Blue looked unstoppable. Yale ran twice as many plays as did Harvard, and its aggressive defense held the Crimson to three first downs and 15 yards rushing. Yale had a 14-7 lead at halftime, and seemed certain to widen it.

Harvard’s only score had come late in the first quarter, on a trick play that had quarterback Collier Winters flipping the ball to receiver Adam Chrissis, Chrissis tossing it back to Winters, and Winters throwing a 46-yard pass to Iannuzzi. That set up a short-yardage touchdown by Gino Gordon, the team’s all-Ivy running back.

Iannuzzi was on the field again after breaking a collarbone in the season’s third game. With a four-inch plate screwed to his clavicle, he’d been cleared to play just two days earlier. Resuming his role as the team’s ranking kick-return specialist, he fielded the second-half kickoff at his own 16-yard line, cut toward the Harvard sideline, and ran 84 yards for a touchdown. “All I saw were red jerseys,” he said later. “That’s a good feeling for a kick returner.”

 Iannuzzi’s run dazzled the capacity crowd and pumped up his team. On Yale’s second possession of the half, tackle Josué Ortiz threw Eli quarterback Patrick Witt for a 12-yard loss and then blocked an attempted punt. Harvard took over at Yale’s 23-yard line and scored a go-ahead touchdown six plays later, with Gordon slicing into the end zone from two yards out. In the final quarter, a weak Yale punt allowed Harvard to score again, this time on a 12-yard pass from Winters to receiver Alex Sarkisian. Harvard now led, 28-14.

Ortiz and his defensive linemates repeatedly broke into the Eli backfield, sacking quarterback Witt twice in the first half and four times in the second. Linebacker Nick Hasselberg was in on 20 tackles, tying a Harvard single-game record. Yale’s only second-half score came late in the game, when end Tom McCarthy recovered a fumble inside the Harvard 20-yard line and back Alex Thomas went in for his third short-field touchdown of the afternoon. 

Though Harvard was victorious, the game was statistically one-sided. The Blue led in total offense, 337 yards to 178; controlled the clock for 37 minutes and 42 seconds; and ran 81 plays to Harvard’s 48. “We had to make the most of very few plays,” said head coach Tim Murphy afterward. “It was uphill all day.” He praised Iannuzzi as “the epitome of a difference-maker. They are hard to find, and he made a difference today.” 

Iannuzzi came to Harvard from Calgary, Alberta, and was the team’s senior figure—24 years old and married, with a two-year-old daughter. Quick feet, good hands, and tenacity are his most conspicuous attributes. He applied to Harvard three times before being accepted, and had three surgeries in four years of varsity football. His final season had begun convincingly, with touchdown catches against Holy Cross and Brown, and a 95-yard kickoff runback for a second touchdown at Brown. He bows out as Harvard’s career leader in kickoff returns, averaging 26.5 yards per kickoff. He expects to take his degree in architecture and environmental sciences.

Determined to get into The Game, Iannuzzi arranged for more than 50 Canadian family members and friends to attend. They got their money’s worth.

 

Injuries were endemic in Ivy League football this year, and especially so at quarterback. By midseason, six of the league’s eight teams had lost a starting signal-caller.

Harvard was hard hit. Junior Collier Winters, a second-team all-Ivy quarterback in 2009, tore hip and groin muscles in the squad’s first practice session, and appeared to be lost for the season. He was replaced by senior Andrew Hatch, a transfer from Louisiana State University (see “A Man for One Season,” November-December 2010, page 71). Hatch made his debut in the opener against Holy Cross, completing 20 of 25 passes, three of them for touchdowns, in a 34-6 rout. But a helmet-to-helmet collision at Brown a week later cut short what might have been a scintillating coda to Hatch’s college football career.

The hit occurred on Harvard’s first series of the game, and although Hatch stayed on the field, his play was affected. Harvard fell behind early and Brown prevailed, 29-14. Postgame testing revealed that Hatch had received a concussion.

Watching film to prep for his team’s upcoming game with Harvard, Lafayette coach Frank Tavani was taken aback. “That shot was one of the worst helmet-to-helmet hits I’ve ever seen on videotape,” Tavani would say later. “I ran it back maybe 20 times. I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a penalty—and I couldn’t believe he got up.”

Sophomore Colton Chapple took over for Hatch and did creditably, directing the offense in one-sided victories over Lafayette and Cornell. But the injury list was growing. Three games into the season, Harvard had lost Iannuzzi, senior receiver Chris Lorditch, and three starters from the defensive secondary. “There’s no moaning about it, there’s no use even discussing it,” said coach Murphy. “[Others] are going to step up, and we’re going to find out what we’re made of.”

Chapple’s third start was a 21-19 loss to Lehigh, the eventual Patriot League champion. With high winds gusting through the Stadium, a 17-0 lead went by the board as the Mountain Hawks scored three passing touchdowns in the third period.

Hatch received medical clearance to start at Princeton a week later, but he was sometimes out of sync with his receivers and was intercepted twice in the first half. With Harvard holding an uncertain 21-14 lead, coach Murphy made a surprise move and sent Winters out to start the second half.

Working intensively with the team’s trainers, Winters had made an unexpectedly quick recovery, and he came through with two touchdown passes—one of them on his first throw of the day—as Harvard struck back with 24 points to defeat the win-hungry Tigers, 45-28. Hatch, who had also suffered a concussion at LSU, was not cleared to play again after the Princeton game.

The return of Winters lifted the team. “He basically willed himself back to the playing field,” Murphy would tell the Boston Globe. “He was rusty against Princeton, but against Dartmouth [the next weekend] he really increased our synchronicity, tempo, and just our overall confidence as an offensive football team.” Winters played the entire game at Dartmouth, scoring twice on short-yardage keeper plays and throwing a touchdown pass in a solid 30-14 victory. 

A 23-7 win over Columbia, with Winters hitting on 25 of 38 pass attempts, gave Harvard a clean sweep against the Ivy League’s second-tier teams. But a Penn squad that would finish unbeaten in league play presented a stiffer challenge, and hopes of forcing a share of the Ivy title expired at Franklin Field on November 13. Misplays by the Crimson’s punting and field-goal units helped Penn to a 17-point lead, and two third-period touchdowns on consecutive possessions put the game out of reach. Harvard was unable to score until the fourth quarter, when Winters and senior receiver Mike Cook connected on a 31-yard pass that Cook wrestled away from a Penn defender. The kick-return team could have used Iannuzzi in this one: Penn’s outpouring of points in a 34-14 runaway had the Quakers kicking off seven times.

Penn dispatched Cornell, 31-7, a week later, to win the Ivy title outright for the second straight year. Harvard (5-2 Ivy, 7-3 overall) tied with Yale (5-2, 7-3) and Brown (5-2, 6-4) for second place in the league standings.

 

Tidbits: Harvard leads Yale, 30-24-1, in games played since the formalization of Ivy League play in 1956. The Blue’s only success of the past decade was a 34-13 win at the Stadium in 2006.…The seniors on the 2010 team were the first in Harvard annals to defeat Yale, Princeton, and Dartmouth over a four-year stretch.

First things first: One senior was late to The Game. Baltazar (Zar) Zavala, a reserve receiver from El Paso, Texas, had gone to Houston for a Rhodes Scholarship interview. He took an early-morning flight back to Boston, reached the field at halftime, and found out after the game that he was one of four Harvard Rhodes-winners (see Brevia). An engineering sciences and neurobiology concentrator, Zavala will study neuroscience at Oxford.

GG: Senior Gino Gordon, the team’s top ground-gainer, ran for more than 100 yards in six of the team’s games, scored a 74-yard touchdown at Lafayette, and had a 204-yard day at Princeton. He rushed for 1,059 yards and 10 touchdowns, and received the Crocker Award as the team’s most valuable player. His career average of 5.3 yards per carry is Harvard’s all-time best.…Yale held Gordon to 36 yards, but couldn’t keep him out of the end zone: he scored both the team’s rushing touchdowns. He left the game after a helmet-to-helmet hit in the final quarter.

Strong arm: Quarterback Collier Winters was spot-on in the Yale game, completing 13 of 16 pass attempts for 124 yards and a touchdown. In the five games he played, Winters had a completion rate of 61 percent, tops among Ivy passers. 

For the record: Until Marco Iannuzzi did it, no Harvard player had returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in a single season.…A blocked-punt touchdown at Princeton was the Crimson’s first since 1992.…Harvard hasn’t lost at Dartmouth’s Memorial Field since 1993.

GWTW: High winds were a factor in Lehigh’s 21-19 win at the Stadium. The Mountain Hawks scored the winning touchdown after a Harvard punt got caught in the jet stream, took a Lehigh bounce after falling to earth, and rolled back to the line of scrimmage.

All-Ivies: Three Harvard players—running back Gino Gordon, tackle Josué Ortiz ’12, and defensive back and captain Collin Zych ’11—made first-team all-Ivy. Ortiz led the league in quarterback sacks and tackles for loss, while Zych tied for the team lead in tackles with 79. Gordon and Zych were first-team selections in 2009.…Linebacker Alex Gedeon, of Hudson, Ohio, and Lowell House, will captain next fall’s team. He made 49 tackles in 2010, and was one of eight Crimson players named to the all-Ivy second team.

Attendance records: Paul I. Lee ’46, on hand for his sixty-eighth Harvard-Yale game, was presented with a replica of the Little Red Flag. From 1950 to 2000, the original flag went to the alumnus who had seen the most Yale games. The custom lapsed, but a self-appointed committee led by Spencer Ervin ’54 has resurrected it (see “Football Flag,” November-December 2010, page 6).…Yale was the four-hundredth consecutive home game at the Stadium for John H. Norton, a Concord, Massachusetts, resident who attended Dean College. He saw his first one, a 13-0 defeat of Amherst in October 1940, as a toddler. Norton has viewed games not only as a spectator but also as an usher, program-seller, spotter, and statistician. He still keeps archival records of each season.

…and counting: Tim Murphy is now 12-5 against Yale. No previous Harvard coach has posted more than 10 wins over the Eli.

Final Ivy League Standings

Ivy and overall records / Points for/against

Penn 7-0 9-1 290 145
Harvard 5-2 7-3 273 187
Yale 5-2 7-3 224 211
Brown 5-2 6-4 247 210
Dartmouth 3-4 6-4 264 212
Columbia 2-5 4-6 222 228
Cornell 1-6 2-8 124 274
Princeton 0-7 1-9 165 334

The 2010 Football Season

Holy Cross W 34-6
at Brown L 14-29
at Lafayette W 35-10
Cornell W 31-17
Lehigh L 19-21
at Princeton W 45-28
at Dartmouth W 42-21
Columbia W 23-7
at Penn L 14-34
Yale W 28-21