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On This Date in Sports November 23, 1968: Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

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Harvard beats Yale 29-29 so read the headline in the “Harvard Crimson” as they famous rivalry game ends in a tie. Both teams entered the game 8-0 on the season, as Yale came in with a 16-game winning streak. The game appeared to be going to Yale again as they led 29-13 late before Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to force the tie.

Older than the Declaration of Independence Yale University with its campus in New Haven, Connecticut and Harvard University located on outskirts of Boston are perhaps two most prestigious colleges in the United States, with several former Presidents among the alumni of both institutions. With their close proximity the two were natural rivals, and in 1875 they met on the football gridiron for the first time. The heart of the Ivy League, the two teams met nearly every year since and have staged some of the most memorable games in College Football.

The 1968 matchup was among the most anticipated matchups in the history of the series as both teams were unbeaten at 8-0 with the Ivy League title on the line. The Bulldogs of Yale coached by Carmen Cozza had a 16-game winning streak on the line. Harvard led by John Yovicsin was nearly as good with a top-ranked defense, nicknamed the Boston Stranglers. Harvard also had a future Academy Award winner on their offensive line named, Tommy Lee Jones. They were looking to avenge a 24-20 loss in the 1967 Game in New Haven and had the advantage of playing the game at home.

Early on it was all Yale, as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 22-0 lead thanks to star quarterback Brian Dowling and running back Calvin Hill. After Yovicisin benched quarterback George Lalich in favor of Frank Champi. The Harvard defense did an excellent job keeping the team in the game as they forced seven turnovers. The Crimson meanwhile, clawed their way back into the game and trailed 22-13 at the start of the fourth quarter. With a touchdown scramble by Dowling, the Bulldogs again began to pull away at 29-13 and had a chance to seal the win when Bob Levin fumbled with three minutes left deep in Harvard territory to give the Crimson new life. Still down 29-13 it was a longshot for Harvard as Yale began to send it is reserves in the final minutes. With 42 seconds left the Crimson opened the door as Champi connected with Bruce Freeman on a touchdown, adding a two-point conversion to make the score 29-21. The miracle remained alive as Ken Thomas executed the on-side-kick to perfection, with Bill Kelly recovering after it bounced of Yale’s Brad Lee. Harvard took the possession and scored as time expired with Frank Champi finding Vic Gatto in the end zone. Still needing another two-point conversion Champi connected with Pete Varney to complete the comeback. It was the eighth time that Yale and Harvard finished with a tied score. There has not been a tie since, and with the new overtime rules, there will never be another tie.

Due to the tie, Yale and Harvard had to share the Ivy League title, as there was no tiebreak, though as the Harvard Crimson declared, Harvard felt like the winner even though the game ended in a 29-29 tie.