After last season, Harvard coach Tim Murphy had a simple message to his team: learn how to dominate up front, and the rest will come.
His vision came to fruition in Saturday's 45-27 win over Yale in front of a sold-out Fenway Park crowd of 34,675.
With the win, Harvard finishes its season at 6-4 overall and 4-3 in the Ivy League, while Yale drops to 5-5 and 3-4. A year ago, Yale won The Game to clinch the league crown and hand the Crimson a .500 record.
But in the 135th installment, Harvard was able to pull away in a fashion that made Murphy proud.
"This was trench warfare today, no question about it," Murphy said. "I remember our first team meeting post-Christmas in January, 6 a.m. in the locker room. I said, 'Fellas, we've got to become a bigger, stronger, tougher, more physical football team.' Part of that is physical. Part of that is mental. The month of November was the epitome of that. We got stronger as the season wore on mentally and physically. It really was a great November for this particular Harvard football team."
It was, as the Crimson beat Columbia, Penn, and then Yale to complete the perfect month. And Murphy will get no argument from Yale coach Tony Reno on why the game unfolded as it did.
"I thought they took the game over in the fourth quarter. They really did," Reno said. "From a big picture point of view, I really thought their seniors did a nice job of pushing up front and really taking over the game. It was a great ballgame until that point, and we are a very young team. We really showed it in the fourth quarter with our lack of strength and our inability to get off the field on defense."
Indeed, it felt like the game could go either way when Yale's Alex Galland kicked a 25-yard field goal to pull the Bulldogs to within 28-27 with 14:27 to play.
But in a game that saw the teams combine for the most points in the history of The Game, only one team kept up that torrid pace.
On its next drive, Harvard increased its lead on a 36-yard Jake McIntyre field goal, but its defense, which had trouble coming up with stops all day, forced a three-and-out.
It only took Harvard four rushes, three from Devin Darrington (91 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries), to move 45 yards. The sophomore back plowed in from 4 yards out with 7:59 to go to help push the lead to 38-27.
The Crimson forced another three-and-out, and again it was the ground game that did the damage. The seven-play, 56-yard drive featured all runs, as Darrington finished it off from 16 yards out.
Unfortunately, on the play before the touchdown, Harvard quarterback Tom Stewart left the game on a stretcher from an apparent right leg injury.
But the Crimson were in cruise control at that point, as they finished the game with 266 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 40 carries. Stewart also had a big day, completing 18-of-27 passes for 312 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception.
One huge facet of Harvard's offense was its use of the jet sweep. It worked for a 62-yard Tyler Adams score in the second quarter, and many of the sizable gains by running backs came with the jet motion as a decoy.
"I think the bottom line is (Yale's) defense is very aggressive," Murphy said. "They've got a lot of great athletes, and you try to make them play as much assignment football as you can, rather than attack football. If you can create the diversion of, 'OK, is it going to be quarterback? Is it going to be pitch? Or is it going to be the running back?' There is a little bit of three dimensions to it that make it more challenging to play downhill, to blitz you, and attack, and it certainly helped us out a little bit today."
But even with two scoring tosses from Stewart to Henry Taylor in the first half, Yale only trailed, 21-14, at the half. The Bulldogs then took a 24-21 lead in the third quarter following a 1-yard Griffin O'Connor sneak and 32-yard Galland field goal.
The Crimson retook the lead on a 15-yard connection from Stewart to Jack Cook, but the lead didn't seem safe.
That was, of course, until the Harvard linemen took control on both sides of the ball.
"I think the key to that has just been sticking together, and really grinding it out and trusting each other, trusting our abilities," Harvard offensive lineman Larry Allen Jr. said. "I think today was another time when I think we really did that. I think it made all the difference, and I couldn't be happier that we were able to."