Harvard takes on its old rival in a brand-new setting: Fenway Park

Harvard Football Captain Zach Miller takes it all in at Fenway Park after he finished giving an interview following a press conference held to preview the 50th anniversary of The Game at Fenway Park.
Harvard captain Zach Miller visited Fenway Park in the spring, but he’ll be suiting up for real Saturday. –Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe, file

It would take special circumstances for Harvard and Yale to have their football rivalry unfold on a neutral field, but that will be the case Saturday when the teams meet for the 135th time, with the game being played at Fenway Park at noon.

“We’re definitely excited to be playing at Fenway Park,’’ said Harvard captain Zach Miller. “The Harvard-Yale rivalry is always really exciting. There’s a lot of intensity around it, but being able to play it at Fenway just increases the intensity and increases the honor.’’

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the famous 1968 game in which Harvard rallied from a 29-13 deficit in the final 42 seconds for a 29-29 tie. Members of both teams will be on hand for the game.

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“It just shows the intensity and the history of this rivalry, and that people don’t forget what happens on this day, so it’s going to be really exciting,’’ said Miller.

And while there will be plenty of excitement because of the atmosphere at Fenway, as well as the celebration of the 1968 game, there’s still the matter of the game to be settled.

“In the end, it’s just a football game,’’ said Miller. “That’s what we’re focusing on. We’re focusing on the X’s and O’s, not really all the pageantry that goes on. It’s really cool to have all that stuff, but in the end, it’s us against them lining up across the ball.’’

Both teams are 5-4 overall, 3-3 in the Ivy League. The Crimson might be playing their best football of the season, having won two in a row, beginning with a 52-18 thrashing of Columbia, followed by an impressive 29-7 win at Penn.

“We talk about it every week, just improving, just trying to play our next game, it has to be our best game,’’ said Miller. “I think we’ve really embraced that the last couple of weeks of the season, and then coming into this Yale week, just striving  to get better every single week, and just focusing on nothing in the past. Every week’s a new challenge.’’

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In the win over Columbia, senior quarterback Tom Stewart threw for a career-high 393 yards and five touchdowns, but he was injured the following week when he was sacked by a pair of Quakers in the second quarter. Jake Smith came off the bench and threw for two touchdowns to lead Harvard to the win.

“Our kids have shown a ton of grit this year, and our game down at Philly was no exception,’’ said Harvard coach Tim Murphy. “We played extremely well.

“It all starts with defense in our program. We held them to 1.8 yards per carry, had four takeaways. We really dominated the line of scrimmage.’’

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The starting quarterback Saturday will be a game-time decision. Whoever is taking the snaps would be wise to keep handing the ball off to Aaron Shampklin, who has rushed for 1,000 yards and nine touchdown on 160 carries. The sophomore from Paramount, Calif., is trying to maintain an even approach this week.

“I’m trying not to put too much on it, just trying to think of it as another game,’’ said Shampklin. “Don’t stress out too much, and just try to get another win.’’

It has been an up-and-down season for Harvard, which had dipped below .500 before winning those last two, but Murphy has been happy with the team’s effort

“Our kids, their resilience and dedication has been phenomenal,’’ said Murphy. “As coaches, it has been a joyful season. We will need that same type of grit and attitude as we go into the Harvard-Yale game. Yale is an extremely talented football team.’’

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While there is plenty of excitement at the prospect of playing at Fenway, it does present challenges. For one thing, the teams will be on the same sideline.

“It is an interesting dynamic, said Murphy. “I remember years ago when I was the offensive coordinator at [Boston University], we played Grambling at Yankee Stadium. It was a phenomenal thing, and an awesome day. The issue will be game management, and figuring out communication, and what the tempo will be and all those other things.’’

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