Old Battle With a New Twist: Crimson vs. Ailing Crusaders

H. Cross Is No Longer a Powerhouse, But Rivalry Still Intense

Holy Cross has traditionally been a devastating force on the Harvard football team's schedule.

For instance, step into the Joe Restic Memorial Multi-Flexible Time Machine and travel back to October 5, 1991.

Sophomore phenom Mike Giardi had just led the Crimson to a near upset of Division I-A Army and optimism was higher than high tide in the Bay of Fundy.

But the Crusaders knocked Giardi out of the game in the second quarter and a guy named Jerome Fuller rumbled all over the field as the Crusaders won, 28-13 in a game that wasn't even that close.

The year before that Holy Cross demolished Harvard, 35-14. Before that, 31-17. Before that, 35-20. Before that, 41-6. And before that, 41-0.

(The year before that--1985--Harvard topped Holy Cross, 28-20. It was the last time Holy Cross lost to an Ivy League team until Yale pulled a 7-3 upset last week. Last week, you hear).

Despite the lopsided games, the rivalry between the two Bay State Schools has always been intense.

"It's a big game. We've been beaten badly for a long time, and it's our year for revenge," senior linebacker Monte Giese said. "The defense wants to stuff it in their face. The coaches have been telling us how Holy Cross would continue to pass, use screens and run trick plays even if they were up by 20 points."

Holy Cross was so dominating because it was (don't laugh) a very good team. Very good. National championship good, except Holy Cross wouldn't allow its players to play in the post-season playoffs.

This year, things are different. Coaching legend Mark Duffner has left to ride the Division I-A Tulane Green Wave and Holy Cross has stopped awarding athletic scholarships--a combination akin to firing both barrels of a shotgun at the football team. It's hurting. (Exhibit A: Yale.)

Flip Side

The flip side is that the Crusaders are still good. A preseason poll ranked Holy Cross 14th in the nation, a poll which had William and Mary ranked 16th. (Anybody who doesn't remember that game, well, it was close for a while but the Tribe won big).

The Crusaders are 0-3: a 17-7 loss to Army, a 7-3 loss to Massachusetts and a 7-3 loss to Yale. Those numbers illustrate the strength of the Holy Cross team: its defense.

"They have a great defense," Captain Robb Hirsch said. "They have a lot of seniors and returners, and they are tough up front. They are not a team to take lightly."

Here's a cool little number: Holy Cross has allowed just 53 yards per game through the air. It allows 162 yards on the ground. Neither of those numbers smell of weakness.

Giardi is hoping to use the Multi-Flex to full potential to find holes in the seemingly watertight Crusader defense.

"Holy Cross doesn't allow big plays. But if we mix up our offense, we can get opportunities. We had an opportunity last year even though I wasn't in there," the Mather sophomore said.

Even Cooler

But here's an ever cooler number: behind freshman quarterback Andy Fitzpatick, Holy Cross averages only 198 yards per game. What has really hurt is turnovers: 11 of them in three games.

"They actually move the ball well," said senior defensive back James Ellis. "They like to run and throw to their tight end and split end. But they hurt themselves with turnovers."

Fitzgerald is a quarterback in the Giardi mold, looking to run as well as pass. But unlike Giardi, Fitzgerald isn't very good at it. In three games, Fitzgerald is 17-of-44 for 162 yards and four interceptions and averages 1.1 yards per rush.

Having said that, it must be noted that the Harvard defense is showing him respect.

"He leads a balanced attack," Giese said. "He can run. He can pass. He can be dangerous."

But the Holy Cross offense will not move on the pass. It will move on the run, a particularly sensitive area for Harvard. Last week, W&M piled up 170 rushing yards--in the second half.

Last year, Fuller danced all over the Crimson 'D'. This year, Orlando Cepero (86 yards per game) will try to do the same. The key is the Crimson defense and particularly the line. Will fans see a game like Columbia (13 rushing yards total) or the W&M debacle?

"Hey, remember the first half against William and Mary," Giese said. "They tried to stuff it down our throats but it didn't work."

One more thing. Against Holy Cross, then-junior defensive tackle Phil Furse had a big day: nine tackles and a pass break-up. This year, he's on the sidelines with a bad ankle.

Just something to think about.

SPORTS CUBE PREDICTS Jay K. Verma, Sports Editor Harvard  21 Holy Cross  17 Phil P. Pan, Managing Editor Harvard  17 Holy Cross  10 John B. Trainer, Sports Staff Writer Harvard  16 Holy Cross  13 Dante E.A. Ramos, Design Editor Harvard  14 Holy Cross  13