Last season, it was Holy Cross that scored a dramatic fourth quarter touchdown to take a victory in the opening contest, connecting on a 40-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds remaining to down the Crimson in Worchester.
But this year, the roles were reversed, as Harvard overcame four turnovers to score 19 fourth quarter points and win the game.
That reversal matched a more general change between the two contests, as the Crimson’s defense played decidedly better in a season-opening victory.
“To have what happened last year and to go out there this year and stop them on the potential game-winning drives is very rewarding, and it’s a testament to our heart,” captain Matt Curtis said.
What happened last year was not limited to a last-second score. The Crusaders, led by quarterback Dominic Randolph, racked up 492 yards of offense to go with 31 first downs. Holy Cross scored on four consecutive drives of 65, 83, 82, and 80 yards in the second and third quarters.
“Last year, we not only didn’t stop them, we didn’t even slow them down,” Murphy said last week. “500 plus yards, 30 plus first downs, 30 plus points. Those are statistics you don’t normally attribute to a Harvard defense.”
This year, the Crusaders managed just 309 yards of total offense, and Randolph turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter—both times on third and goal.
The first drive ended after Holy Cross had covered 65 yards when Randolph scrambled to his right and threw into the back of the end zone, only to have it intercepted by sophomore safety Collin Zych, one of three new starters in an untested secondary.
“I tried making a play when I should have just thrown it out of bounds,” Randolph said.
That interception was followed by a critical fumble. Facing third and goal at the Crimson’s one, Randolph rolled out on play action, only to find senior linebacker Eric Schultz staring him in the face.
Schultz drilled Randolph for a sack, forcing a fumble which he then recovered.
In fact, Holy Cross managed just three sustained drives all night—a 76-yard drive that resulted in a second-quarter field goal, a 48-yard touchdown drive after a long kickoff return, and the 65-yard effort that was foiled by Zych’s pick. The other two scoring drives came on short fields after Crimson turnovers. After a Pizzotti interception in the second quarter, the Crusaders went just 18 yards for a touchdown and went 26 yards in the three plays for another six points after recovering sophomore Marco Iannuzzi’s fourth quarter fumble.
For the most part, however, the Crimson’s defense held in admirable fashion, forcing six three-and-outs and holding the Holy Cross rushing attack to just 70 total yards.
“The coaching staff did a great job of putting us in the right position,” Curtis said. “We read our keys, we had a great gameplan going in, and a young secondary got a lot of good experience today probably against the best offense, the best passing offense at least, we’ll face all year.”
That secondary stepped up late after giving up some early yards, including a first-half touchdown pass and another crucial pass interference call that led to a Holy Cross score.
“It’s tough for a young defensive back to forget about a play that they messed up,” senior corner Andrew Berry said. “To see them come out in the second half and play like champions was absolutely wonderful.”
—Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.