After a 45-31 victory over Brown last Saturday, the Harvard football team extended its winning streak to 11 games, the longest in the Football Championship Series.
On Friday night under the lights at Harvard Stadium, the Crimson will look to push that streak to 12 against the team that it last fell to, the Holy Cross Crusaders.
“Being in front of the home crowd is an unreal atmosphere. We’re excited, ready to go and keep the streak alive,” said senior running back Treavor Scales.
When the two teams squared off last season, the Crusaders (0-3) outplayed Harvard (2-0, 1-0 Ivy), capitalizing on Crimson turnovers and scoring 27 straight points en route to a 30-22 win.
This year, Harvard enters the annual contest against Holy Cross as the favorite. In its past two games, the Crusaders have faltered in the fourth quarter in losses to Brown and Dartmouth.
On Sept. 15, Bears quarterback Patrick Donnelly lifted his team from an 11-point deficit in the fourth with 75- and 84-yard touchdown drives. A week later, Dartmouth kicker Riley Lyons sealed the Crusaders’ defeat with a 31-yard field goal in the last second of the game.
Holy Cross’ recent inability to hold onto a lead late into the game forms a stark contrast with a Harvard offense that has been dominant in the final minutes. The Crimson has had a combined six touchdowns in the fourth quarters of its games against Brown and the University of San Diego, four of which came from Scales.
“The fourth quarter is a special thing for me, apparently…. We just find another gear as an offense,” Scales said. “We realize that it’s our last chance to put up points on the board, so we try to take advantage of it.”
Scales, who in each of the past two weeks has won at least a share of the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week accolade, has been a powerhouse thus far. Averaging 154.5 rushing yards through two games, he has played an integral role in the success of the Harvard offense, as has senior quarterback Colton Chapple, who passed for 351 yards last week.
And for the second straight week, Scales and the Crimson will line up against a strong opposing defensive line.
“They are a much improved defensive team from a year ago,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “They are a team that’s been on the field a good deal because their offense hasn’t generated a lot of points or yardage.”
Senior linebacker Roman SanDoval leads the Crusaders defensively. SanDoval has a team-best 32 total tackles this season, including three tackles for loss and one sack.
Up front on the line, junior defensive ends Gary Acquah and Mike Tucker have posted 19 and six tackles this season, respectively. Acquah, who was the top defensive lineman for the Crusaders with 40 tackles last season, made six tackles in the game against Dartmouth and is expected to be a force this weekend.
“Nobody’s blocked him yet; nobody’s come close to blocking him yet,” Murphy said.
“The front seven is definitely something that we’ve focused on.... Making sure that everyone up front is blocked is a priority,” Scales added. “We’re looking to do the same things that we’re always doing: just taking what the defense gives us, whether it be spreading out, throwing the ball, or running the ball down the field.”
Offensively, the Crusaders have struggled, averaging 16 points per contest, and neither its running game nor its passing attack has gained much traction. After the graduation of long-time starting quarterback from a year ago in addition to the loss of this year’s starter, Kevin Watson, sophomore Ryan Laughlin has been forced to step in. In his debut, Laughlin completed 21 of his 30 passes for just 106 yards in the team’s loss to Dartmouth.
Senior Gerald Mistretta and junior Mike Fess lead the team’s receiving corps, having combined for 35 receptions and 289 receiving yards between the two.
Though the Crimson enters the contest favored, the team acknowledges the challenge ahead against a Crusaders squad which has come away with close defeats in each of its past two games.
“Regardless of their record, you know you see it on paper, but you really look into it with the stats…how they lost those two games,” Scales said. “You know that you’re expecting a tough team.”