For the second time in two years, the Harvard football team will head into week three of the season protecting an undefeated record. The streak will be tested against Holy Cross this Saturday as the Crimson (2-0) will travel to Worchester to take on the Crusaders (2-3) in the 67th meeting of the two programs.
Harvard enters the contest with a three game losing streak at Fitton Field and looks to end that drought in Saturday’s match up.
Although last year’s game was a blow out, seeing Harvard take the victory by a score of 52-3, Crimson coach Tim Murphy does not plan to take this year’s meeting lightly.
“[Winning the game] is going to be really hard,” Murphy said. “They will be, as the players like to say, ’geeked up to play.’ It’s homecoming, they are coming off a big win, they found a great young freshman quarterback, and they have been eating crow for a year over that last game.”
Holy Cross’s 31-28 upset over Dartmouth last weekend emphasized the fact that the Patriot League foe is not to be taken lightly. With 525 yards of total offense, 290 of them coming from the arm of freshman quarterback Peter Pujals, the Crusaders offense proved that it is a force to be reckoned with for Ivy League opponents. Since being called upon to take the majority of the snaps for the Crusaders, Pujals has a combined 419 passing yards, four touchdowns, one interception and completed 66 percent of his passes.
“[Pujals] has given the team a lot of momentum and a lot of swag,” Murphy said. “They really believe in this kid, and for a freshman quarterback to be able to have that much leadership impact and that much production impact is really impressive.”
Despite the fact that the Crusaders offense has improved immensely over the last year, the defensive strategy for this Saturday’s contest has not been significantly changed.
“Something that we have always tried to do is get turnovers, try to win three downs, and get our offense on the field,” said junior defensive end Zach Hodges. “It’s just doing the little things. If we do the little things everything else will work out.”
“They run a lot of option type things and therefore you have to be very assignment oriented,” added Murphy. “It’s not just about an attack type of defense because it’s hard to pressure.”
Last week, although the Crimson allowed Brown to rack up 427 yards of total offense, the Harvard defense shut the door in the second half as the team cruised to a 41-23 victory. Harvard stayed true to its emphasis of forcing turnovers by pressuring Bears quarterback Patrick Donnelly to throw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by senior defensive back Jaron Wilson. The defense also forced two fumbles, recovering one of them.
On the offensive side of the ball for Crimson, junior quarterback Conner Hempel continued to prove that he belongs in the starting spot with 269 passing yards in the win against Brown after being called upon to take leadership of the offense this season.
“I think everything that I have been working on over the off season [will help us win]: getting us in the right place, making sure I know the different protection checks, checking in and out of run plays,” Hempel said.
To maintain its undefeated record, the Crimson will need to come out of the gates eager to score, as the team fell behind Brown 13-0 in the first quarter of last weekend’s game. In the opening game of the year against San Diego, Harvard struggled to put points on the board early, scoring 21 of its 42 points in the fourth quarter.
“We clearly have played better in the second quarter. Thankfully we have been a very good finishing team thus far,” Murphy said.
Harvard’s offense will face additional adversity in its running game as the team will try to fill the void left by sophomore running back Zach Boden, who exited last weekend’s game with a knee injury and was replaced by sophomore Andrew Casten. While sophomore Paul Stanton took on the majority of the workload and scored two touchdowns, Casten finished the game with 45 yards rushing on just eight carries.
“Zach’s a proven commodity who is clearly going to be out for a while but Paul has more than picked up the slack.... He’s a multi-dimensional kid who has speed, can be a good inside physical runner, and can do a good job in the pass game,” Murphy said.
Above all, Harvard is going into the game prepared to go all in for every point.
“We’ve worked hard and we’re training hard trying to build off of the momentum we’ve gotten from the past two weeks,” Hodges said. “We like a fight so we’ll take it any way we can get it.”
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