Holy Cross students were on fall break this week, but the football team surely did not take any time off.
Using contributions from all over the field, the Crusaders (3-4, 1-1 Patriot) emerged victorious over Harvard, 27-17, at Fitton Field in Worcester, Mass. The Crimson (4-1, 2-0 Ivy) had won its last 16 non-conference games and also its last 16 road games, but this loss snapped both of those winning streaks.
The absences of senior quarterback Joe Viviano, junior running back Semar Smith, and sophomore wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley upset Harvard’s rhythm, and the offense looked significantly less comfortable than it had in the previous four games.
“You want me to start counting how many starters we have out on defense?” Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore said. “No sympathy for the other team there. Listen, we have a lot more starters and players out right now than they did. That just doesn’t hold water with me.”
Sophomore quarterback Tom Stewart got the start in lieu of Viviano, and he fumbled three times, two of which were recovered by Holy Cross. The Crusaders sacked the Dallas, Texas native six times, and he threw an interception late in the fourth quarter which ultimately secured the game for Holy Cross.
“We just didn’t get a chance to execute our whole offense and get a good momentum going,” Firkser said. “It wasn’t necessarily any different with Tom in.”
Late in the first quarter, senior linebacker Kyle Young hit a scrambling Stewart near the goal line. The ball popped out of Stewart’s hands, and junior linebacker Brett Laurie dove on it in the end zone to take a 21-7 lead.
A penalty on the kickoff prior to this play was integral in the Crusaders’ touchdown. Sophomore Alex LaPolice returned the kick to the 23, but a block in the back moved the Crimson to its own 12 yard line. This penalty, like the four other infractions that Harvard incurred, led to a momentous play and a missed scoring opportunity.
However, receivers Joey Foster (senior) and Brian Dunlap (sophomore) did their best to overcome these penalties, not to mention the absence of Shelton-Mosley. Foster and Dunlap combined for 121 receiving yards, and stalwart senior tight end Anthony Firkser added another 72.
Despite the relative effectiveness of the aerial attack, Harvard’s ground game was largely ineffective all day, and the Crimson only accumulated 26 net rushing yards.
Smith, who had averaged 84.8 yards per game, was supplanted in the backfield by sophomore Noah Reimers and freshman Lavance Northington on Saturday.
While Reimers did score a crucial first quarter touchdown that gave the Crimson its only lead of the day, both backs were unable to consistently break through Holy Cross’ defensive line.
Harvard owned the best third-down conversion percentage of any FCS team heading into Saturday’s contest (58 percent), but the Crimson only picked up first downs on four of 15 third downs against the Crusaders. Harvard often failed to get within scoring range and concluded many drives with forced or unforced turnovers.
“We didn’t control the line of scrimmage enough,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy said. “We weren’t really consistently moving the ball and put too much pressure on our defense.