To be the best, you have to beat the best. For the first time this season, Harvard (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) will face a better-ranked team in the National Football Championship Series (FCS) rankings when they travel to Worcester, Mass. to play Holy Cross (3-1, 0-0 League of Patriots). Holy Cross, after a 45-15 win over No.19 / 20 Monmouth last week in West Long Branch, NJ, moved up to No.24 / RV ahead of Saturday’s game, which will be played at Crusaders’ Fitton Field at 1:30 a.m.
Holy Cross’s victory over Monmouth marked their second victory over the Hawks in school history and just Monmouth’s second loss at their new home stadium, Kessler Stadium, which opened in 2017. Defensively , the Crusaders have been successful both in the air and on the court. rushing against Monmouth, limiting them to 121 rushing yards on 36 attempts (3.4 yards per carry) and intercepting quarterback Tony Muskett while keeping him to just 133 yards and one touchdown on 16/27 passes. Meanwhile, their offense went smoothly and efficiently, with sophomore quarterbacks Marco Siderman and Matthew Sluka and junior punter Patrick Haughney combining 308 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Their rushed offense, led by senior Peter Oliver (10 carries for 64 yards), racked up 199 yards on 32 attempts (6.2 ypc). Holy Cross will surely hope to maintain some of its momentum against the Crimson.
But Harvard is coming off an equally impressive victory over Ivy League rival Brown and currently sits number one in the Ivy League. In his 49-17 victory at Harvard Stadium on September 24, the Crimson limited the Bears to just 14 rushing yards on 26 attempts (0.5 YPC), and, although he did allow the quarterback in the 2019 All-Ivy first team EJ Perry to pass for 346 yards, sophomore defensive back Khalil Dawsey returned one of his passes for 77 yards to set up a touchdown. On the offensive end of the ball, sophomore quarterback Charlie Dean looks to continue his strong play from last Friday’s game, when he completed 14 of 24 passes for 156 yards and a trick-play score on one pass. from 44 yards to junior wide receiver Kym Wimberley.
After running for 335 yards against Georgetown, the Harvard offense once again relied on its talented trio of running backs, with sophomores Aidan Borguet and Sone Ntoh and junior Aaron Shampklin combining for 189 of 243 yards. Crimson ground in victory. Shampklin was particularly effective; after contributing 121 yards in his 13 carries against Brown, he leads the country with 152 yards per game and 11.26 yards per carry. Overall, Harvard’s rushing offense is ranked second in FCS, with 289 yards per game. Only the perennial powerhouse of North Dakota state rushed for more, as the Bison are averaging 348.3 yards per game over three games.
“Number one is the [offensive line]. They did a great job up front, opening some holes. They make our life easier, ”Borguet explained. “And finally, I think it’s our fellowship in the room. We all love each other. We all wish each other the best. There is no selfishness. We see each other in the game and we root for each other. So I just think this whole collective between us is something we’re all proud of and something that we look forward to on game day.
Borguet has fond memories of his last match against Holy Cross, a 31-21 win at Worcester on October 19, 2019, when he turned his 14 runs to 75 yards (5.4 YPC) in a first season. which saw him win the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award. In fact, the whole organization does it; overall, in their 71 meetings on the grill since 1904, Harvard holds a 44-25-2 record. The Crimsons have emerged victorious in 7 of their last 10 games against Holy Cross, including a 52-3 loss in 2012.
However, this is a new, now nationally-ranked Crusaders squad, and recent history doesn’t matter as Harvard prepares for Saturday’s game. First-year defensive lineman Thor Griffith said that in practice the defense watched a movie and prepared for specific play calls. Griffith predicted that the physicality of Holy Cross’s offensive line would prove to be the biggest challenge his defense has faced so far this season.
“As a defense we looked for the pattern of Holy Cross and just got to recognize the games and their different formations and what we’re going to do from their lineups,” he explained. “It’s a pretty standard attack, but their O-line: they’re big, they’re strong, they’re going to be the best O-line we’ve had to deal with so far, so it’s going to be a challenge, but I think we can handle it.
Despite praise for the offensive line, he later noted that Holy Cross head coach Bob Chesney and offensive coordinator Justin Roper rarely called for double teams, allowing their offensive linemen to come face to face. to a Harvard defender, an opportunity he hoped to take advantage of.
Another unique feature of the Crusaders offense is that it features a double quarterback threat, with Siderman and Sluka contributing against Monmouth. Each quarterback attempted 15 passes – Siderman contributed 181 yards and two touchdowns, while Sluka added 86 yards and one score. Plus, while they’ve both struggled on the ground against Monmouth, every quarterback is mobile. Siderman racked up 426 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns as a high school student at Westlake in Thousand Oaks, Calif., While Sluka actually led Holy Cross in his Patriot League Rookie of the Year campaign in 2021, totaling 268 yards and four touchdowns in four games this shortened season. The preferred quarterback target is senior wide receiver Tenio Ayeni, who was an All-Patriot League second in 2019.
Holy Cross has the 25th strongest rushing attack in the FCS, averaging 188.5 rushing yards per game. Oliver, his senior running back, was named to the All-Patriot League second team in the spring of 2021, racking up 226 yards on 32 carries, good for 7.1 yards per carry. He shared his second team candidacy with teammate Tyler Purdy, who also contributed to special teams. If they are to maintain their good form against Harvard, however, they will face an equally formidable opponent.
Griffith and Harvard’s strong defensive line allowed just 20 total rushing yards in both games, the FCS’s second smallest to date, behind Ivy League rival Princeton, who failed yielded net yards on the ground. Outstanding junior linebacker Chris Smith leads the nation in forced fumbles per game (1.0) after hitting two against Brown, and overall the Crimson are also second in sacks (4.5 per game). In addition to Smith’s contributions, Griffith secured a backpack on Bears quarterback EJ Perry, allowing senior defensive lineman Justin Mitchell to retrieve the ball and score 13 yards.
“First of all, we have a great senior nucleus. We have a lot of good guys who are good leaders and then we also have a lot of younger guys like me coming up who really push the program forward. And also, we have great coaches, great staff that really bring us together, ”explained Griffith.
On offense, sophomore quarterback Charlie Dean did a great job protecting the ball as Harvard hasn’t lost a single turnover all season. For the season, Dean completed 24 of his 43 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns while rushing seven times for 24 extra yards. Wimberley was the most frequent recipient, recording eight passes for 101 yards and one touchdown. Second-year quarterback Jack Bill, with 59 yards on three catches, is second on the Crimson in receiving yards.
Crimson’s powerful offense will face the Holy Cross defense, led by captain Jacob Dobbs, a junior linebacker who was named to the All-Patriot League first team in the spring of 2021. He has amassed 41 total tackles, including 25 in solo, in his four games and was named FCS Defensive Player of the Week after his 12 tackle performance against Fordham on March 27. Dobbs started the season where he left off, contributing three sacks as the Crusaders managed to dampen Monmouth’s offense. Overall, Holy Cross sports the 43rd running defense in the FCS, allowing 128.2 yards per game. Borguet acknowledged the threat posed by the quick and physical Crusaders, but remained confident in his team’s game plan.
“It’s a great team, all around. All-American linebackers, great D linemen. We’re just looking to play our game at the end of the day. It’s less about how well they are going to play us, than how well we can execute our own plans and our own plans, ”said Borguet. “I think we stick to our readings, trust our online line and make the most of the leads that we can get. Don’t expect the big hit early on, take what we can get and just keep stealing and stealing until the five yard wins start to turn into ten yard wins.
If the Crimson were to win at Fitton Field, located just 38 miles from Harvard Stadium, his 3-0 record would mark his best season opener since 2016, when he won his first four games. After a lively crowd of 20,748 helped propel his team to victory, Griffith hoped some Harvard fans would take the hour and 30 minute train to Worcester.
When asked if he hopes to recreate a home atmosphere in the away game nearby, his response was simple: “Oh yeah, definitely. I can not wait.
For fans who cannot make it to the game, it will be broadcast live on ESPN + and broadcast on 95.3 FM by WRHB.
– Editor Griffin Wong can be contacted at email@example.com.