Football 2022: Holy Cross 30-Harvard 21
Photograph courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications
Photograph courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications
If you’re going to lose a football game, make it a non-league game against a superior team. That, at least, is the theory. But that does not necessarily lessen the sting of Harvard’s 30-21 defeat to Holy Cross of the Patriot League Saturday at the Stadium.
The loss, which snapped a five-game winning streak dating back to last season, was the Crimson’s first of 2022 and dropped its record to 2-1; Harvard is 1-0 in Ivy play. The Crusaders, who came in ranked tenth or 11th, depending on which poll you consult in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), moved to 5-0 (1-0 in league play). This triumph broke a three-game losing streak to the Crimson.
Before the game, Tim Murphy, Stephenson Family head coach for Harvard football, said, “This might be the best team we face all season.” If there is a better one, then the Crimson will be in for a long afternoon (or night). On this afternoon, Harvard had no answer for the Crusaders’ aerial connection of quarterback Matthew Sluka and wideout Jalen Coker, which left the Crimson secondary in tatters with 10 completions for 166 yards. Meanwhile, Holy Cross’s runners, most notably pile-driving Peter Oliver (78 yards on 10 carries), gashed Harvard’s vaunted rushing defense for 147 yards. The Crusaders also deflected two Crimson punts and forced two crucial turnovers.
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Harvard had its moments. Settling down after a ragged start, senior quarterback Charlie Dean was 19 of 34 passing. Nine of those completions went to senior wideout Kym Wimberly, who is putting together a brilliant season. Senior running back Aidan Borguet gained 80 yards (4.4 per carry) and scored what seems like his requisite two touchdowns. The Crimson even led in the second quarter. That margin, however, was brief, and after it was erased Holy Cross seemed in command, keeping Harvard off balance until late in the fourth quarter, when a 49-yard field goal by Derek Ng effectively salted the game away.
“I thought we did well, and our players did a really good job,” said Murphy. “We just made too many mistakes. I give Holy Cross credit for that.”
The 7,726 spectators who braved the dank conditions saw an entertaining game, one featuring a plethora of big plays. The first came on the opening kickoff when Crimson senior Jack Bill took the ball at the goal line and returned it 60 yards to the Crusaders’ 40. Harvard was able to advance the ball to the Holy Cross 20 but senior placekicker Jonah Lipel missed a 37-yard field goal, wide left. Two series later Harvard suffered its first punt block, when the Crusaders’ Devin Haskins deflected Crimson sophomore Sebastian Tasko’s kick. Holy Cross recovered at the Harvard 27. On the next play the tall (6’3”) and multiskilled Sluka, who is a FCS version of the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen, ran a quarterback draw all the way into the end zone. Ng booted the point after touchdown. Holy Cross 7, Harvard 0.
Punch…counterpunch. On the next series, on second down from the Harvard 26, the power-armed Dean fired a rocket down the middle that hit sophomore wideout Ledger Hatch in stride. The catch-and-run was good for 55 yards, to the Crusaders’ 19. Then came three rushes by Borguet. On the final one, from the seven, he took the handoff, ran right, cut back left—a jump cut that left the Crusaders’ defender grabbing air—and ran into the end zone. Lipel kicked the point after. Holy Cross 7, Harvard 7.
In the middle of the second period, the Crimson forged its fleeting lead on an eight-play, 78-yard drive. The aerial highlight was a 19-yard Dean toss to Tyler Neville on which the junior tight end made a leaping grab. On the next play Borguet ran left, spied an open lane, got a terrific block from senior tight end Haven Montefalco and rambled into the end zone. Lipel booted the conversion. Harvard 14, Holy Cross 7.
It took the Crusaders 1:12 and three plays from scrimmage to knot it up. On the first, Oliver rumbled 31 yards. On the third, Sluka faked a handoff, then threw to wideout Ayir Asante, wide open behind the Crimson defense, who ran it in for the touchdown. Ng kicked the point. Harvard 14, Holy Cross 14.
Near the end of the period came a play that some might argue was the turning point. On third and six from the Harvard 15, Dean flipped to Hatch, who gathered in the ball, took a stride, then was rattled by Crusader defensive back John Smith. The ball came out. The question was: incompletion (as it was ruled on the field) or fumble? After an interminable video review, the call was reversed. Holy Cross took over on the Harvard 23. On the next play, Sluka threw to wideout Justin Shorter, who made the catch at the Crimson five—or did he? Another interminable review ensued, this time confirming the reception. (These reviews were worse time-wasters than the ones in baseball.) Here Harvard stiffened. On third and goal from the seven, aroused Crimson defensive lineman-captain Truman Jones hogtied Sluka for a loss. The Crusaders settled for a 25-yard Ng field goal. At the half, it was Holy Cross 17, Harvard 14.
In its four previous victories the Crusaders had owned the third quarter, having outscored their foes 47-7. As the second half commenced they gave notice that they wanted to prolong that achievement. After the opening kickoff, they rammed 75 yards in seven plays. The biggest was a 39-yard pass from Sluka to Coker. The finale was a two- yarder again involving this pair, with Coker diving and using his strong hands to snatch the ball before it hit the ground. Ng kicked. Holy Cross 24, Harvard 14.
Would the Crimson fold? Hardly. On the next series Harvard went 77 yards in eight plays to tighten the score. Dean made two exceptional throws. On the first, to junior H-back Tim Dowd, the Harvard quarterback dropped the ball right into Dowd’s breadbasket. On the second, from the Holy Cross 19, Dean took the snap, rolled left, then threw back to the right—all the way to Wimberly in the deep corner of the end zone. (You try this some time!) Lipel booted. Holy Cross 24, Harvard 21.
It seemed as if we were headed for a shootout, but despite a few remaining big plays, it never materialized. The defenses kept the offenses out of the end zone. On the Crimson’s first drive of the fourth quarter, Dean and senior running back Sone Ntoh botched the transfer of the ball and the Crusaders recovered at the Harvard 35. They reached the 10 but had to settle for a Ng 27-yard field goal. Holy Cross 27, Harvard 21.
On the Crimson’s next drive, Harvard reached the Crusaders’ 41. Faced with a fourth-and-one, Coach Murphy decided to go for it. But senior offensive lineman Mason Williams jumped offside. Sigh! Harvard punted and Holy Cross got the ball at its 13. On the third play, from the Crusaders’ 33, Sluka threw short left. Harvard junior linebacker Matt Hudson jumped the route, got the ball in his hands—and dropped it. Had he held on and started running the other way, it might have been a pick-six. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Instead, Holy Cross kept the ball and drove to the Harvard 32. With the wind at his back, Ng lined up for a career-long 49-yard field goal. It was up…it was good! Holy Cross 30, Harvard 21. That turned out to be the clincher.
It was a loss, but it was in a non-league game to a superior team. That, at least, is the theory.
TIDBITS The series with Holy Cross, Harvard’s most-played non-Ivy opponent, now stands at 45-26-2 in the Crimson’s favor….This was the Crusaders’ first victory at Harvard Stadium since 2000 (Holy Cross 27, Harvard 25)….Running back Aidan Borguet’s first-quarter touchdown prolonged the Crimson’s Ivy-record streak of not being shut out to 231 consecutive games.
Penn 23, Dartmouth 17 (2OT)
Princeton 24, Columbia 6
Cornell 34, Colgate 31
Yale 34, Howard 26
Rhode Island 38, Brown 10
Coming up: Next Saturday the Crimson travels to Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, N.Y. for a Friday night game against Ivy League rival Cornell. Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET. The game will be telecast on ESPNU and broadcast on WRCA 1330 AM, 106.1 FM, 92.9 FM-HD2 and WHRB-FM 95.3 The Big Red is 2-1 overall and 0-1 in Ivy play. In a series that began in 1890 Harvard leads 49-34-2 and has won the last two, including a 24-10 victory last season in Cambridge. But the Crimson has lost the last two at Cornell, in 2017 (17-14) and ’18 (28-24).
The score by quarters