College: NEFJ & Yolked Strong Game of the Week – No. 10 Holy Cross 30, Harvard 21; Crusaders keep making history

CAMBRIDGE – All week long, Holy Cross used the feeling the program had after a 25-point loss to Harvard a year ago as motivation while preparing for a rematch on Saturday.

The best matchup on the schedule between New England schools all season did not disappoint, and in the end the Crusaders did what teams with championship aspirations do, they closed out a hard fought win on the road, taking down the Crimson 30-21.

No. 10 Holy Cross is now 5-0 for the first time since 1991, beat Harvard (2-1) at Harvard Stadium for the first time since 2000 and beat both Yale and Harvard in the same season for the first time in program history.

“When we went into halftime the last two times we played them, it was 48-7 (combined),” said Holy Cross head coach Bob Chesney. “I think the mission was very clear this week, being able to start fast and finish strong and play the full 60. I thought we were able to do that.”

The drive of the game was the final one for the Crusaders. Leading 27-21 with 6:20 remaining, Matt Sluka (17-31, 300, 2 TD, 19 carries, 75 yards, 1 TD) and the offense took over at the Holy Cross 13 yard line. a 13-play march ensued, including a huge third-and-four pickup on a slant to Jalen Coker. The drive ended with a Derek Ng field goal from 49 yards out to make it a nine-point game, but most importantly, it left just 1:24 on the clock before the defense shut the door on one final Harvard drive.

“An unbelievable amount,” Sluka said when asked how much he trusts Coker as his “go-to” guy in big spots. Coker was targeted 12 times on Saturday. “Me and Jalen put a lot of work into it. We stay after practice and do everything we can. There’s a lot that goes into the timing, but, just take your matchup whenever you feel comfortable and that’s what I do.”

“That’s my guy right here,” Coker added of Sluka. “Anywhere he puts it, it’s my job to go get it. We’ve been working this chemistry for so long that if he throws a ball, I’m coming down with it.”

The 7,726 on hand saw quite a game and Holy Cross got the scoring started one play after Devin Haskins blocked a punt that was recovered by Jonathan Young at the Harvard 27. Sluka took off for a a 27 yard TD run following a timeout with Ng adding the extra point with 7:04 left in the first. Harvard had a quick response as Charlie Dean (19-34, 262, 1 TD) hit Ledger Hatch with a deep ball, setting up Aidan Bourget for a six yard touchdown run to make it 7-7 after one.

With 5:52 to go in the half, Bourget scored again, this time from 20 yards out to put the Crimson up 14-7. Three plays later, Sluka hit Ayir Asante in stride for a 53 yard touchdown to steal momentum right back. Moments later, John Smith laid the wood to a Harvard receiver who took two steps after catching a pass from Dean. The ball came loose and was originally called incomplete, but after review and a clear recovery by Jake Jarmolowich, the Crusaders took over at the Crimson 23 with 1:35 left. Ng added a late field goal to make it 17-14 at the break.

“We knew going into the game Holy Cross was an outstanding football team,” said Harvard head coach Tim Murphy. “Playing their fifth game, they’ve been in the national playoffs the last three years in a row and they certainly lived up to the billing…our kids, I thought we did a great job, I thought we just made too many mistakes.

“We’ll certainly give Holy Cross credit for that, but we made too many mistakes.”

The Crusaders opened the third quarter with a nine-play, 75 yard drive that ended with Coker (10, 166, 1 TD) catching a two yard TD pass for a 24-14 lead. Harvard responded quickly as Dean threw two absolute dimes on the drive, one to Tim Dowd and the second to Kym Wimberly from 19 yards out for a touchdown, cutting it to 24-21. Ng missed a field goal on the ensuing Holy Cross possession and the teams headed to the fourth quarter separated by just three points.

Harvard crossed into Holy Cross territory early in the final frame, but a fumbled exchange on an RPO was recovered by Liam Anderson. Six plays later, Ng hit a field goal to push the lead to 27-21. Harvard was forced to punt its next possession, setting up the final game-clinching march by the Crusaders.

Another special opportunity awaits Holy Cross next Saturday as the team returns to Polar Park to host Bucknell. Most likely inside the top 10 at kick off, it’ll be a chance for the surging Crusaders to make some more memories at a unique venue in what’s turning into a truly magical season.

“It’s sort of a season for firsts for us,” added Chesney. “It sort of was last season as well, but that’s the momentum we talk about each and every week. We want to continue to carry that momentum. It didn’t matter who we were playing this week, the objective was for us to practice as hard as we possibly can and then play as hard as we possibly can.

“Whether it’s Harvard or next week against Bucknell, the recipe remains the same. It’s about us being able to go out and practice and play as hard as possible.”