If the 2010 version of the Holy Cross Football Team could play every game at home for the next four games, the possibility of a second consecutive playoff appearance would be well within grasp. With recent triumphs over Fordham and Brown in the friendly confines of Fitton Field, this squad avenged tough blowouts at UMass and Harvard and a frustrating league defeat to the Hoyas of Georgetown. The Fordham game was historically close, but the Brown game was the more encouraging of the two especially on the defensive side of the ball. While the crowd was sparse as students embarked on a weeklong fall break, the emotion on the sidelines was equal to that of last year’s Lafayette game (compared to the previous five contests). This game did not mean as much in the standings as it did morale-wise, but it certainly meant a return to .500 and a statement to those up in Hanover that the Cross was no pushover to Ivy League competition. The Brown game was another home win, but the biggest games remaining on the schedule are mostly road games, a place where these Crusaders have not won since last November 7th (my birthday!) at Lehigh. The Dartmouth game—an exasperating 27-19 loss—proved that this young team is as unaccustomed to success on the road as the Detroit Lions.
Similar to the Brown game, a win at Dartmouth would have been more encouraging in terms of confidence building for the Colgate trip, but, unfortunately, that did not come to pass. This game meant a lot to Coach Gilmore especially, having coached there in the mid nineties and having been undefeated against Coach Buddy Teevens’s squad in his previous six seasons at Holy Cross. This game felt eerily analogous to the rock fight with Georgetown, a frustrating game that saw the offense sputter at every turn. Again this week, the defense came to play, including a secondary that limited Big Green quarterback Connor Kempe manage a measly 57 passing yards on 8 for 20 passing, including two interceptions in the first half (one each from Tom Mannix and Cav Koch, two corners who are really coming into their own this year). The ‘Saders also forced two fumbles, but only came away with 9 points off of a total of four first half Dartmouth turnovers. What was glaring on the defensive side of the ball was the amount of pressure applied to the Dartmouth backfield which was simply non-existent. Granted that tackle Jack Maliska is out until next week and end David Herman may be lost for the season with a knee injury, but the play of the defensive line is alarmingly deficient. A majority of the game, the line was either neutralized or blocked into the defensive backfield as junior running back Nick Schwieger (173 rushing yards on 31 carries, 1 td) ran roughshod all over Memorial Field. Dartmouth does have a top 5 rushing attack in the entire FCS (Schwieger) and their line was in the top 2 in the country when allowing tackles for a loss (the Crusaders did muster 3 of those), but the other side of the ball is a different story.
After four games, Dartmouth’s defense was ranked 97th out of a possible 117 FCS schools, according to Tris Wykes of the Valley News (NH). And that is what made this game all the more frustrating. Quarterback Ryan Taggart is slowly starting to establish himself as a legitimate starter, but the problem is he only has four regular season games left as a member of this team. One must question, however, if alternating Taggart and Kevin Watson every series is the right move. Can the offense, and the quarterback, get in sync where there is continual flux? Taggart had a steady first half against the Big Green, and finished the game with 220 yards and two touchdowns on 25 for 39 passing. What stands out in the final statistics are the four picks he distributed as gifts to the Dartmouth secondary, but even half of these were, in retrospect, “smart” interceptions that were lobbed deep into Dartmouth territory on fourth down; why their defenders chose not to bat these away is a mystery, including one at their own 2 yard line. It was play calling and lack of execution that beat these Crusaders. Two first half plays stand out in particular. Early in the second quarter, Taggart lateraled the ball to receiver Rob Koster, a former quarterback, who in turn launched the ball down the Dartmouth sideline to a wide open Billy Edger, but the combination of a strong wind and a poor throw saw the pass fall harmlessly to the turf; a touchdown and an extra point would have made it 17-7 at that point. At the end of the half, with the pigskin on the Dartmouth half yard line and with two downs to score with, the coaching staff decided to throw the ball, despite the fact that New Hampshire resident Sam Auffant had had success against a weak Big Green rush. After that pass fell incomplete, Watson handed the ball off to Auffant on fourth down and was met by a sea of green at the goal line, turning the ball over on downs and giving Dartmouth a surge of momentum heading into the locker rooms down by only two points (It should be known, however, that HC was out of timeouts. So, running the ball with Sam, if he was stopped short, would have probably run out the clock. The entire sequence at the end of the first half seemed to be a bit mismanaged though). Everything unraveled in the second half, courtesy of six second half turnovers for the Crusaders and the golden left leg of Dartmouth placekicker Foley Schmidt. Considering Bucknell, Sacred Heart, Penn and Yale scored as many or more points against the 97th ranked defense in the FCS than Holy Cross did on Saturday afternoon, what does that say about our offense/play calling?
Much can be said about the lack of a solid running attack with Eddie Houghton going down with a leg injury early in the first half and Matt Bellomo still battling injuries, but first year running backs coach Brian Miller has done a superb job preparing Sam Auffant to step up to the plate and deliver (74 yards on 22 carries). For the most part, Taggart and Watson (and Koster) had all day to throw the football. Receivers were open all over the field all game long, but a case of the dropsies plagued receivers all day, especially key guys Bill Edger and Freddie Santana. The offensive line was average at best and there was much to be desired in the special teams department, but a showing statistic came from third and fourth down conversion rates: 8 of 19 on third down and 2 of 6 on fourth down. It would have been conducive to run the ball a little more on second down, especially when a good chunk of yards was picked up on first down via the pass. There is obviously a trust issue between the quarterbacks and coaches, but they continue to opt to pass rather than put faith in the running game. Dartmouth’s adjustments to the passing game after halftime were quite evident when only a Rob Dornfried third quarter field goal made it up on the scoreboard. Compounded with turnovers and no deviation from the game plan, the Cross fell to 3-4 in disappointing fashion. What was encouraging in this game was the ability of the secondary to track down Big Green receivers and limit them to minimum production and the legs of Auffant. However, what was seriously discouraging was the inability to stop the running game or apply any pressure on the quarterback, as well as the failure to convert on third and fourth down. What has worked at home is not working on the road and that will have to change fast.
This coming Saturday is the annual tilt with the Raiders of Colgate up in windy Hamilton, NY. Luckily, this year’s game falls in October rather than at the end of November. Who can forget the game two years ago up there with the Patriot League Championship on the line as lake effect snow fell in droves, penetrating the layers of sweatshirts and socks I was told to wear. Early forecasts call for temperatures in the 40s, but the chilly aspect of the game ahead is the hardnosed running style of Colgate’s Nate Eachus. While Dartmouth’s Schwieger was number five in the nation in terms of running production per game, Eachus, who along with Jordan Scott and Greg Sullivan destroyed the Crusader defense enroute to the 2008 Patriot League Championship, is number one in that category averaging almost 170 yards per game. This game, the beginning of a four game set with Patriot League opponents, puts the entire season on the line as Colgate is undefeated in league play having beaten Georgetown in convincing fashion two weeks ago. Home field advantage would be critical considering the history of this team in the recent past, but the pieces are on the table for another playoff run. It all begins with a huge road win over the cream of the crop, something the Cross hasn’t done since the 2000 season under Dan Allen. Let’s wait and see if this team can get the wheels rolling on the road. Slam the ‘gate.
Tidbits from the Dartmouth Trip
- With this past week being the first ever weeklong fall break I have ever heard of, all six managers took the week off, some heading to Connecticut, others around Massachusetts and myself to Washington D.C. to thank the D.C. Semester guys for coming to the Georgetown game (in addition to other things). Unfortunately, the team had to stay on campus for the entire week without us preparing for Dartmouth, but we did return in plenty of time for the trip in the rain. Some of us rode with the coaches in one of the athletic vans, taking the back roads through Princeton and Winchendon. While any other day would have been perfect for leaf peeping, the misty rain prevented us from seeing much of the color that adorned the countryside. While we are approaching peak season in Mass., the parts of New Hampshire and Vermont we traveled through were at or past their peak and were looking pristine on game day. If you haven’t had a chance, make sure to circle the Dartmouth trip on your schedules for fall 2012 for leaves and football.
- While the trip up may have been beautiful, so were the Dartmouth facilities. I had always looked forward to the trip to Hanover every other fall when I was younger, but now that experience is enhanced. Their locker rooms were big enough to house the entire travel team as well as all staff, affording everyone the opportunity to have their own locker. Within the last five years, they have updated the away side stands, the field surface (from grass to field turf), end zone seating and a brand-new facility behind the away side stands. Their three-tiered press box was well worn, yet very roomy with plenty of room to film from on the third level between both teams’ coaches box. The only flaw of that level of the box was the very thick walls of Dartmouth’s box and the paper thin walls of our box. Needless to say that our calls could be overheard halfway across the box and nothing could be heard from the box immediately to my right. The big bright spot of the box was the abundance of hot dogs, hamburgers, cookies, rice crispy treats and Coke available on the second level.
- Another treat of a hotel came in the form of the Fireside Inn of West Lebanon, NH. On top of the four cups of hot chocolate and free newspapers, we had a legit fireplace in the main atrium, a putting green (it wasn’t operable at the time), HBO and, for some, massage chairs in the room. We weren’t the only team in the hotel as Penn’s women’s soccer team was in town to play Dartmouth on Saturday night (they tied, 0-0). The food at the hotel was solid as always, but the chicken cutlets could’ve used a little more flavor. One of the other managers and I ended up ordering pizza and garlic knots later in the night from Ramunto’s Brick Oven Pizza and there was a strong consensus that it was some of the worst food for the price we’d ever had. Don’t have Ramunto’s if you’re ever in the Lebanon/Hanover area; it’s definitely not worth it.
- The announced attendance at the game was just over 3300 with a decent Holy Cross contingent, but I’m sure that number probably would’ve been greater had reports of rain not scared away the casual fan. Though it rained lightly and the clouds appeared threatening, the conditions for a football game (despite the wind) were prime. Many Dartmouth alums came out for the contest as they usually do, flocking to the hospitality tent to the left of the home stands before and after the game. Dartmouth honored the 1965 Ivy League Champions at halftime, but the real celebrity on hand for the game was Dartmouth’s Director of Football Operations, Brian Mann. A former Big Green and Arena Football League quarterback, Mann had stints as a stunt double for Adam Sandler in “The Longest Yard” and as a signal caller in the movies “Invincible” and “The Game Plan,” part of which was filmed at Fitton Field.
- Hearing the name of Dartmouth running back Nick Schwieger brought back oh-so-bittersweet memories of high school when Schwieger played for the Bishop Feehan High School Shamrocks of the Eastern Athletic Conference, the same league my high school—Coyle and Cassidy—played in. For the record, in my four years of high school football, we went 0-4 against Schwieger’s Shamrocks at the varsity level and it was never close. I had the pleasure of tackling him a few times, but his elusive and never-quit style of play always gave us trouble on defense. I can clearly remember losing to them badly senior year after starting the year off undefeated. It was great to see us pound him the first two years of his college career, but this past Saturday showed our defense exactly what I had to witness for four long years.
- Shagging kicks before the game and at halftime is always an adventure, but Dartmouth made it particularly interesting with their end zone stands, as well as the swirling wind left over from the previous day’s storm. One kick would go sailing over the stands and onto the track behind them, forcing one of us to dodge advertisement signs and rope barriers just to get to the ball. The next kick would hit the wind and die two feet in front of the goalposts, much to the dismay of Rob Dornfried and Paul Tearson. And just like Bucknell and Villanova last year, there are always little kids encouraged by their parents who think they can keep the ball after they catch it. It’s always tough to tell them they have to give it back.
- Dartmouth is visibly sponsored by Muscle Milk, so why can’t we be? We definitely down plenty of the stuff, but they probably have some kind of connection we don’t have or haven’t realized yet. That may be trivial but it brings me to the following point: why doesn’t the athletic department solicit more sponsorships that benefit the team or the general student body more? Sure, we get the reminder every game to patronize Boomer’s Subs and Deli, but that’s about it. I personally have only eaten at Boomer’s once and it had nothing to do with school (the food was good) and I don’t really see many of my friends flocking there; usually it’s Dominoes or Freshway or somewhere else. We could do schedule posters like UMass and Harvard and even Georgetown had to decorate our walls that could maybe be sponsored by a Polar Beverages or a Hanover Insurance, or some kind of rally towel other than the once-a-year limited edition Sader Nation towel. The fact is that the game itself isn’t drawing my classmates to Fitton on a beautiful Saturday afternoon any more than the opportunity to tailgate or go do homework. We don’t even get an email before games to promote it. I believe we get more solicitation emails from Coach Gibbons and women’s basketball than from football. I think we need more alumni/ae and athletic officials need to do more on campus to promote the atmosphere and bring more students and locals back to Fitton Field. The “Sader Nation” push that we got on Freshman Orientation weekend was, for a lack of a better phrase, a colossal waste of time as most students could care less when athletic events aren’t promoted more or hyped up. We can do better. Much, much better.
- Don’t know if anyone has noticed, but Colgate reached the 600 win plateau against Cornell. Wouldn’t it be something if we won the final four games of the season and won the first game of the playoffs? Some may say it’s a pipe dream now, but if we do get to that point we would reach two milestones: the second longest home winning streak in school history and the 600th win in school history.
- Seriously, whoever is in charge of ordering sandwiches for the team from Bob’s Catering of Medford, keep up the great work. Man, those are good!
Forget Dartmouth and that trip to Hanover. It is Colgate week, and the Patriot League Championship is on the line. We hold our destiny in our hands; that is the best phrase in all of sports in my opinion. Win out, and we are champions. It certainly will not be easy, and many Patriot League followers see that as a long shot, but stranger things have happened in the beautiful world of sports. Go Cross! Slam the 'Gate!
Kevin Doyle '11