It is certainly not the ideal situation, having your backs against the wall knowing that every game is of the "must win" variety from here on out, but it is also motivating in the sense that one more loss and the season comes to an end. After having already lost to the Georgetown Hoyas in the fourth week of the season, making our Patriot League record 0-1, the Crusaders can ill-afford another league loss; a loss would mean no Patriot League Championship (PLC) and no bid to the NCAA FCS Playoffs. Everyone in the field side locker room at Colgate's Andy Kerr Stadium knew what was at stake this past Saturday, and they will all understand what is at stake on November 6th against Lehigh at Fitton Field: Win, and live to get to another championship game. Lose, and the dream of winning another PLC has slipped away.
When looking at the game itself, and not the logistics of what a win and loss to Colgate would mean in the greater scheme of things, I was fortunate enough to speak with a good friend of mine, and avid poster PurplePeopleEater, prior to Saturday's contest. PPE and I chat for a few minutes before every game about the upcoming opponent and how the week of practice went leading up to the game, and I am always blunt with my thoughts on how the team is looking and what we should expect from our opponent. Not wanting to upset PPE, I asked him: "Do you want my thoughts with, or without my purple shaded glasses on?" He of course wanted my true thoughts, so this is what I told him (for the sake of brevity, I will try to keep my explication of our dialogue short):
This team is a mystery. We lay an egg against Harvard and Georgetown. Then come back and play well against Fordham, and even better against Brown, but then play our sloppiest game of the year against Dartmouth and give away the game. If the same team that showed up in Hanover last week, is here in Hamilton today, things will get ugly.
Here is how we win the game: Get up early, and limit the big plays from Sullivan and Eachus. If Colgate ever gets up by two scores in the game, I don't think we stand much of a chance as they will just grind out the clock. If we can be the beneficiaries of a Colgate turnover, and maybe execute a trick play, we can definitely win the game.
Everyone in attendance in Hamilton, and those who watched the game online, witnessed how good this Holy Cross team can be when there are a minimal amount of mental mistakes, the football is valued, and all three units (offensive, defensive, and special teams) execute their jobs. The offense fed off of the defense's stellar play in the first half, and the special teams turned in easily their best performance of the year. There were many things that went right on Saturday, let's take a look at them:
- Ryan Taggart and Mark Tolzien. Tolzien's first career passing attempt went for a touchdown to Freddie Santana, and the final pass of the game for Taggart was a beautifully lofted ball to Bill Edger in the corner of the endzone. What is overlooked about Tolzien's pass is his poise in the pocket; he was absolutely drilled by a Colgate defender, but hung in there long enough so Freddie could get free on the crossing route.
- Excellent decisions were made all day from the two signal callers. There were zero interceptions thrown, something that killed us against Dartmouth, and the offense really valued to ball against Colgate.
- The offense had a 50% conversion rate on 3rd downs. I commented on how the inability to extend drives was a major problem for the offense earlier in the year. There were far too many "3 and outs" and the inability to string together first downs was very frustrating. Take a look at the drastic improvement on 3rd down:
- UMASS (3/12), Harvard (5/13), Georgetown (5/16)
- Compiling these numbers, Holy Cross was 13/41 (32% on 3rd down)
- Fordham (13/18), Brown (5/15), Dartmouth (8/19), Colgate (6/12)
- 32/64 (50% on 3rd down). Much of the improvement on offense is a direct result of their success on 3rd down.
- Discipline was fantastic against Colgate; only committing three penalties for 23 yards was crucial. On the flipside, for Colgate, their lack of discipline certainly contributed in Holy Cross winning the game.
- A holding call on their last drive in the 4th quarter negated what was a 12 yard run from Nate Eachus out to midfield.
- Special Teams (there will be many bullet points for this one, so bare with me)
- Welcome to Holy Cross, Andrew Zitnik! You have read all about his fantastic 93 yard kick return, so I will save you the explanation, but the cuts he made and his breakaway speed was outstanding. I am sure he will have a spot on the Kickoff Return Team for many games to come.
- Don Lemieux's punts were instrumental in pinning Colgate deep into their own territory. On two occasions, he forced the Raiders to begin their drives inside the five yard line.
- Rob Dornfried was 100% on the day with extra points (4) and field goals (1). Although, one of the PATs just squeezed through as it hit the right upright on an extra point.
- Perry Townsend. It is becoming a ritual to see Perry storm down the field, evading many blocks, and taking out the ball carrier's legs from under him.
- The defensive line, in my opinion, was the difference maker in the game. Although they will not get too much credit for it, the boys up front gave a herculean effort against the Colgate offensive line and running game. While the box score shows that the Raiders rushed for over 200 yards, I would argue the D-line held Nate Eachus in check for much of the game.
- The trio of Freddie Santana, Luke Chmielinski, and Bill Edger is a true force to be reckoned with; they very well could be the league's best receiving unit. While everyone will remember Edger's catch in the endzone to win the game, the biggest play of that drive, and of the game, was Freddie's catch down the sideline that setup the ensuing touchdown pass to Edger.
- Clock management by coach Tom Gilmore was superb down the stretch. Saving those three timeouts until the final drive was key, and electing not to use a timeout after picking up a first down was smart. An even smarter move, although I did question it at the time, was using the final timeout with 10 seconds remaining, rather than letting the clock rundown to just three or four seconds.
- Conventional football philosophy would say to run it down, and have the field goal be the very last play of regulation. Yet, coach Gilmore wanted to be able to run one more play before kicking the field goal, and it was a perfect play call: a fade to Bill Edger. Edge was either going to catch the ball, or it would fall harmlessly incomplete. If it is incomplete, then the field goal is kicked.
What did not go right:
- Mark Tolzien played nearly a flawless game in his debut, but taking the sack in the endzone was a crucial mistake. At the time, HC had a 10 point lead, so Colgate would have scored twice in the final quarter to knot the game up; a daunting task for them as Colgate's forte is not moving the ball quickly.
- Alex Schneider only had two passes thrown his way, and did not have a reception. We ran a play designed for him to catch the ball in the back of the endzone, but he was held up on the play (probably should have been a holding or pass interference called). Schneider needs to develop as a bigger part of the offense.
- Questionable play calling on 4th down and two at the Colgate 31 yard line in the 4th quarter. I loved the decision to go for it, rather than attempting a 48 yard field goal, but didn't like the play call.
- The original play was a play-action pass out into the flat where Taggart would have found either Schneider or Reed Apfelbaum, but Colgate called a timeout before we could run the play. Following the timeout, Taggart overthrew Bill Edger on the outside, and the ball was turned over on downs.
- While there are other things I could gripe about such as the disparity in the time of possession, unbalanced play calling (37 runs plays versus 22 pass plays), and how we allowed Colgate to get back into the game by scoring 17 straight points, I would be on the verge of becoming too nitpicky.
- Everyone knew Colgate would most likely possess the ball for 35-40 minutes.
- Running 15 more plays on the ground, rather than through the air actually worked quite well as we took advantage of the great push our offensive line was getting against their D-line.
As I previously alluded to, Holy Cross came close to playing a near perfect game, and they needed to in order to leave Hamilton, NY with a victory.
Obviously, beating Colgate was the most important part of the game and of the entire road trip to upstate New York, without a win the season is over. However, after the exceptional performance from the team, everyone realizes just how good this team can be when playing to their potential. It goes without saying that there cannot be a letdown against Lehigh on November 6th; the team must ride this emotional high throughout the rest of the regular season.
Holy Cross has won championship game number one, and now it is on to game number two against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.
Kevin Doyle '11