On Saturday, two very bad things happened to the Bulldogs at the five-yard line near the Yale Bowl’s north end zone.
The first came at 2:51 of the first quarter, when a muffed punt catch by Chris Denny-Brown ’07 landed the offense in the shadow of its own goal posts. Before the second-and-seven play, quarterback Jeff Mroz ’06 called a timeout, but no amount of time could dissuade coach Jack Siedlecki from calling a reverse run to Jordan Spence ’07, and the junior was dragged down for a safety.
The second occurred at 5:43 of the third quarter, when an 11-play, 45-yard Yale drive ended fruitlessly after Siedlecki ordered Mike McLeod ’09 on a toss left (the third such play of the series) on fourth down and one.
Yet bewildering play-calling was merely one of many agents fueling Yale’s (1-2, 1-0 Ivy) 22-19 loss to Holy Cross (3-2). A markedly cooled -off Mroz, who fired a school-record-tying five touchdowns last week, a pair of special teams gaffes, and even an anonymous Yale heckler had a hand in the loss.
Casey Gough was the man who cut down Spence for the safety, at the time giving Holy Cross a 5-0 lead.
“We called a blitz and they ran right into our blitz,” said Gough, the blitzer. “It was a good defensive call on our part and a bad offensive call on their part.”
Gough, a junior cornerback, did a bit of everything on Saturday: 11 tackles (two for losses), one interception and one blocked extra point.
Though he was just a freshman when the two teams played last, Gough had a major bone to pick with Yale. When he walked into the post-game press conference, he preempted reporters’ questions with an explanation.
“I’d just like to thank the anonymous Yale fan who called me about eight times at two o’clock in the morning last night,” he said. “He [and others] said some real obscene things that I don’t want to talk about. It was pretty pathetic on their part. I was sleeping. That put a real chip on my shoulder for today.”
Gough’s co-conspirator Saturday was running back Steve Silva. A three-year starter, he led the Crusaders on a ten-play, 78-yard touchdown drive early in the second quarter to extend the lead to 12-0. Of those ten plays, three were runs by Silva (for 18 yards), two were passes to him (for 32 yards) and the final one was a reverse where Silva handed the ball off to wide receiver Sean Gruber for a nine-yard touchdown — providing the textbook counterpoint to Yale’s ill-fated attempt.
The Elis nearly answered on their last drive of the half. Finally realizing its line could handle the Holy Cross rush itself, the offense jettisoned all fullbacks and tight ends and operated out of a no-huddle, four-wide shotgun set. Mroz completed three passes (out of four) for 45 yards before he had his fifth one — a telegraphed deep out to D.J. Shooter ’07 — intercepted by Tyler Nugent.
“That just silenced them completely,” Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore said. “That must have demoralized them. They’re moving the ball and getting a couple of first downs and — Bam! — Tyler just picks it off.”
According to Siedlecki, the play was indicative of a disappointing first half.
“We didn’t execute anything offensively in the first half,” Siedlecki said. “We had a huge amount of offense but we were coming from behind the whole time. We always try to win three goals out of five. We lost the kicking game, we lost the goal-line short-yardage game and we lost the turnover battle. We won the offensive statistical battle but didn’t play the complete game we needed to play.”
The offense would get on track in the second half, with its biggest third-quarter threat coming when it drove to the Holy Cross five, only to see McLeod (28 carries, 110 yards, one touchdown) get stuffed on fourth down.
Defensive tackle Kirk Porter ’08 kept the field position edge in Yale’s favor when he sacked John O’Neil on the following Holy Cross possession.
Two Yale drives later, the Bulldogs finally reached the end zone on a one-yard McLeod dive to narrow the lead to 15-6. Gough blocked Alan Kimball’s ’08 extra point, however, ensuring that Yale would need at least two possessions to even the score.
On one of those possessions, they drew closer when receiver Will Blodgett ’06 hauled in his first career touchdown, an eight-yarder from Mroz (33-56, 333 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) that was set up by a 24-yard completion to Ashley Wright ’07 (11 catches, 115 yards).
The celebration – for both Blodgett and the Elis – would be short-lived.
Silva, Holy Cross’s leading rusher and receiver, showed his mettle in the return game as well, running the ensuing Kimball kickoff back 84 yards for a touchdown.
Silva sidestepped a few defenders, then literally slipped from the grasp of two more before finding pay dirt. But to the Crusaders captain, it was all instinct.
“I just kept my legs going,” he said. “I couldn’t really tell what was going on. I thought I was going to get caught there at the end, but I just kept running like I was running from the police.”
Siedlecki was sure to point out, however, that Silva’s running won’t keep Yale out of the running in the Ivy League.
“Everyone’s disappointed we lost,” he said. “We had plenty of chances. But we gotta put it behind us. We’ve got Dartmouth next week. We’re 1-0 [in the Ivy League] and we’ve got a chance to be 2-0. We have a chance to be on top of the Ivy League. That’s gotta be our complete focus. We can wallow in it for a while, but we’ve got a job to do.”