After receiving some lofty praise in the form of preseason polls, this probably wasn’t how the men’s lacrosse team wanted to kick off its season.

While it wasn’t quite the Super Bowl, the nationally ranked Elis suffered a significant 7-6 upset this weekend against the relatively unheralded Holy Cross squad — predicted to wind up cellar-dwellers of the Patriot League this season.

The Bulldogs entered this weekend’s game as heavy favorites against the Crusaders, whom they had beaten in each of the teams’ seven meetings since 1965, including last season’s 13-7 spanking in Worcestor, Mass. In that game, Chris Kempner ’09 and Tyler Casertano ’08 recorded an impressive seven goals and five assists between them as the Elis cruised to an easy victory.

But Holy Cross had something very different in mind when it rolled into New Haven for the season opener this year, feeding off strong defense and controlling the ball most of the game.

“The major problem was that we didn’t have enough possession time,” midfielder Matt Fuchs ’10 said. “We spent most of the game playing defense. I think we came out and played with intensity but had trouble executing on the offensive end.”

The Crusaders marched into Reese Stadium and immediately jumped on the Elis, scoring the first goal of the game at the 11:29 mark of the first quarter. But the tenacious Bulldogs seemed unfazed, as midfielder Jonathan Koenig ’08, newcomer Brian Douglass ’11 and attacker Tyler Casertano ’08 all racked up goals before the period was over.

Crusader goalie Jimmy Harrison continually thwarted Yale’s attempts to extend its three-goal lead, recording nine saves in the period alone and 22 for the game.

“Their goalie really had a pretty incredible game” Douglass said. “When you’ve got a goalie who is really on his game like that, it makes it tough on the offensive end.”

Instead, it was Holy Cross who found the back of the net several times to even the score at three before halftime. The third quarter was marked by excellent defense by both teams, and the Elis scored the lone goal of the period for a slight advantage heading into a tense fourth-quarter showdown.

Both squads fired away at the opposing goal throughout the period, but fine net-keeping held the scoring at bay for the most part. Then Crusader Matt Moran notched two of his game-high three goals in the final minutes to put Holy Cross on top.

After a solid defensive play in the final seconds, Douglass received the ball near midfield and charged up field for a desperation shot that came up empty as time expired, and the Crusaders recorded their first win over the Elis in school history.

“We made a good play down on the defensive end, and I saw they were looking to throw the ball up-field so came back to get it,” Douglass said. “With no one open up ahead, I tried to push the case, got in as close as I could and took a shot to tie it up, but the goalie made a great save.”

Although the season-opening loss was disappointing, players said they recognize the opportunity for improvement and are confident in the team’s prospects for this season.

“There were definitely some positive signs this weekend,” Casertano said. “The defense played really well, and we know we have a lot of potential. We have the talent and the work ethic; it’s just a matter of executing the game plan our coaches have outlined.”