The Yale football team (0–1, 0–0 Ivy) began its 2022 season on Saturday at Fitton Field in Worcester, Mass. with a 38–14 loss to the Holy Cross Crusaders (3–0, 0–0 Patriot). 

The Bulldogs entered the game knowing that a challenge lay ahead, with Holy Cross entering the game off of the heels of a win over FBS Buffalo. The win saw the Crusaders rise to the No. 12 ranking in last week’s FCS Coaches Poll.

“We open with arguably our toughest opener we’ve had since I’ve been here in my 10 seasons,” head coach Tony Reno said before the game.

Coach Reno’s pregame prediction would prove to be true, as the Bulldogs started the season on a sour note, losing to the Crusaders by 24 points. The game proved to be a tall measuring stick for the Elis, with plenty to work on before Ivy League play begins next Saturday against Cornell.

The Elis’ offense came out hot against the Crusaders, with quarterback Nolan Grooms ’24 hitting Mason Tipton ’24 for 19 yards on the first play of the game. That play would prove to be the best of the first quarter for the Elis, as they were stopped once on a fourth down and also missed a field goal. 

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, after a scoreless first quarter the Crusaders offense roared to life in the second. 

Following a touchdown drive capped off by a 2-yard rush by Holy Cross quarterback Matthew Sluka, the Bulldogs took the field looking to respond after falling behind 7–0.

The drive was kickstarted by running back Joshua Pitsenberger ’26, who displayed an impressive combination of vision and patience behind his offensive line to bring the Bulldogs to their own 38-yard line. 

Yale then showed the strength of their depth at the running back position as Nathan Denney ’25 subbed in. On a sweep play to the left, the Bulldogs’ offensive line opened up a massive hole in the middle of the field that Denney cut back to and proceeded to take deep for a 34-yard run.

Following two incomplete passes, the Bulldogs faced a third-and-10 from the Crusaders’ 27-yard line. Operating out of the shotgun, Grooms dropped back and delivered a strike to the far side, where wide receiver David Pantelis ’25 had a one-on-one matchup against a Crusader cornerback. Twisting his body in mid-air, Pantelis jumped for the ball and came down with a beautiful reception at the one yard line.

Denney followed up on his earlier run by smashing the ball in for the 1-yard touchdown as the Bulldogs tied the game at 7–7.

That tie proved to be the high-water mark for the Blue and White, with the Crusaders following the Yale touchdown by scoring 31 unanswered points. The Bulldogs’ only other score of the game came with both teams’ backups playing late in the fourth quarter and backup quarterback Austin Tutas ’25 tossed a touchdown pass to Ryan Lindley ’24.

Holy Cross came into the game with experience at nearly every position, including a number of fifth-year players who believe the team is destined for a deep run in the FCS playoffs this year.  

“Those fifth-year guys, they believed long before anybody else did,” Holy Cross head coach Bob Chesney said during the broadcast on ESPN +. “They were believing in … at that time, just a dream.”

For the Bulldogs, the focus now shifts to having a strong week of practice before beginning their Ivy season against Cornell next Saturday.

For the offense, the playmakers showed big potential, now it is up to Grooms and the offensive play calling to capitalize on their talents. Grooms struggled against an athletic Crusaders defense, throwing for 98 yards and getting picked off twice. The junior found more success with his legs, racking up 58 yards on the ground.

The depth at running back was evident against Holy Cross, with a group of players capable of making plays following the veteran offensive line. 

Entering the season it was clear that Tipton would play a big role in the passing game, but the emergence of Pantelis, who posted five catches for 54 yards, gives the Bulldogs another receiver capable of ruining a defensive gameplan. 

The Bulldogs will need to make changes on the other side of the ball as Holy Cross was able to move the ball all day in both the running and passing games, totalling 571 yards of offense.

Up front, Oso Ifesinachukwu ’23 led the way with two sacks while star defensive tackle Clay Patterson ’24 was held uncharacteristically quiet with only half a sack and one solo tackle. In the secondary, Wande Owens ’23 stood out with 11 total tackles, but as a unit, the Bulldogs struggled to contain an explosive Crusaders passing attack. 

The team will now turn to its veterans and captain Nick Gargiulo ’22 to right the ship before traveling to Ithaca.

“I have such a great senior class of leaders … it’s kind of diluted across 24 guys who really share that responsibility and ownership,” Gargiulo said of his position leading the team. “Hey, this is our team, it’s not my team.”

The Bulldogs will return to action at 2 p.m. on Saturday against the Cornell Big Red in Ithaca, N.Y.

Spencer King is an Editor for the Sports desk. He has covered the Yale football and women's ice hockey teams. He has also previously covered the Yale men's lacrosse team and most things Bulldogs sports. Spencer is a junior in Davenport College and is majoring in Political Science.