Yale Athletics

The Yale football team (0–0, 0–0 Ivy) will meet No. 6 Holy Cross (1–1, 0–0 Patriot) at the Yale Bowl at noon this Saturday for their first matchup of the season. 

The Bulldogs are looking to start their 2023 season off on the right foot, thoroughly preparing to face the Crusaders, who have already logged a win and a close three-point loss to Boston College. Despite the Elis’ clean slate, they feel more than ready to take on their first opponent.

“It’s an opportunity for us to put our best foot forward,” Head Coach Tony Reno said. “We truly think we play a game against ourselves every week [and] that hasn’t changed, so it’s how well can we play Yale football week one.”

Out of the last nine games against Holy Cross, Yale has triumphed in five. Yale football most recently went head-to-head against Holy Cross on Sept. 17 last year, when the Blue and White lost 38–14.

Yale did see success in a 78-yard, eight-play drive completed with a one-yard run by running back Nathan Denney ’25 in the second quarter and an eight-yard scoring play, where backup quarterback Austin Tutas ’25 passed to wide receiver Ryan Lindley ’24, in the fourth quarter. 

“We are very fortunate that we can have such a good test at the start of the season, but like anything else it’s a test, not the final,” Reno said. “Each week, we’ve got to grow from that, but for us, it’s how good can we be week one.”

With 27 additions to the team and another year of training for the players, Yale looks to improve their offensive and defensive play against Holy Cross and establish a firm, coordinated effort. 

Last season, the Bulldogs closed out Ivy play on a high note, adding to their three game winning streak with a 19–14 win against Harvard at The Game on Nov. 19. The Elis completed their season with a record of 8–2 overall and 6–1 in the conference, earning them the title of Ivy League Champions. 

“My vision [for the team] is this pyramid of who we are and everything we do,” Wande Owens ’24, captain and defensive back, said. “At the top it says ‘150 being an elite team,’ and that’s the goal we’re working towards.”

Holy Cross began their season with a dominant position with a 42–20 win against Merrimack on Sept. 2. Despite their initial success, they faltered in their second game of the season, tallying a 31–28 loss to Boston College on Sept. 9.

The Crusaders are currently No. 6 in the National Collegiate Athletic Association football Stats Perform poll and No. 5 in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision Coaches poll. Holy Cross was ranked No. 5 in the Stats Perform and American Football Coaches Association preseason polls. Yale received votes in both polls. 

“I’m excited just because playing games like this so early makes things come easier come November,” Nolan Grooms ’24, starting quarterback, said. “It’s a big challenge for us, but we’re excited.”

Last year, Holy Cross advanced to the FCS quarterfinals for the first time since 1983 after winning the fourth straight Patriot League conference title. Leading their team is quarterback Matthew Sluka, 2023 Patriot League preseason offensive player of the year, who finished last season with 11 rushing touchdowns and 1,234 yards on the ground while completing 153 passes for 2,489 yards and 26 touchdowns. 

Receiver Jalen Coker also led Holy Cross last season with 11 touchdown receptions and 912 receiving yards. 

On Yale’s offense, Grooms received the 2022 Asa S. Bushnell Cup as Ivy League offensive player of the year, earned first-team All-Ivy recognition and is in consideration for the 2023 Walter Payton Award, as he threw for 1,660 yards and rushed 726 last season. Running back Joshua Pitsenberger ’26 also rushed for 620 yards and tallied eight touchdowns in an impressive rookie season. 

“Even the first half of last year, I had my troubles as quarterback, but it’s easy when you have 100 of your closest friends right beside you,” Grooms said.

The Crusaders were also ranked first in the Patriot League in total defense (331.5 yards per game) and scoring defense (21.5 points per game) last season, partially due to Linebacker and four-time Captain Jacob Dobbs, who is now back from being injured in Week 4 of the 2022 season. In his 34 career contests, he tallied 309 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks. 

Defensively, the Elis return several strong performers in 2022, including Owens — who tied linebacker Hamilton Moore ’24 in leading the team with 63 tackles — in addition to being selected as first-team All-Ivy. Owens was named captain of Team 150 and had one sack and six tackles for loss. Moore also led the team with four interceptions. The Blue and White have welcomed six defensive lineman and six defensive backs to the team in the class of 2027. 

“It’s not just me leading a team, it’s the senior class, the junior class, the sophomore class, even there are leaders in the freshman class, bringing everybody along to help us accomplish this common goal,” Owens said. “We have a lot of returning guys and some new guys, so it’s about developing that chemistry and trusting each other to do our jobs.”

Despite the strong form of Holy Cross, the Bulldogs are confident in their abilities to take on the Crusaders and defend their home turf. 

This weekend’s matchup is set to kick off at noon at the Yale Bowl and will be streamed live on ESPN+. 

Amelia Lower covers football, men's ice hockey and men's lacrosse. She is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College from Rye, New York, double-majoring in Spanish and the History of Science, Medicine and Public Health.