FOOTBALL: Bulldogs struggle in season opener against No. 5 Holy Cross
The Yale football team lost its season opener at the Yale Bowl, falling 49–24 to the Crusaders.
Courtesy of David Schamis
The Yale football team (0–1, 0–0 Ivy) tallied a loss in their first game of the season at the Yale Bowl on Saturday afternoon, falling 49–24 to No. 6 Holy Cross (2–1, 0–0 Patriot).
While the Bulldogs ended the first half of the game in only a four-point deficit, the Crusaders picked up momentum in the second half with one touchdown in the third and then further accelerated with three in the fourth. Despite the challenging start to the season, the Elis are optimistic about their remaining nine games and are ready to enter into Ivy play next weekend against Cornell.
“We came out of the locker room with a quick start and really played a sound first half of football in my opinion,” quarterback Nolan Grooms ’24 said. “As the game went on, there were a few huge moments that we were not able to capitalize on, where Holy Cross was able to really take control of the game late.”
Yale opened its season with a 1-yard run by running back Joshua Pitsenberger ’26 on the Bulldogs’ opening 75-yard, 12-play drive, taking the lead with 9:53 remaining in the first quarter. Just over two minutes later, the Crusaders responded with a 19-yard rush by quarterback Matthew Sluka to level the score.
The Elis regained their lead with a field goal by kicker and punter Jack Bosman ’24, less than two minutes into the second period.
“Some of the highlights of Yale’s play was the offense running the ball,” captain and defensive back Wande Owens ’24 said. “The O-Line handled their blocks, and our backs were able to successfully get upfield and gain positive yardage.”
However, the Crusaders answered back five minutes later with a 3-yard pass from Sluka to wide receiver Jalen Coker for their second touchdown of the afternoon. With 1:44 remaining in the second quarter, Sluka made an 18-yard run to raise Holy Cross’ lead to 21–10.
In the face of a challenge, Yale refused to relent, answering back under a minute later with a touchdown off a 5-yard pass from Grooms to wide receiver Mason Tipton ’24, cutting Holy Cross’ lead to four points at the half. Tipton finished the game with five receptions for 76 yards.
“We’re focused on moving throughout the season day by day and focusing on the journey to have the opportunity to be great, never on the final goal,” defensive back Dathan Hickey ’24 said. “That will take care of itself if we focus on dominating each day.”
In the second half, the Crusaders traveled 76 yards in 13 plays, completed when Coker received a 4-yard pass from Sluka, which began a series of touchdowns for Holy Cross. Yale subsequently managed to drive to the 28-yard line but turned the ball over during their downs.
In the final quarter, the Crusaders then went on an 11-play, 72-yard drive, which was finalized by 22-yard completion from Sluka to Coker to place them on the one-yard line and an 11-yard run by running back Jordan Fuller, raising Holy Cross’s lead to 35–17.
“The most challenging part of the game was the lack of defensive stops,” Owens said. “If you cannot stop the opposing team’s offense, it puts a ton of pressure on your offense and it is very hard to win football games … Defensively we were making elementary mistakes on the routine plays, and we have a great opportunity to come together and get it fixed.”
With 7:35 remaining in the game, tight end Jacob Petersen received an 8-yard pass from Sluka to tally yet another touchdown.
On Yale’s drive, Crusader linebacker Jacob Dobbs — who had 17 total tackles in the contest — forced a fumble, and cornerback Malik Scott returned 28 yards to the Yale five-yard line. Sluka then made a five-yard pass to Coker for his final touchdown of the day with 5:50 remaining.
“[Something] we have done well is respond to tougher days,” Hickey said. “We stack good days and when we may have an ‘off’ practice [or game], we don’t let that flow into the next day.”
To close out the game, backup Yale quarterback Marshall Howe ’26 made a 4-yard pass to defensive lineman Spencer Mermans ’27 at the end of a 47-yard drive, followed by an extra point from Bosman, to reduce Holy Cross’s lead to 49–24. This marked Mermans’ first career touchdown reception and Howe’s first touchdown pass at Yale.
Running back Tre Peterson ’24 and Grooms led the Yale rushing attack with 95 yards on 17 carries and 68 yards on 12 carries, respectively.
“When you are playing a really good team, your mistakes get magnified,” Head Coach Tony Reno told Yale Athletics. “In the long run, it will be advantageous for us, if we use it to get better… I’ve got belief and faith in this team.”
Linebacker Joseph Vaughn ’24 led the defense with 10 tackles, four of which were solo tackles, and defensive lineman Clay Patterson ’24 tallied his 19th career sack, moving him up to sixth in career sacks in Yale history.
While Yale did not see success against Holy Cross, the Bulldogs are motivated to turn their season around in Ivy play. Last season, the Elis fell 34–14 to the Crusaders and proceeded to win the four following games and dominate six of their seven Ivy League contests.
“I believe there were some positive aspects to the game [last weekend] that we can look to build on this weekend,” Grooms said. “In the end, we simply had too many week one mistakes against a very good opponent that we are looking to fix before we take on Cornell this weekend.”
This Saturday, the Elis will play their first Ivy League game of the season when they face Cornell at noon at the Yale Bowl.