Defense and Special Teams Struggle as Football Falls

Defense and Special Teams Struggle as Football Falls

Bill Stoklosa

In a game with huge conference title implications, the No. 17 Raiders picked a poor time to register their first loss of the year. But lose they did, as Colgate’s defense struggled to contain No. 22 Holy Cross QB Dominic Randolph, who led the Crusaders to a 42-28 victory over Colgate. Holy Cross not only got revenge for its 28-27 loss in Hamilton last season that gave Colgate the conference title, but this win also gave the Crusaders an inside track to this year’s Patriot League title.

The defensive struggles began early for the Raiders, as they let Holy Cross drive down the field quickly on the first possession of the game. Facing a third-and-goal, Randolph found a wide open Bill Edger in the middle of the field for a 15-yard touchdown strike. Colgate’s offense was forced to punt on the ensuing possession, but soon got a huge play from their defense as junior corner Coree’ Moses read Randolph’s pass perfectly, came up with the pick at the Crusader 37, and took it all the way to the house to knot up the score at seven.

Randolph recovered quickly and led Holy Cross to another score on their next possession, this time finding Nick Cole for a nine-yard strike. After Colgate turned it over on downs at the Crusader 34, Holy Cross quickly got on the scoreboard, this time on a one-yard Randolph quarterback sneak, which put the Crusaders up 21-7. Colgate, however, got right back in the game, when junior quarterback Greg Sullivan hit senior wide receiver Pat Simonds for a big play. Simonds beat the defense and Sullivan got him the ball for a 31-yard touchdown strike after faking a hanoff to sophomore running back Nate Eachus. However, Holy Cross got the half’s last points as Alex Johnson ran back the ensuing kickoff 59 yards to the Raider 32. Kick coverage was a bane for Colgate all day, and as a result an already potent offense was often given a very short field to work with.

Starting from the Raider 32, it did not take the Crusaders long to get into the end zone. Randolph completed a 17-yard pass to Cole, followed by a 15-yard strike to Freddie Santana, to put Holy Cross up 28-14 going into the half.

Colgate got the ball to start the third quarter, but failed to cut into the Holy Cross lead. Luckily for the Raiders, junior linebacker Zach Smith picked off Randolph on the next possession and ran the ball back to the Raider 45. Colgate drove down to the Holy Cross 32, where they faced a fourth-and-two. Sullivan ran with the ball and just barely picked up the first. Later on the drive, the Raiders faced a fourth-and-one from the six, which sophomore running back Nate Eachus picked up thanks to some tough running. On the next play Sullivan found tight end Nick Cvetic in the end zone to cut the Crusader lead to 28-21. However, less than four minutes later the Crusaders were once again up by 14, thanks to Randolph’s second rushing score of the day.

Early in the fourth, Colgate once again made it a one score game, this time thanks to a 10-yard rush by Nate Eachus. However, on the next possession the Crusaders put the game away, as Randolph picked up his fourth passing touchdown of the day, this time on a 5-yard strike to Alex Schneider. The score put Holy Cross up 42-28, and that score held up until the final whistle; Colgate left Massachusetts with a very damaging loss.

It does not take a genius to figure out what the key to Holy Cross’s success was. Randolph threw for 288 yards and four scores, as well as rushing for a staggering 116 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Colgate’s defense seemed unable to stop Randolph’s scrambling while simultaneously covering the middle of the field. Randolph was able to complete numerous passes down the middle, most often to Bill Edger, who caught nine passes for 127 yards and a score.

Colgate’s offense struggled as well. Eachus rushed for just 69 yards on 23 carries, while sophomore running back Jordan McCord, the Patriot League’s leading rusher going into the game, had just 15 yards on nine carries. Colgate lives by the run and Holy Cross did a great job taking that away. Sullivan’s performance was mediocre, as he struggled to hit his receivers early on, something that proved costly as Holy Cross developed an early lead. When it was all said and done Sullivan threw for 172 yards and two scores, while rushing for 53 yards. Sullivan’s leading receiver was Simonds who caught five balls for 70 yards and a score. Senior wideout Ty Henry had a solid day, making some spectacular catches for six receptions and 57 yards on the afternoon. Overall, though, the offense struggled as Holy Cross stymied the running attack with eight or nine men in the box, and the Raiders were unable to take advantage through the air.

“Holy Cross has a great game plan that focused on trying to take Pat [Simonds] out of the game,” Head Coach Dick Biddle said. “We pressed a little bit. We were trying to make the big plays instead of taking what they gave us.”

On defense Moses was the standout, leading the team with eight tackles in addition to his huge interception. Overall, however, the defense struggled mightily giving up 42 points and 440 yards. Short kickoffs and bad coverage on kicks didn’t help matters for the defense either.

“They were 6-8 on third downs in the game,” Coach Biddle said. “We put an emphasis on getting the ball back on third down, but we weren’t able to get them off the field. We also didn’t get much of a pass rush. The key to the game though was the kick coverage. Their average starting field position was their own 45. When the other team’s average drive start is their own 45 it’s very hard to win the game.”

The loss drops the Raiders, now No. 24 in the Sports Network poll, to 7-1 overall and 2-1 in the Patriot League, while Holy Cross improves to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in League. Holy Cross is essentially two games up on Colgate after the loss, since the Crusaders now own the tiebreaker with Colgate. To claim the Patriot League title, Colgate will have to hope for two losses by the Crusaders or a three-way tie scenario, most likely involving Lafayette, who is also undefeated in the League. Colgate also has an outside chance at an at large bid in the NCAA playoffs if they win out. It does not look good for Colgate right now, but as Coach Biddle pointed out, three of the six times he has won the League title his team lost a League game. At any rate, Colgate will have to win the rest of its games to have any chance, and their first challenge will be Lehigh at home this Saturday at 1 p.m.