Out with a knee injury for the last two seasons, running back Spiro Theodhosi '13 came out strong on Saturday, helping the Bears to a 24-21 victory over the Holy Cross Crusaders in the season opener.
Following a shaky first-half performance, the Bears found themselves down 7-3 at the half.
"We couldn't hang our hat on a personnel grouping or series of plays that we could execute with consistency" in the first two quarters, said Head Coach Phil Estes.
"I know we were trying different packages," Theodhosi said. "We just really couldn't find the right thing."
Bruno fell further behind in the third quarter, and new starting quarterback Patrick Donnelly '13 faced an 11-point deficit with 15 minutes remaining.
But what had been a mediocre offensive effort quickly turned into an inspirational comeback that Estes said displayed the team's "never-give-up attitude."
Early in the fourth, a short touchdown pass to wide receiver Jonah Fay '13 successfully capped a 75-yard drive and narrowed the Crusaders' lead to four points.
Holy Cross could not regain any momentum on their next drive, moving the ball just 22 yards before Bruno recovered it with under eight minutes to go. Donnelly then orchestrated an impressive 84-yard scoring drive that took 6:22 off the clock, leaving the Crusaders with too little time to mount a comeback.
Theodhosi was instrumental in the fourth-quarter surge, accounting for 53 of the yards on the game-winning drive and finishing with a game-high 120 rushing yards. After being off the field for the past two years, Theodhosi said his teammates helped him adjust to the competition his first time back on the gridiron.
"The fact that (my teammates) were there helped me ease my way in," he said. "I made a couple of mental errors but, in general, performed."
Estes said he was pleased with Donnelly's performance in his first start.
"I'm sure he would've liked to have a couple more (completions) - some balls were overthrown, some were underthrown - but all in all, for his first start, he played very well," Estes said.
Despite some preseason concerns about the inexperience of their linebackers, the Bears were able to effectively contain the Crusaders' running game, limiting their opponents to 92 rushing yards. Stephen Zambetti '13 and Reed Watne '13 led the strong defensive effort with a combined 21 tackles.
Still, Estes pointed out "there were times when we didn't tackle great in the open field."
The Bears gave up 230 passing yards to the high-flying Crusader offense led by senior quarterback Kevin Watson. "They're a passing team," Estes said. "A really good passing team."
Because this was the Bears' first game of the season, they had no film of this year's squad to present to the Crusaders' coaching staff, and so the teams could not exchange footage before Saturday's game. This made it more difficult for the Bears to prepare for the match-up and anticipate the schemes Holy Cross would use, Estes said.
Regardless, Estes was satisfied with the Bears' overall defensive performance. On the other side of the ball, the head coach stressed the importance of understanding his own team's optimal style of offense as soon as possible.
"We're going to have to get to know this team real quick," Estes said. "What is our strength? Is it running the ball with Theodhosi? The strength of Patrick's arm? We have to settle ourselves on offense."
This first victory will certainly carry momentum into the Bears' first Ivy League game next Saturday, when they will face Harvard under the lights at Brown Stadium.
Defeating the Crusaders "was a big confidence booster, but we can never be satisfied. We're always looking to get more wins," Theodhosi said. "We've put Holy Cross to bed, and now we're on to Harvard."