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Football team prepares for marquee matchup

The primetime contest at Harvard will indicate the balance of power in the Ivy League

On Saturday evening, the football team will play on one of the biggest stages the Ivy League affords: a nationally televised game, under the lights against a conference rival at historic Harvard Stadium in Boston.

But to Head Coach Phil Estes and his team, this week’s matchup against the Crimson is just another game. “It has nothing to do with the rivalry,” Estes said. “It has everything to do with the fact that this is the game we have to play this week.”

“I don’t think any of it has played into the preparation,” said Defensive Captain Michael Yules ’14. “We all know that it’s on national television. What’s really important is that it’s the first Ivy League game. We need to win every single one to be a champion.”

Bruno (1-0, Ivy 0-0) will open its conference schedule against Harvard (1-0, 0-0) for the second year in a row on NBC Sports Network at 7:30 p.m.

Much more than a season opener, the contest pits two of the top teams in the Ancient Eight against each other. The Ivy League Preseason Media poll ranked Harvard number two and Brown number three, with both teams receiving first-place votes.

“We’ll find out what kind of a football team we are this week,” Estes said. “We’re playing against the best, so if we can match up with them, we know that we’re one of the better teams in the league. If we don’t, we know that we’ve got a little bit more preparing to do.”

Yules relishes the opportunity to play a formidable opponent early in the season.

“It’s cool,” Yules said. “You start the season off with a bang against a great opponent, someone who’s perennially on the top. To have such a big challenge provides the opportunity to come together as a team early on.”

The Bears will try to sustain momentum from last week’s 45-7 victory over Georgetown University. In his first game since 2011, John Spooney ’14 led Bruno with 102 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Alex Jette ’17 contributed another breakout performance with 82 yards returning, and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week Monday. Estes said he plans to give Jette a greater offensive role as the season progresses.

Defense played perhaps the largest role in the victory by holding the Hoyas scoreless for 58 minutes.

“This week will be a much different game against a much different opponent,” Yules said. “We’re probably going to give up points this week. It’s not as much about a shutout — it’s more about being physical, tough and perfect mentally.”

Harvard’s offensive attack will provide an ample challenge for Yules’ defense. The Crimson defeated San Diego State 42-20 last Saturday, paced by quarterback Conner Hempel’s 345 passing yards and three touchdown passes in his first career start.

“They just reload,” Estes said of Harvard’s offense. “They put another quarterback in there, and he’s just as good as the guy last year. They may have lost people, but they haven’t lost much talent.”

Harvard has capitalized on home-field advantage in the past. The Crimson have won each of their past 12 home openers, 13 consecutive home games and all seven night games played at Harvard Stadium. It has also come out on top in 11 of its last 13 games against the Bears, including last year’s 45-31 victory in Providence on homecoming weekend.

“I don’t see (home field advantage) playing a role as long as we stay focused,” Spooney said. “We have a lot of discipline on the team, so I don’t see it being a factor.”

“Last year’s game is in the past,” Yules said. “It’s a new year, a new team, a new goal. It’s the 2013 championship we’re chasing, not the 2012 one.”

The captain also pointed to this week’s significance for seniors on the team.

“For seniors, every game is a little bit different,” Yules said. “You realize every game is the last against that opponent. Every game seems bigger because you want to go out on top. This is what you’ll remember about your career.”

Saturday’s game will be the first of Bruno’s three night games this season. It will host Rhode Island College next Saturday and Princeton October 19, both at 6:00 p.m.



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