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Crimson edge football with late drive

Bears carry eight-point margin into third quarter, crumble in fourth in front of homecoming crowd

It was the same old song and dance for the Bears against the Crimson this weekend, but despite a disappointing outcome, Bruno’s performance had players and coaches singing a different tune.

The football team slipped to 0-2 with a 22-14 home loss to Harvard, but the Bears looked miles better in every area of the game than they did in a listless season-opening loss to Georgetown.

Bruno made a statement Saturday night, asserting that it can hang with anyone after leading the defending Ivy champions into the fourth quarter. But there are improvements to be made for the Bears, who fell victim to the same mistakes in the fourth as they watched a lead evaporate.

In a rare moment of lightness, Head Coach Phil Estes P’18 summarized his squad’s performance succinctly: “I’m happy to a point,” he said. “We didn’t win, so my joyous feelings will not come out right now.”

Before the game, Estes hammered home the point that the Bears had to execute their plays and avoid mental mistakes like turnovers and penalties in order to win. After turning the ball over four times and getting called for five penalties against the Hoyas, Bruno was only penalized three times and had just one turnover against the Crimson. Unfortunately, those mistakes came at the most inopportune of times.

Entering the fourth quarter, Bruno had the ball and a 14-13 lead. Two incompletions from quarterback Marcus Fuller ’15 doomed a promising drive in Harvard territory and forced a punt. On the ensuing Crimson drive, the Bears committed their first penalty of the day, a pass interference call that handed Harvard 15 free yards and a first down. Two plays later, an offsides call moved the ball five yards closer to the end zone. The drive ended in a short field goal, flipping the lead back to Harvard, 16-14.

Three rushes for eight yards made the next drive a three-and-out for Bruno’s offense, which quickly punted back to Harvard.

The Bruno defense, hampered by injuries to star inside linebacker Dan Giovacchini ’15 and impressive cornerback Patrick O’Neill ’15, seemed to have stopped the Crimson after a 10-yard completion on 3rd and 12, but a 15-yard penalty for targeting on the tackle gave Harvard new life and deflated the Bears. Seven plays later, Harvard scored a back-breaking touchdown to go up 22-14.

The Bears were lucky that Harvard botched its extra point, keeping the margin within one score with a little over two minutes remaining. But the last drive was a mess, as the first pass attempt from Fuller was nearly picked off, and the second one actually was, enabling the Crimson to kneel out the clock and end the game.

The quarter was an unmitigated disaster for Bruno, who was outgained 173-10, and had more turnovers (one) than first downs not from penalties (none). Fuller particularly struggled, going 0-for-4 with the interception in the quarter.

“We still have a ways to go,” Estes said. “There’s no question about that.”

But one miserable quarter cannot wash away the successes of the game’s first three periods. Fuller was much better than he was against Georgetown, passing for 238 yards and a touchdown on 16 completions in 29 attempts.

“We were able to execute the game plan a little bit better this week,” Fuller said.

Andrew Coke ’16 found success again, though the Crimson did well to stifle Bruno’s running game. Rushing almost exclusively up the middle, Coke managed a mediocre 3.1 yards per carry, but did churn out 56 yards and a touchdown.

“We’ve still got to run the ball better,” Estes said. “I think that’s going to be a big part of us as a maturing offense. … That’s going to open up our play action game a little more.”

Another big storyline was success from unexpected places. Alex Jette ’17 was named a first team All-Ivy kick returner last season and didn’t anticipate seeing a lot of time as a wide receiver. But he caught three passes for 77 yards, a team-leading total, including one amazing, acrobatic grab in traffic.

The Bears’ offensive line also stepped up in a major way. Despite a scary Harvard pass rush, including star defensive lineman Zach Hodges, Fuller was not sacked once Saturday after being brought down five times against Georgetown.

“We grew up a little bit,” Estes said of the offensive line.

He also praised bookend tackles Dakota Girard ’17 and Matt Girard ’17. “I think both those sophomore tackles had a big chore just dealing with that Harvard defensive line, and I thought they did a terrific job,” he said.

At the end of the day, Estes was happy with what he saw from his team and how their play bodes for the rest of the season.

“The thing I liked was that we were a physical football team, and we went out there from the start with enthusiasm,” he said. “We had fight. We battled out there. If we didn’t go out there and battle, we were going to have a long year. But there’s hope. … I see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“They wanted to redeem themselves from last week,” he added.

Harvard head coach Tim Murphy agreed with Estes’ assessment of Bruno’s effort.

“It seemed like it was uphill both ways the entire game,” he said. “They had a great game plan, their kids played extremely hard, and they made us work for everything.”

In a much-hyped home night game, both Estes and Fuller also credited the packed, enthusiastic stadium for helping to energize the team.

“If you can’t get up for a game like this, you don’t really have much of a pulse,” Fuller said.

It’s hard to be too frustrated with the showing the Bears had, but any loss, especially one in which victory was so close, is a disappointment.

“The effort was there, effort was great across the board. It’s tough to come up short,” Fuller said.

The Bears will take their third crack at their first win at the University of Rhode Island next Saturday, in the 99th edition of the battle for the Governor’s Cup.


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