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Analysis: Football defeats Holy Cross in season’s best showing

Despite petty penalties, Bruno maintains tough offense and defense in second-straight win

The football team crawled back to an even record Saturday, defeating the College of the Holy Cross 27-24 at home in double overtime. Kicker Grant Senne ’16 proved to be the hero, drilling a chip-shot 23-yard field goal to hand Bruno (2-2) the victory. But it was another strong all-around effort from an improving team. Here’s a breakdown of the Bears’ effort in week four:


What’s strong

As always, the Bruno run defense was stifling. Four different Crusaders carried the ball five or more times, and none was able to average three yards per attempt. The achievement is all the more impressive given that Bruno was without star inside linebacker and captain Dan Giovacchini ’15, who missed the contest with a high ankle sprain.

Zach Gillen ’16 was a big reason for the Bears’ success. Gillen played sparingly in the season’s first three games, totaling just four tackles, but he busted out in a big way against Holy Cross. He broke up a pass and tallied 12 total tackles and eight solos.

Marcus Fuller ’15 had another career game. He doubled his season touchdown total with a pair of tosses and completed 20 of 37 passes for 240 yards. Perhaps most importantly, Fuller and the Bears as a team did not turn the ball over once, throwing no interceptions and never fumbling the ball despite cold and rain.

In lockstep with their quarterback, wide receivers Alex Jette ’17 and Brian Strachan ’15 continued their great performances. Jette, who last year became the first first-year in team history to earn first-team All-Ivy honors, continued his breakout campaign with three catches for 53 yards. Strachan, nominally a running back entering the season, has played almost exclusively out wide since the season opener and had his best game of the year against the Crusaders. He caught eight balls for 98 yards and all three of Bruno’s touchdowns, including a spectacular reception from fellow receiver Troy Doles ’16 on a trick play.

The Bears also finally found some success pounding the rock, despite the absence of last week’s running weapon Seth Rosenbauer ’16 due to a head injury. Unlike the Crusaders, four Bears had two or more carries, and each broke the three yards per carry mark. Andrew Coke ’16 led the way, posting a season-high 89 yards on 18 carries, including a season-topping 31-yard gain.


What’s wrong

The Bears hurt themselves badly with penalties. A whopping nine flags cost them 68 yards. Many of the penalties were small, easily fixable transgressions that indicated a certain sloppiness: four false starts, an offsides and an illegal formation. But most backbreaking were two personal fouls on consecutive drives in the final five minutes of regulation.

The Bears had a 17-10 lead and the ball with 4:08 left on the clock, giving them a chance to ice the game with a few first downs. But after a first-down completion on third down, a flag brought the play back and put Bruno in a third-and-long it could not convert, forcing a three-and-out. On the ensuing Crusader drive, the Bears gave up a long completion and then were called for a facemask that gave Holy Cross the ball on the Brown 11-yard line, enabling the team to tie the game three plays later. The quarter was not quite as bad as Bruno’s fourth-quarter effort against Harvard, but it was a clear sign that the team is not yet at its best in crunch time.

Echoing their game against the University of Rhode Island, the Bears had trouble hanging on to Fuller’s passes in the rain. The conditions can be blamed, and they didn’t help the receiving corps, but the wideouts must soften up their hands if the offense is to reach its full potential.

It seems harsh to say the pass defense was a problem, but Holy Cross was able to move the ball much more effectively through the air than on the ground. Dynamic Crusaders quarterback Peter Pujals completed over two-thirds of his passes, 30 of 44, for 252 yards. The Bruno secondary ceded yardage in chunks at times, allowing six completions of over 15 yards. But it did force Pujals into throwing two interceptions, and the Crusaders only managed 5.7 yards per pass play, falling well short of Bruno’s 6.6-yard mark.


What’s new

Gillen was the game’s most effective fresh face. His 12 tackles were the most any Bruno player has registered in a game this season. If Giovacchini misses another week with his sprained ankle, the team can rest easy knowing its front seven is in good hands. And even if the captain can return, Gillen has certainly shown enough to merit much more playing time.

The Bears played their best game of the season for the fourth straight week. Fuller has grown over the course of the season, improving markedly each week and leading the offense to top its own point totals each successive game. The Bears certainly have a ways to go, with penalties, drops and inconsistency still rearing their ugly heads at inopportune times, but their ability is evident.

The Bears will pick their Ivy League schedule back up Saturday on the road against Princeton with a two-game winning streak and the accompanying momentum behind them. The Tigers are considered by some to be the conference favorites this season, and playing them on the road may present an even tougher challenge than facing Harvard at home did. But if Bruno can continue to improve at its current pace, it should give Princeton all it can handle.


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