Updated 2:38 a.m. on Oct. 14.
Though Brown Stadium was packed to the brim for the game against Harvard two weeks ago, fans were few and far between on a cold and rainy Saturday for the football team’s matchup with the College of the Holy Cross. But the Bears outlasted the Crusaders this weekend in their most exciting game of the season so far, a 27-24 double-overtime thriller.
The nail-biter was the latest in a series of perennial dogfights between the New England rivals: Six of their last seven meetings were decided by one possession.
The victory also marked the 100th career win for Head Coach Phil Estes P’18.
Kicker Grant Senne ’16 put a bow on the wild game with a 23-yard, game-winning field goal in the second overtime.
Bruno (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) fell behind early and then surged to a lead, only to falter in the fourth quarter, letting Holy Cross (2-5, 0-2 Patriot) tie the game with two late scores. But after the foes traded touchdowns in the first overtime, the Bears’ defense forced Holy Cross to try a long field goal — which kicker Connor Fitzgerald hooked — and the offense set up Senne for the decisive chip-shot.
Only two Bears scored on the day: Senne, who hit two field goals and three extra points, and wide receiver Brian Strachan ’15, who had a career day with all three Bruno touchdowns. When all was said and done, the receiver-turned-tailback-turned-receiver hauled in a diving touchdown catch, a go-ahead touchdown catch and an overtime touchdown catch — as well as five other receptions and 98 yards receiving.
Quarterback and co-captain Marcus Fuller ’15 led the charge for Bruno. A rocky start left him with just 44 yards on six completions at halftime, but he went 14-27 for 196 yards and two touchdowns after intermission. The senior performed better than his line indicates, given the first-half drops he endured from his receivers.
After sputtering through much of the first half on its way to a 7-0 halftime deficit, the Bruno offense came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders. Five consecutive completions — including a 30-yard strike to Alex Jette ’17 — carried the Bears from their own 28-yard line to first-and-goal at the 10.
Knowing Bruno’s red zone offense has been weak this season, Estes reached into his bag of tricks to pick up the last 10 yards and tie the game 7-7. Fuller handed the ball to Andrew Coke ’16, who pitched it to wide receiver Troy Doles ’16 on a reverse. Instead of running, Doles aired it out to the end zone, where a diving Strachan put a finishing flourish on the trick play.
Brown’s defense has excelled this year at tightening up when it counts, and the unit did just that in the third quarter, forcing the Crusaders into a quick three-and-out and getting the ball back to the surging offense.
Fuller orchestrated another rapid march to the end zone, leaning on his favorite target, Strachan. The duo connected three times on the drive, the third of which was a third-down strike for 12 yards and Strachan’s second touchdown of the game.
With a 14-7 lead, the Brown defense went back to work, halting the Crusader attack again and forcing a punt. Fuller hit Jette for two big gains, and Senne finished off the drive with a 40-yard field goal to make it 17-7. The kick marked a career-long for Senne and the first time Brown has scored on three straight drives this year.
But for all the momentum Bruno built in the third and early fourth quarter, the home team made some costly errors down the stretch to allow Holy Cross to claw its way back.
Three-and-outs on each of their last three possessions meant the Bears drained very little time from the clock, and two fourth-quarter personal foul penalties — a clipping call that negated a Brown first down and a facemask that moved Holy Cross into the red zone — set up the Crusaders with short fields. They capitalized, scoring the game-tying touchdown with just a minute left in regulation.
Brown scored on the first play of overtime, using the tried-and-true strategy of Fuller throwing to Strachan. The quarterback perfectly timed a throw down the middle for Strachan, who spun away from his coverage just in time to haul in the touchdown. Holy Cross answered with a two-play drive and 21-yard touchdown catch by Kalif Raymond.
Neither side moved the ball with much success early in the game. The weather conditions were wet and sloppy at kickoff, hurting offensive production. A defensive contest would seem to bode well for a Bruno team that has struggled to put points on the board this season — averaging just 12.3 points per game entering Saturday.
In the first quarter, Bruno’s schemes seemed to work, but the team did not execute them sharply. Had it not been for four first-half drops by open receivers — two of which came on third down — Fuller would have completed his first eight passes and Brown might have found the end zone earlier in the game.
Fortunately for the Bears, their struggling offense didn’t hurt them much, thanks to similar shortcomings by the Crusaders. While poor receiver play slowed Bruno, Holy Cross was done in early by an inept ground attack. Through their first 10 rush attempts, the Crusaders had just 14 rushing yards to their credit.
The Bruno front eight was their primary obstacle. Xavier Russo ’15 was missing his partner-in-crime Dan Giovacchini ’15 due to injury, but that did not keep him from registering five first-half and eight total tackles.
The defensive line proved difficult to penetrate once again, with Chad Berry ’16, Ludovic Richardson ’16 and Zach Sparber ’15 accounting for three tackles a piece before halftime.
But the Crusaders adapted to the Bears’ stingy run defense. After all but abandoning its ground game, Holy Cross marched the field for the first time late in the second quarter. The 14-play, 78-yard drive comprised a heavy diet of screen passes and bubble routes.
With Bruno on Holy Cross’ heels, Crusader tailback Gabe Guild struck for a nine-yard touchdown run to score the lone points of the first half.
The Bears’ elation after Senne’s game-winner was clear: The kicker ran the distance of the field before doing his best World Cup impersonation, sliding on his stomach into the end zone while rest of the roster mobbed him.
The victory propels the Bears to .500 on the year and gives them a two-game winning streak as they head to Princeton next week to resume Ivy League play.
Updated 2:38 a.m. on Oct. 14.