NEW HAVEN, Conn. — As disappointing as it was, Holy Cross had no choice but to move on quickly from last week’s three-point loss at Boston College.
Less than 24 hours after the 31-28 setback, the Crusaders were back in their weight room, watching film and preparing for their next challenge at Yale.
“We didn’t play a bad game last week,” Holy Cross senior quarterback Matthew Sluka said. “It was just an unfortunate ending, so (this week) it was just making sure we came out and did our job and finished the game.”
Sluka rushed for two touchdowns and passed for four TDs, including three to classmate Jalen Coker, while leading an inspired offensive effort and the No. 5/6 Crusaders crushed the Bulldogs, 49-24, at the Yale Bowl.
The Holy Cross defense held Yale to seven points and 153 yards in the second half.
“Our offense,” HC coach Bob Chesney said, “what a show we put on. We started a little slow and I think defensively there are a lot of young guys out there, so it takes a little bit for us to figure it out, but I thought in the second half we did a really nice job. We were very confident that we were going to be able to move the ball and continue to move the ball throughout the day.”
Sluka, who had HC in position to beat BC and register its third straight win over a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, completed 22 of 29 pass attempts for 270 yards, and carried 14 times for 98 yards while leading Holy Cross’ balanced attack.
With nine catches for 124 yards, Coker had his second 100-yard receiving game of the season.
“I knew there were certain plays I was going to find him on,” Sluka said, “and had certain looks. I was just making sure I gave him an accurate, catchable football, and let him do the work and that’s it. Just make sure he’s in the right spot.”
Coker matched a single-game career high with three touchdown receptions.
“(Sluka) is my guy,” Coker said. “My job is to go get it and wherever he puts it, it’s my job to go get it. We’ve been practicing this for four years now, so it’s just second nature at this point.”
Sluka threw an 8-yard TD pass to junior tight end Jacob Peterson, and junior running back Jordan Fuller scored his seventh rushing touchdown of the season.
The Crusaders punted only once, late in the fourth quarter. HC averaged 8.63 yards per play in the first half, and 7.01 yards for the game.
“We were competing at very high level on offensive side,” Chesney said.
In Holy Cross’ first 32 meetings with Yale, the Crusaders defeated the Bulldogs only four times.
Since a 31-28 overtime win against Yale in 2018, which was Chesney’s first victory as HC coach, and after Saturday’s trouncing, the Crusaders have won four of the last five games in the series.
Yale, the defending Ivy League champion and the preseason favorite to repeat, was playing its 2023 opener.
BC snapped Holy Cross’ overall regular-season winning streak at 18 games, but HC extended its regular-season winning streak over FCS foes to 18 games.
Holy Cross scored three touchdowns on its four first-half possessions. Sophomore Luis Palenzuela missed his first career field-goal attempt, from 33 yards, on the other. Palenzuela remained perfect on PATs this season.
HC took its first lead midway through the second quarter when Sluka found Coker in one-on-one coverage in the right corner of the end zone and threw a perfect ball to Coker’s outside shoulder.
After a quick Yale three-and-out, Holy Cross scored again as Sluka, who converted a fourth-and-one early in the drive, scored from 17 yards out for a 21-10 lead.
Following a kickoff out of bounds, the Bulldogs went 65 yards in 45 seconds and scored on senior quarterback Nolan Grooms’ 9-yard pass to senior Mason Tipton.
HC led, 21-17, at halftime, and like in last week’s game, scored a crucial touchdown coming out in the second half.
During the 75-yard scoring drive, senior running back Jordan Forrest converted a big third down at midfield and Sluka a fourth down inside the Yale 5 before hooking up again with Coker on a 4-yard TD.
HC had the ball for 10 minutes of the third, and finished off a long drive 52 seconds into fourth with Fuller’s 11-yard TD run up the middle.
Fuller, who had a quiet first half, rushed for 54 yards on 12 carries. Senior Tyler Purdy carried eight times for 51 yards, and had an important third-down conversion during one of HC’s second-quarter scoring drives.
The Bulldogs, coached by Oxford native Tony Reno, scored on backup quarterback Marshall Howe’s 4-yard pass to Spencer Mermans with 27 seconds left.
Holy Cross senior linebacker Jacob Dobbs had a game-high 17 tackles.
“I thought our defensive line played phenomenal,” Dobbs said. “We have some young guys up front, but those guys play so hard, and the secondary, they run to the football and they cover guys. It’s really easy to play linebacker when you have everybody around you doing their job to an elite level.”
Grooms, the 2022 Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, was 12-17 for 112 yards and a touchdown, and he rushed for 68 yards on 12 carries.
Yale had eight penalties for 68 yards, including an illegal substitution that gave HC a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line in the second quarter and a personal foul on HC’s opening drive of the second half.