THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Expect a fight to the finish

Holy Cross, Harvard renew their rivalry

By Craig Larson
Globe Staff / September 19, 2009

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Holy Cross quarterback Dominic Randolph’s 40-yard scoring toss to Thomas Harrison with 19 seconds remaining two years ago stunned Harvard, 31-28, resulting in a silent bus trip back to Cambridge. A year ago, Harvard’s 19-point fourth-quarter blitz, and 25-24 win, scarred Holy Cross for more than a few days.

The two proud programs will tussle for the 63d time today, and if the last two thrilling matchups are any measure, Fitton Field is a worthy destination spot.

“The winner of the game is the team that can best handle the pressure, and executes,’’ said Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore, his 23d-ranked Crusaders off to a 2-0 start after convincing home victories over Georgetown (20-7) and Sacred Heart (52-21). “Last year, the turnover battle was a huge thing.’’

And how.

Collin Zych picked off Randolph in the end zone in the third quarter. Eric Schultz forced a decisive fumble on first and goal from the 1 in the fourth quarter and Chris Pizzotti (30 of 44, 2 TD runs) took care of the rest, the start of a 9-1 run that ended with a second straight Ivy League title.

While the record-setting Randolph, leading the nation in total offense (384.5 yards per game), is back triggering the Crusaders’ spread attack, Harvard coach Tim Murphy will start the season by handing the ball to junior quarterback Collier Winters, a 5-foot-11-inch running threat who is making his first career start.

The advantage, though, is with the 25th-ranked Crimson, according to Gilmore.

“They have two evaluations of us, we have none,’’ he said. “We have prepared from what Harvard did last year, and knowing that Winters will be used more as a run threat, maybe more like what they did in the Ryan Fitzpatrick days, or Liam O’Hagan.’’

But Winters also has a talented collection of wide receivers, starting with 6-6 senior Matt Luft, that runs six deep.

Harvard captain Carl Ehrlich is a believer. “We have more athletes on offense than we know what to do with,’’ said the 6-3, 280-pound defensive tackle.

He has just as much respect for Randolph and the Crusaders.

“Dominic Randolph was a great quarterback three years ago,’’ said Ehrlich, who is anticipating a busy day in the trenches, battling senior left tackle Aaron Jones (6-4, 360 pounds), among others. “He has a great pocket presence, and we just have to try to force him out, and make him uncomfortable. And he’s pretty tough to get to.’’

Murphy is more effusive.

“Basically, he’s unsackable,’’ he said of the 6-3, 230-pound Randolph, who was hauled down just 13 times in more than 500 pass attempts last year. “Holy Cross does a great job in pass protection, but he gets rid of the ball, he will not take a sack, he’s as good at it as anyone I’ve seen in a long time. He throws the ball effortlessly.’’

And with a pair of talented backs, sophomore Matt Bellomo and freshman Eddie Houghton, the Patriot League’s two-time Rookie of the Week, the Crusaders are more balanced than ever.

Although Harvard will be playing its first game, the Crimson shouldn’t be rusty after holding an intrasquad scrimmage two weeks ago and scrimmaging Dartmouth last weekend.

“I think it’s more important when you have a lot of new kids,’’ said Ehrlich. “We’ve treated every week like a new game.’’

Opener or Week 3, it should be a game that will just be heating up at the start of the fourth quarter.

Elsewhere, former Jacksonville Jaguars assistant Tom Williams makes his debut on the Yale sideline at Georgetown, 17th-ranked Massachusetts tackles a much-improved Rhode Island squad, 20th-ranked Maine travels to Albany, and Northeastern shoots for its first win, hosting Youngstown State.

In the Northeast-10, New Haven debuts its new blue turf field against Bentley in the Chargers’ first home game in five years after relaunching the program, and unbeaten AIC hosts Southern Connecticut.

Craig Larson can be reached at clarson@globe.com.