Crusaders think big
WORCESTER - Eight yards from the end zone, Collier Winters saw an opening. Andrew Zitnik saw an opportunity.
With Holy Cross holding a 23-14 cushion over Harvard early in the fourth quarter, Crusaders senior safety Cav Koch told Zitnik to play short in coverage, near the line of scrimmage. “He saw what was coming, he told me to be in my spot, I was in my spot,’’ said Zitnik.
When Winters zipped a pass toward the right pylon, intended for senior Chris Lorditch, Zitnik cut in front, tucked the ball in his gut, and sprinted 97 yards down the sideline, with the fleet-footed Winters making a unsuccessful diving tackle attempt at the 50. The pick-six, the first career interception for the sophomore cornerback from Warren, Ohio, gave Holy Cross a commanding 16-point cushion and paved the way for a 30-22 homecoming victory before 8,648 at Fitton Field.
“I was trying to stay calm, I have dropped picks before this season,’’ said Zitnik (team-high nine tackles) after the Crusaders (2-1) denied the Crimson a win in their 138th season opener.
Winters (25 of 41, 265 yards) said there was miscommunication on the route between he and Lorditch.
“That play definitely hurt us,’’ said Winters, a fifth-year senior, who had directed the Crimson to an early 14-3 lead with a 4-yard run into the end zone and a 7-yard touchdown toss to junior tight end Kyle Juszczyk.
The interception was the third and final critical error that doomed Harvard.
The Crimson forced the hosts to punt on their first series, but junior Brian Owusu muffed the catch. Eddie Houghton pounced on the ball at the 3 and John Macomber booted the first of his three field goals for a 3-0 lead.
The play, however, that gave the Crusaders a jump-start came seconds after Winters connected with Juszczyk for the score.
Holy Cross senior Ryan Taggart (22 of 35, career-high 320 yards) stepped back into the pocket from his 32, spotted Josh Hauser open down the middle on a wheel route, and the 6-foot-4-inch, 226-pound tight end lumbered 68 yards to the end zone.
“I didn’t think [Hauser] would get in, but he did,’’ said Taggart, after completing the Crusaders’ longest pass play since 2008.
The Crusaders followed the lead of the poised Taggart, the fifth-year senior who has thrown 201 consecutive passes without an interception. He put Holy Cross ahead for good, 17-14, with a 1-yard sneak, capping a seven-play, 60-yard drive after Juszczyk fell 1 yard short on a fourth-and-15 rush on a fake punt.
“They’re a good football team, and you cannot afford to make any big, critical errors, and we made three - the punt [drop], the interception, and the busted coverage,’’ said Harvard coach Tim Murphy. “That’s [three scores], I believe . . . And we couldn’t get our defense off the field. That’s a bad combination.’’
The Crimson closed to within 30-22 with 13:22 left on a 46-yard aerial from Winters to Alex Sarkisian, but the Holy Cross defense held firm in the final minutes, with senior corner Chandler Fenner closing out the win with an interception at the HC 26.
“We talk about ball security all the time,’’ said Harvard captain Alex Gideon, who registered a team-high 13 tackles at inside linebacker. “We’ll correct where our mistakes were, and we’ll be ready come Friday [for visiting Brown].’’
The Crimson will do so minus junior outside linebacker Blaise Deal, who suffered a dislocated left knee with 3:03 remaining.
Craig Larson can be reached at email@example.com.