"Not Pretty", but Holmes Downs Holy Cross, 21-7
The Holmes Bulldogs outlasted the visiting Holy Cross Indians, 21-7, in a long and humid contest that included a 30-minute lightning delay.
The game was anything but clean as the teams combined for six turnovers and a multitude of penalties, mostly of the pre-snap variety. The Bulldogs soldiered through the mess and broke the game open with two long touchdown runs by senior running back Delijuah Ross Tyus.
"Wasn't pretty, but I just told the kids I would rather have an ugly win than an ugly loss," said Bulldogs Head Coach Ben Nevels. "So, we'll take it. We'll watch film from it and learn from it."
Holy Cross scored its only touchdown on its opening drive and looked good doing in, thanks in large part to the accurate passing by quarterback Hamilton Scott. After that, however, Holmes adjusted by taking away shorter passes in the flats and forcing the Indians to use the middle of the field which they were not able to do well.
Holmes had problems of its own, though. or else the score could have been significantly more lopsided. Wide out Frederick Vickers dropped two sure touchdown passes in the first half and the Bulldogs killed their own drives with fumbles and loads of motion penalties. As a result, the game settled into a defensive slug fest and remained tied at seven well into the third quarter.
"When I say that we're young, I mean that those juniors haven't been counted on to make plays," Nevels said. "They can make plays here and there sporadically, but we have to get them to the point where it's automatic. I think you can kind of see the potential for explosiveness in several of the plays and a few of them just didn't hit. I mean, heck, we potentially had three plays for three touchdowns we didn't get."
The heat and humidity made for very sticky conditions and players could be seen working out cramps both on the field and along each sideline. The Holmes coaching staff immediately reminded their players to drink water and to take a knee during every time out or stoppage of play. Nevels said that he reminds his players the day before games about the importance of staying hydrated, but that remains a challenge with the weather and the youth of his players.
"Some of these guys think they're Superman until they get hit with the kryptonite," Nevels said. "We told them to start hydrating on Monday. I tell them all the time, 'You have to take care of your body'."
Holy Cross, meanwhile, was able to find some success running the ball with Xavier Abernathy, who is tough to bring down. Holmes ultimately plugged the gaps well enough to force the Indians to go to the air, resulting in many punts. The Indians had their best chance of the second half to take the lead right after the lightning delay. Midway through the third quarter they drove the ball inside the Holmes 10-yeard line but Scott threw a bad pass to the back of the end zone which was intercepted and returned to midfield. On th enext possession, Holmes's Ross-Tyus took a misdirection off a hand-off out of the wildcat formation, got space to the outside, and simply ran faster down the sideline than the entire Holy Cross defense.
With his team down, 14-7, in the fourth quarter, Holy Cross Head Coach Bruce Kozerski rallied his Indians for one last gasp, pleading with them to remain mentally tough. The offense drove the ball again into Bulldog territory and faced fourth-and-one at the 35-yard line. Scott took the direct snap and sprinted left but Holmes's Sean Sullivan quickly chased him down and tackled him around the ankles for a loss of yards.
One the Bulldogs got the ball back, Ross-Tyus broke another long run in the exact same way and on the exact same play as his previous touchdown, extending the Holmes lead to 21-7 with under three minutes remaining.
After another interception by Holmes's Eric Dearborn on Holy Cross's next possession, the Bulldogs sealed the deal with a victory formation as time expired.
Holmes is 1-0 and Holy Cross is 0-1.
Story & photos by Bryan Burke, RCN associate editor