Andrew Casten celebrates after scoring one of his three touchdowns (Gil Talbot)
CAMBRIDGE. Mass. – Senior Andrew Casten rushed for a career-high 153 yards and three touchdowns to help Harvard (1-0) to a 41-18 victory over Holy Cross (2-2) in its season opener. The victory marks the 12th time in the last 14 season openers Harvard has won under Tim Murphy, The Thomas Stephenson Family Head Coach for Harvard Football, and moves Harvard to 116-23-2 all-time in the opening game of the season. The Crimson extends its series lead over Holy Cross to 42-24-2.
Senior defensive end Zack Hodges tied the Harvard career sacks record with 20.5 (Chris Smith '98) after taking down Holy Cross quarterback Peter Pujals twice in the backfield. The Crimson tallied four sacks and forced three Crusaders' turnovers in the game.
Conner Hempel, a senior, completed 11 of 13 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns for Harvard, marking the sixth time in his career he has thrown for two or more scores. Junior Andrew Fischer tied a career-best with six receptions, while sophomore tight end Anthony Firkser hauled in four passes for a team-high 60 yards and a touchdown. Harvard scored 27 consecutive points to end the game.
After forcing the Crusaders into a three-and-out to begin the game, Harvard scored on its opening drive when Casten burst into the endzone on a three-yard rush up the middle. Hempel connected on a pair of passes to Fischer for 33 yards on the drive to set up the score. Holy Cross got on the board with 2:26 remaining in the first quarter after Gabe Guild scored up the middle on a one-yard rush to cap off a 19-play, 75-yard drive and cut Harvard's lead to 7-6.
With just over eight minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Crimson extended the lead to 14-6. Junior Scott Hosch faked a handoff to Casten and rushed seven yards up the middle for his first career touchdown. Hosch connected with tight ends Ben Braunecker, a junior, and Firkser for gains of 20-plus yards on the drive to set up the Crimson score.
The Crusaders added a field goal with 1:50 to go in the first half. On Harvard's ensuing possession, Holy Cross' Luke Ford picked off Hosch's pass with under a minute to play in the period, but Harvard was able to hold the opposing offense to a field goal and take a 14-12 lead into the break.
Holy Cross took the lead in the third quarter after Guild crossed the goal line from five yards out for his second score of the day to push the score to 18-14. The Crusaders attempted a two-point conversion after the touchdown, but Pujals pass was batted away by Ahern.
With 4:43 on the clock in the third quarter, Firkser took a five-yard pass from Hempel across the goal line to regain the lead, 20-18. Casten broke a 20-yard rush to spark the 64-yard drive. Moments later, junior James Duberg forced a Pujals fumble which was recovered by junior Matt Koran. Casten took the next play 18-yards through the right side of the Holy Cross defense for his second touchdown of the game, extending Harvard's lead to 27-18.
With just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter, junior Eric Medes forced and recovered a fumble to give the Crimson possession at its own 48. Following a 30 and 21-yard connections for Firkser and Braunecker, Casten finished the drive with a 3-yard dive up the gut of the Holy Cross defense, widening Harvard's advantage to 34-18. His third touchdown of the game marked the first time a Harvard running back has scored three times on the ground since Treavor Scales accomplished the feat against Dartmouth on October 27, 2012.
On Harvard's subsequent drive, Casten gushed through the Crusaders' defense for a career-high 55-yard rush to put Harvard back in the red zone. A few plays later, Hempel found sophomore Ryan Halvorsen with a 21-yard strike at the nine-minute mark to push the lead to 23, 41-18. The score with Hempel's second through the air in the game, and Halvorsen's second career touchdown.
In the waning minutes of the fourth quarter Scott Peters intercepted a Pujals pass, allowing Harvard to run out the clock.
Harvard will open Ivy League play next week at Brown. Kickoff in Providence, Rhode Island is slated for 6 p.m.