In the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Georgetown football team is looking to earn its first conference win when it hosts the Holy Cross Crusaders Saturday.
After dropping to the bottom of the conference standings last week, the Hoyas (3-5, 0-3 Patriot League) seek to reverse their recent struggles against a program that has been a perennial contender for the Patriot League title.
Holy Cross (3-6, 1-3 Patriot League) had suffered losing records in 10 of its past 11 seasons before Tom Gilmore was named head coach in 2004. He quickly turned the program around, leading it to a winning season in just his second year and bringing the school a conference championship in 2009.
“I know Tom well,” Georgetown Head Coach Rob Sgarlata said of his Holy Cross counterpart. “Coach does a really good job with his program, kids play hard. If you watch all their games, they’ve been in almost every one. They play with a little bit of an edge to them.”
Although the Crusaders enter this week with a losing record, they have notched wins in a convincing fashion.
Most notably, in mid-October the team upset previously No. 20 Harvard 27-17, snapping the Crimson’s 16-game road winning streak and knocking them out of the polls.
The Crusaders’ offense has been forced to adjust to the loss of senior quarterback Peter Pujals, who had started 35 consecutive games and served as the team’s captain before an injury earlier this year. Since then, the team has started two different quarterbacks — sophomore Geoff Wade and junior Blaise Bell. Wade threw for 244 yards and two touchdowns in the Harvard (6-1, 4-0 Ivy League) win, while Bell put up 157 yards through the air in a loss to Lehigh (7-2, 4-0 Patriot League).
“Their backups have done quite a job. … We’ve looked at all of them and we anticipate seeing a couple of different guys,” Sgarlata said.
Rounding out the Crusaders’ dynamic attack are senior wideouts Brendan Flaherty and Jake Wieczorek. The two physical, 200-pound receivers have combined for 10 touchdowns on the season, while 6-foot-5 senior tight end Lukas Nikolaisen has added four.
“Great receiving corps. Good offense. Big tight end. No. 33 [Flaherty] is a great receiver. We’re just trying to come compete with those guys and be physical,” sophomore defensive back Jethro Francois said.
The Hoyas’ defense hopes to improve after allowing 394 total yards at Lafayette, a game in which it was unable to force a single turnover.
“We emphasize on defense that we have to make plays, we have to be playmakers. It’s great being a good defense, but we also have to cause turnovers to put our offense in a better position,” Francois said.
The defensive effort continues to be powered by a range of young players including Francois, sophomore linebacker J’V’on Butler and freshman defensive lineman Khristian Tate. Tate has been a major factor on special teams, blocking three punts this season, including one in each of the past two games.
“Anybody who saw [Tate] in camp, just seeing what he can do and from a physical standpoint what he’s capable of — I think it’s just the beginning of what you’re going to see from him,” Sgarlata said.
A major challenge in recent weeks has been the sheer number of plays that the defense has been forced to endure. Georgetown has lost the time of possession battle in each game during its losing streak, largely due to stagnation on offense.
Like the Crusaders, the Hoyas lost their senior quarterback early in the season when Tim Barnes injured his shoulder at Harvard. Sophomore quarterback Clay Norris played the following three games, throwing for only one touchdown to four interceptions. Freshman quarterback Brock Johnson made his first career start last week but was replaced by Norris in the second half. Sgarlata said both quarterbacks are vying for the starting role in practice this week.
The offense has been able to produce long scores, including three touchdowns of more than 50 yards, but has struggled to connect consecutive first downs. In their five losses, the Hoyas have been 11-of-66 on third-down conversions, resulting in 17 points or fewer in each of those games.
“We’ve shown that we can do some good things, but we haven’t been able to string those drives together,” junior running back Alex Valles, who totaled 65 rushing yards last week, said. “The biggest thing for us right now is being consistent.”
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Cooper Field.
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