LEWISBURG, Pa. – Holy Cross freshman quarterback Peter Pujals completed 19 of 29 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a team-high 80 yards and another three scores as the Crusaders defeated Bucknell 51-27 in football action Saturday afternoon at sunny Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium.
After struggling to score points in recent weeks, the Bison had a number of bright spots offensively against Holy Cross (3-4, 1-0 PL). In just his second career start, freshman quarterback RJ Nitti completed 20 of 39 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns, the most passing yards by a Bucknell (1-4, 0-2 PL) quarterback since Marcello Trigg’s 290 in the 2008 season opener vs. Duquesne. Josh Brake caught eight passes for 129 yards, making him the first Bison to post a 100-yard receiving day since 2011. Additionally, CJ Williams returned to the lineup and posted his second 100-yard rushing day of the year with 104 yards on 19 carries.
The Bison piled up a season-high 423 yards and punted just three times one week after setting a school record for punt attempts.
Bucknell trailed just 30-21 at halftime thanks to Brent Forbes blocking a John Macomber field goal as time expired in the first half. The Bison then forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half and took possession near midfield with a chance to narrow the nine-point gap. However, Matt Bhaya intercepted a Nitti pass near the goal line to thwart a potential Bison scoring chance. Five plays later Pujals scored his third rushing touchdown of the game to put Holy Cross up 37-21.
Bucknell narrowed the gap back to 10 points as Nitti found Williams from 14 yards out to complete a seven-play, 59-yard drive. Derek Maurer’s extra point attempt was blocked.
A 14-yard touchdown pass by Pujals to Kalif Raymond late in the third quarter and a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Artim early in the fourth quarter rounded out the scoring. In fact, neither team scored over the final 14 minutes of play after combining for 78 points over the first 46 minutes.
Turnovers played a factor in much of the early scoring in the game as the first 7:20 featured a combined three touchdowns and three turnovers. Holy Cross went on the board first when Kyle Young intercepted a Nitti pass and returned it 79 yards for a touchdown. On Bucknell’s first offensive play of the next drive, Will Carter, a freshman who caught seven passes for 74 yards in his first game action of the year, fumbled the ball and gave the Crusaders the ball at the 23-yard line. Three plays later Pujals dove for the left corner of the end zone from seven yards out and put Holy Cross up 14-0.
The Bison went three-and-out on their next drive, but Raymond bobbled Kyle Sullivan’s punt and Nick O’Brien snatched it out of his hands on the way down. Three plays later Nitti found Carter down the middle of the field for a 42-yard touchdown completion and put Bucknell on the board.
Holy Cross, which had 514 yards of total offense, pushed its lead to 24-7 before Bucknell cut it to single digits before the half.
A one-yard touchdown run by Williams that completed a seven-play, 80-yard drive early in the second quarter and a well-placed 20-yard pass by Nitti over two defensive backs to Sullivan rounded out the first-half Bucknell scoring.
Nitti did throw four interceptions and Bucknell fumbled once for a total of five turnovers, but the Bison were able to equal their season high for points.
“We can’t give the ball up,” commented Bison head coach Joe Susan. “We talk about ending every possession in a kick.
“There were times we had five freshmen out there on offense today. It is a testament to the kid of players we have recruited and how they have progressed as players.”
Evan Byers totaled a career-high 14 tackles on the defensive side for the Bison, while Lee Marvel chipped in 10 stops. Logan Silver led Holy Cross with 10 tackles, while four different players recorded interceptions.
With his second 100-yard day this year, Williams became the 41st player in program history with multiple 100-yard rushing games.
Brake’s eight catches were the most by a Bison since Victor Walker had eight last September vs. Cornell.
Bucknell will head back out on the road next Saturday when it plays a non-league game at Dartmouth. Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m.