Notes and quotes from Holy Cross spring game

WORCESTER — Using a modified scoring system, the Holy Cross offense beat the defense in its spring game, 42-31, at Kuzniewski Field Saturday.

Overall, even though the offense technically "won" the game, for the most part, it was the defense that had the better of most exchanges.

Heading into the season, the Crusaders still have some work to go to be ready for what looks to be a brutal first four weeks with trips to Navy, Yale, and Syracuse, mixed in with a home date with New Hampshire in the second contest.

Here are a few things we observed as coach Bob Chesney heads into his second season at Holy Cross.

Thunder and lightning

One aspect of the offense that did seem to be clicking all day was the running game, especially in the hands of backs Domenic Cozier and Peter Oliver.

Cozier, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior, is the speedier option, while Oliver, a 6-foot, 212-pounder, brought more power. The two each had some nice runs, and one has to wonder if early on they will help carry the offense until the passing game catches up.

"Peter, I think you got a chance to see it, right? That kid is physical, and he's strong and he's tough," Chesney said of the Auburn native and St. John's of Shrewsbury alum.

Cozier, a returning Patriot League All-Star, only played for a few series before resting the remainder of the scrimmage, while Miles Alexander saw a number of reps at the position after that.

"It was just great to be out there, see how my teammates compete and everything," said Cozier, a Milford native and Milton Academy alum. "Offense, defense, I think it was a great day altogether."

Cozier is optimistic about the group of backs the Crusaders will roll out in the fall.

"I think me, Pete, and Miles, we're going to have freshman coming in, so I think all four of us are going to be the best running backs in the country combined," Cozier said. "We're all different in little aspects, so it will be fun."

Passing through

The Crusaders did not have a great day through the air, but quarterback Emmett Clifford, who ran with the first team, had his moments.

Still, it was not up to Chesney's standards.

"(Clifford) has done a good job. I thought today was not a great job," Chesney said. "I didn't see any quarterback in there today that you were really happy with their performance. I think we all missed some things."

The highlights mostly came when Clifford threw in the direction of wide receiver Tenio Ayeni, who caught two touchdowns, including one on a double pass from Alexander.

"Tenio's a good receiver, and he's going to create some matchup issues. . . . We just have to be able to not be afraid to throw the ball down there to him," Chesney said.

Ayeni looks ready to replenish a wide receiver room that lost a lot to graduation.

"Tenio's great, yeah," Cozier said. "Tenio's a dog, and he's been a dog all year. It's going to be a big junior year for him. We also have new freshmen coming in, too. We have sophomores who are going to step up. We have leaders in their senior year who have taught the young guys how to perform and be a competitor. So expect big things out of them this year."

No secondary concerns

The defensive backfield is one of the areas on the field that brings back a fair amount of experience, and the group played like a seasoned one on Saturday.

Not only did the secondary tackle well, but its coverage throughout was solid, blanketing receivers downfield, batting away passes, and generally making it difficult to throw the ball.

There were plenty of players who stood out, but Chesney mentioned safety Chris Riley as one who had a particularly good day.

"Chris Riley is one you're going to talk a little bit about I hope as the season goes on," Chesney said. "He just had a full offseason of strength and put really his injuries aside, build some strength. I think he did a great job. But the secondary, there's a lot of guys making some plays. I think we need them to."

Fully energized

Chesney brings a level of passion that is pretty contagious, and his players seem to have absorbed it pretty well.

Many times during a team's run through the spring, there can be lags in concentration, but Cozier said that wasn't the case this year.

"The energy level has been consistent," Cozier said. "Even at 7 o'clock in the morning on Tuesdays, we're always yelling, we're always hyped up. Energy this year has been really well. Every single day we go out there we try to compete. You saw our drills, like wide receiver vs. (defensive back). So we're always competing, always having fun. Energy was there all year round."

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