Sports

Last Minute Score Gives Holy Cross Football First-Ever Playoff Victory

Colin Healy

Photo courtesy of Mark Seliger
Holy Cross vs. Sacred Heart

After a 38-year hiatus, playoff football returned to Fitton Field this past Saturday. Fresh off a third straight Patriot League championship, the Holy Cross Crusaders clashed with Sacred Heart in the first round of the FCS playoffs. A defensive showdown turned into a classic nail-biter in the final minutes and though the outcome looked bleak, a miraculous finish with only seconds to go in the game pushed HC across the finish line and into the history books.

Opening up as 15-point favorites, the Crusaders were quickly knocked on their heels with Sacred Heart scoring on the first possession of the game. Sloppy football took over on both sides, with punts and penalties becoming the story of the game. A turnover on downs deep in Pioneer territory highlighted offensive struggles for the Crusaders in the first quarter.

While the offense sputtered, the HC defense kept the Crusaders in the game. No points were allowed in the first half after Sacred Heart’s first touchdown. Derek Ng finally put HC on the board with a 23-yard field goal to make it a 7-3 game with 3:53 left in the half. Back to back punts on both sides meant that score would hold going into halftime. 

A three-and-out to start the second half forced an HC punt. Life was injected into Fitton and the HC sideline when the Pioneers muffed the punt, giving the Crusaders the ball with a short field to work with. The first play of this drive, however, saw HC give the ball right back after a Pioneer interception, squandering a great opportunity to put up more points.

Despite their struggles throughout the game, HC was still within striking distance to flip the game in their favor thanks to the valiant effort on defense. After a Pioneer field goal, Sophomore QB Matt Sluka led the offense into field goal territory for Ng, who added a 38-yarder to make it a 10-6 ballgame with 8:27 left in the game. Another stop on defense gave the offense the ball with 3:14 to go, needing a touchdown to win. 

Sluka kept the game alive with his legs twice on the drive. On a 4th and 4, he scrambled five yards to move the chains. Then, on a 3rd and 17, with the pocket collapsing, he again took off for a 21-yard gain to move the ball to midfield. Fans and players alike held their breath watching Sluka dance around the field, prolonging the game. Out of timeouts and with under a minute to go, it became desperation time. HC drove to the 35 yard line of Sacred Heart, but a bleeding clock meant only a couple more plays could be run — they only needed one. With 14 seconds left, Sluka heaved a jump ball towards WR Jalen Coker, who secured the catch and tumbled into the end zone for a touchdown. Pandemonium ensued as the Crusaders went ahead. A game that looked like trouble for HC the whole way was turned upside down. A final play for Sacred Heart was stopped, and the Crusaders captured the first playoff victory in team history.

It wasn’t a game for comfort, but a win is a win. The Crusaders are moving on and will hit the road to play #5 ranked Villanova on Friday, Dec. 3 at 7:00 p.m. HC will surely be pegged as the underdogs, but coach Bob Chesney’s squad is fired up. The Crusaders have made a lot of history this season, and they wouldn’t mind making more. Come Friday, an energized Crusader team will be ready to play spoiler.

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