Ben Lepper ’25
Just over a year ago, the Holy Cross Crusaders put the college football world on notice by riding into Storrs, Connecticut, and defeating the UConn Huskies with a score of 38-28. This was Holy Cross’ first victory against an FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) team in 19 years, and UConn was so embarrassed that their coach resigned the next day. After all, FBS programs traditionally claim higher recruits and have more funding than FCS (Football Champion Subdivision) ones, so when an FCS program beats an FBS one, it’s always a pleasant surprise.
Holy Cross usually plays one or two FBS opponents a year, such as Syracuse, Navy, Boston College, and the aforementioned UConn. This year, their FBS opponent was a team whose home city has achieved some football success as of late: the Buffalo Bulls. After starting the season poorly with a 31-10 loss to Maryland, the Bulls were undoubtedly hoping to use this matchup as a statement game. Meanwhile, the Crusaders were looking to make a statement of their own after crushing Merrimack 31-17 the week prior in a revenge game. Would Buffalo prove to be a legitimate FBS threat, or would the Crusaders shock the world again?
The game started as a defensive battle, with both teams’ defenses doing their best “brick wall” impression. The scoring opened with three minutes to go in the first quarter, when Buffalo wide receiver Justin Marshall caught a highlight-reel worthy 20 yard touchdown from quarterback Cole Snyder, which set the stage for the score-fest that would follow.
In the second quarter, both teams’ offenses woke up. Buffalo added to their lead with another touchdown, a Mike Washington five yard rush, and Holy Cross responded with a rushing touchdown of their own, a 4-yarder by Jordan Fuller. The team then traded passing touchdowns: Buffalo’s Quian Williams caught a 59 yard touchdown pass, and, just before the end of the half, Holy Cross’ Matt Sluka threw his first touchdown of the game – a 17 yard score caught by Ayir Asante. The teams went into halftime with Buffalo leading 21-14.
Half of the third quarter passed with no scoring, as both defenses once again held steady. But with 7:25 remaining, Jordan Fuller tied the game with his second touchdown of the night. Then, 17 seconds later, Buffalo reclaimed the lead on the first play of the drive with Justin Marshall’s second touchdown grab, a 69 yard bomb. Holy Cross would repeat this feat five minutes later, with a 62-yard score by Jalen Coker.
The fourth quarter opened with the game tied 28-28, and both defenses kicked it back into high gear. While some of the offensive players may walk away with all the glory from this game, the defense’s performance should not be ignored. Jacob Dobbs, for example, recorded 11 tackles, and Walter Reynolds recorded eight, seven of them on his own. Devin Haskins led the team in passes defended with three and recorded seven tackles on the night. Even though the defense only recorded one sack (a dual effort by Liam Anderson and Dan Kuznetsov), they kept this game in reach, and should be applauded.
After a 28 yard field goal by Derek Ng, Holy Cross achieved their first lead of the game with seven minutes to go. Yet Buffalo responded with one of their own with 30 seconds remaining, tying the game and almost ensuring it to go to overtime. Key word: almost. With only four seconds left on the clock, Matt Sluka took the final snap of regulation. After holding onto the football for a few seconds, he let it fly 46 yards, past a sea of Buffalo defenders, and into the reliable hands of Jalen Coker. Disbelief and shock filled the minds of the Buffalo faithful as the Crusaders came out onto the field to celebrate their improbable 37-31 victory. They had done it again.
Twitter was ablaze. The Crusaders had pulled off a huge upset in miraculous fashion. “Divine intervention”, they called it. The Hail Mary would be showcased as the #1 play on the SportsCenter Top 10. In the locker room postgame, the Crusaders chanted “Horns Down” and held their pinky and pointer fingers to the ground – a jest at their opponent’s rallying cry. Watch parties all over Mt. Saint James erupted with cheering. It was, and still is, an incredible time to be a part of Sader Nation.
What the Holy Cross Crusaders have done in the past year is incredible, and this is the cherry on top. Not many FCS programs out there can boast that they defeated two FBS teams in back-to-back years. And yet, the Crusaders have done it, and have once again captured the eyes and hearts of college football fans all over the country.