If you don’t remember last year’s home opener, I don’t blame you. Following a big win against UConn, the Holy Cross Crusaders came home to Fitton Field and got bulldozed by Merrimack. Obviously, that loss never sat well with them, and this week, they found themselves in an eerily similar situation: playing their first game at home following a huge win against an FBS opponent. This time, the team dedicated themselves to not letting the prior week’s victory get to their heads so they could focus on their next opponent: the Yale Bulldogs. Coach Bob Chesney put it simply: “We weren’t gonna do that again. We got off that plane [from Buffalo] on Saturday night and we were already moved on.”
Clearly, that change in philosophy worked. Following a scoreless first quarter, the Crusaders made an example out of the Bulldogs for 45 whole minutes of play. Matt Sluka played some of the best football of his collegiate career, completing 80% of his passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Interestingly, he didn’t use his legs very much: Pete Oliver and Jordan Fuller were the two stars of the backfield, with Oliver racking up 119 yards on 16 carries, and Fuller running for 72 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Freshman Sam Slade also got in on the action, running for 41 yards in garbage time. All three backs averaged over 6 yards per carry, and the Yale defense simply didn’t know what hit them.
Sluka, along with sophomore quarterback Joe Pesansky, spread out the ball well, with seven different receivers making catches on the day. Sean Morris had a highlight-worthy one handed grab along the Yale sideline, and Ayir Asante and Tyler Purdy both caught touchdowns. Jalen Coker, the star of last week, also caught a touchdown and led the team in receptions. But, wait a minute – I said that Sluka only threw TWO touchdowns, and yet there were three touchdown receptions on the day by the Crusaders.
No, I didn’t misspeak. Matt Sluka only threw two touchdown passes. The third was contributed by none other than Jalen Coker, a former high school quarterback. On a trick play in the second quarter, Sluka flipped the ball out to Coker, who launched it downfield to a wide-open Tyler Purdy. Fitton Field erupted with cheers as a stunned Yale defense was left scratching their heads.
When asked about the trick play, Coker said that “It hung up there a little longer than I wanted, but it was good, I was so excited.” Coach Chesney seemed to agree with Jalen in that the throw could have been better, saying that “He’s got a real arm, that throw didn’t do it justice.” But, besides those two, everybody else was thrilled about how the play turned out, including Matt Sluka, who said that “Jalen made my job really easy [on that play].”
According to Jake Reichwein, a senior on the defensive line, the play affected the defense in a major way. “We were sitting on the sideline, not expecting much,” he recalls, “and a big play like that just gives us a lot of juice.” They definitely looked energized: the Crusader defense recorded two interceptions on the day, one by Devin Haskins and one by Terrence Spence, and held the Bulldog offense to just over 300 yards. While wide receiver David Pantelis and first-year running back Joshua Pitsenberger impressed on Yale’s side of the ball, nobody could ever really get anything going, as the Crusader defense kept making stops on almost every possession.
The game was also notable for kicker Derek Ng. Ng’s first points as a Crusader were against Yale back in 2018, and in this past matchup against the Bulldogs, he broke the school record for field goals made with 38. Coach Chesney made a really interesting note about this field goal: “38 points, right, 38 field goals. At that moment it was 38 points on the field goal to break the school record.” I can safely say that all of Sader Nation is extremely proud of Derek for this incredible accomplishment.
Not only was the game excellent in terms of Holy Cross’ play, but in terms of atmosphere. Jalen Coker described the atmosphere of a packed Fitton Field as “Awesome. It was perfect.” Matt Sluka followed that up by saying that “I definitely want to have that continue. It’s always great to have fans here and to have a lot of support from the school and community.” Coach Chesney had asked the community a few days prior to “Pack Fitton,” and it’s safe to say that they did.
I think we can all agree that this team is special. In their three games so far, the Holy Cross Crusaders have been playing some of the best football ever played by a team wearing the purple and white logo. However, Coach Chesney doesn’t want the team to get ahead of themselves. “Overall, it was a nice win,” he said, “and we’ll enjoy it for this evening and move on pretty quickly.” But, unlike the team, I doubt the community will be moving on from this huge win for a very long time.