Ben Lepper ’25
This past weekend at Fitton Field, the Holy Cross Crusaders served up both tricks and treats en route to a thrilling 53-52 victory over the Fordham Rams in the Ram-Crusader Cup. Promoted heavily as the FCS game of the week, over 17,000 fans were in attendance to watch what would surely be an incredible game. And, they didn’t just get an incredible game: they got an all-time great showdown that nobody in attendance will ever forget.
Coming into the game, Fordham was boasting one of the best offenses in FCS. Led by probable NFL Draft pick Tim DeMorat, leading receivers Fotis Kokosioulis and M.J. Wright, and running backs Trey Sneed and Julian Loughridge, the Rams had not put up less than 40 points in any game this season. So, Holy Cross would have to match their output, which they did.
The game was a shootout as the teams traded touchdowns throughout the 60 minutes of play. Tim DeMorat threw 5 touchdown passes and added one on the ground as Matthew Sluka threw four and ran in one of his own. Nobody could stop the run, as both aforementioned Fordham running backs hit the century mark in yards, and Peter Oliver had 95 yards on the ground along with two scores. Justin Shorter had himself a day, catching 7 balls for 127 yards and a score, while Jalen Coker bounced back from his down game against Lafayette with 6 catches for 131 yards and three scores. Coker and Sluka’s chemistry continued to shine, even postgame, when they both said “That’s my guy”, with smiles on their faces. On Fordham’s side, the receiving was led by two receivers that came out of almost nowhere: Dequece Carter and Mekai Felton. Both of them burned Holy Cross’ secondary all day, combining for 199 yards and five touchdowns. There really wasn’t much defense to be had at all; both offenses were just too good.
It wasn’t a surprise to many that a game this good would require overtime. As the clock hit all zeroes, both teams sat at 45, meaning all the fans in attendance were going to be getting free football. After winning the coin toss, Holy Cross deferred, letting Fordham’s offense take the first shot to the end zone. DeMorat hit Carter immediately on a 25 yard touchdown pass, and then Holy Cross’ offense took the field. After a couple of inopportune penalties, Sluka found Shorter in the end zone for six. And then, coach Bob Chesney made his ballsiest move yet: they would go for two.
The Crusader offense took the field from the two yard line. Justin Shorter was sent in motion, and then Sluka handed the ball off to him. Shorter then reversed the ball to Ayir Asante, who was running in the opposite direction. At that moment, everybody realized that Ayir had an open lane to the end zone. He was going to score, and the Crusaders were going to remain undefeated.
When talking about the play, coach Chesney said “I don’t know if there was another option at that moment. We felt like we had a play, and their coverage dictated that we would be able to get the quarterback out here. We thought we would throw it, but then, as Ayir said, it was a little sunny down there and he couldn’t quite see it, so he just ended up running it in for the score.” As it turns out, the play was meant to be a modified Philly Special, in which Ayir would have passed to Matt Sluka for the conversion. However, the sun was a problem for the Crusaders all day, so Ayir just kept it himself.
Speaking on his experience walking off the game, Asante said that “It was exhilarating. We were trying to just execute the play, and then we executed it, and then understanding what that meant at that moment…. It still doesn’t really feel real.” It didn’t feel real for anybody. Fitton Field has never been louder than after that play, as the entire Crusader team ran on the field while the Rams were left scratching their heads in defeat. Students began to rush onto the field as the victorious men in purple raised the cup. The press box told the story of two schools, as the Holy Cross broadcast team screamed for two whole minutes, while the Fordham team looked utterly dejected.
The Crusaders had brought their A-Game to family weekend. When talking about the atmosphere, coach Chesney said that “The families, the alums – these guys are winners, right? And when it’s all said and done, we hang up a picture of our families by the locker room and just remember that it’s not only about us. When we’re on the field it’s about us, but this reaches a whole lot further – to the families, the alums. The amount of commitment and sacrifice they make for this program, I just think it stands out so much. To see them all on the field and how proud they are – they’re a bunch of winners. To see all of this commitment from the families, alums, and this town, it just feels very, very special.”
Well said, coach. But, we all know that you and your team are the real winners this week. With a perfect season definitely in reach, the Crusaders will take on Lehigh next week. No matter what happens over the next three weeks, one thing is for sure: nobody will ever forget what happened on October 29th, 2022 at Fitton. This is a memory we will all cherish for the rest of our lives.
Image courtesy of GoHolycross.com