Ben Kuchipudi ‘25
This is my second year watching and covering Holy Cross football, and from what I’ve seen, this year’s Crusaders look a lot different than last year’s. They seem more polished, complete, and overall hungrier. They went from 9-2 last season to 11-0 and the eight seed in the FCS with a first round bye. Before we get into what changed, let’s recap last season.
Last season Holy Cross went 6-0 in the Patriot League and 9-2 overall. They started the season with a bang, winning 38-28 over UConn, their first FBS win in 19 years, but they stunk the bed in their home opener, losing 35-21 to Merrimack. Following road victories against Yale and Monmouth, Holy Cross had a chance to redeem themselves at home against Harvard, but they got blown out once again, losing 38-13. The Crusaders then won six straight games and marched into the playoffs with a home game against Sacred Heart. It was a low scoring affair and Holy Cross’ defense managed to keep them in the game deep into the fourth quarter. With just under 20 seconds left, Matthew Sluka heaved a bomb towards the endzone and Jalen Coker came down with it to win the game 13-10. It was their first playoff win in program history and spirits were at an all-time high heading into a matchup against No. 5 Villanova, a game where they were 14-point underdogs. They fell into a 14 point halftime deficit, but they cut the lead to five with under five minutes remaining. However, they couldn’t convert and their season ended at the hands of the Wildcats. The loss left a bitter taste in their mouths, but they used this loss as fuel for next season, and it showed.
Holy Cross opened the 2022 season on the road against Merrimack, the same squad that embarrassed them last season. They remembered that loss and came out the gates firing, winning 31-17. Matthew Sluka had almost 350 yards of offense and three touchdowns as he passed and ran all over the Merrimack defense. The next game truly showed that this team was different from years’ past. The Crusaders traveled up to Buffalo to take on their annual FBS opponent, this year’s being the Buffalo Bulls. They fell in a 21-7 hole just before halftime, but the Crusaders and Sluka refused to lose as he delivered a 17-yard strike to Ayir Asante. Halfway through the third, Jordan Fuller punched it in from two yards out and tied the game. Buffalo answered back with a 69-yard touchdown on the first play of the drive but Holy Cross did the same courtesy of Jalen Coker. You’ll hear his name again later. Derek Ng gave Holy Cross a 31-28 lead in the fourth but Buffalo tied it with 31 seconds remaining. Sluka led his team to midfield and they were at the Buffalo 46-yard line with six seconds remaining. Overtime seemed inevitable, but Sluka had other plans. He danced around the pocket and launched another bomb to Coker and he came down with it in quadruple coverage. Touchdown. They did it again. Holy Cross shocked the country with this win and showed everyone that they were legitimate.
This started a dominant four game streak where the Crusaders outscored their opponents 160-45. They had a scare the next week at Lafayette but they escaped with a narrow victory. They were 7-0 at this point, but their biggest test was next as the FCS’ No. 1 quarterback Tim DeMorat and the 6-1 Fordham Rams visited Fitton Field on Parents Weekend. In what was likely the FCS’s game of the year, these teams did not disappoint. This game was back and forth for all 60 minutes of regulation and it took overtime to finally decide a winner. Fordham took the lead on the first play of the extra period, but Holy Cross tied the game as Sluka threw a drag to Justin Shorter. Instead of going for the tie, Bob Chesney made the boldest decision of his Holy Cross career and opted to go for the win. On a play resembling the Philly Special, Sluka handed it off to Shorter who tossed it back to Ayir Asante and he ran it in for the win. This was an emotional win for Holy Cross and one that the players and fans would never forget as they moved to 8-0 on the season. They handily won their next three games and officially clinched the elusive undefeated season with a 47-10 win against Georgetown. Following the win, Holy Cross was selected as the eight seed in the FCS, meaning they would get a first round bye and students would be back on The Hill to experience their first playoff game against New Hampshire, as they defeated Fordham last week.
It was clear that there was something different about these Crusaders this season. The team seemed more poised and mature as a whole, especially quarterback Matt Sluka, who made a huge jump from last season, especially as a passer. We knew he was talented as a runner, but he made huge strides as a passer, going from 1,495 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five picks on 56.3% completion as a sophomore to 2,303 yards, 25 touchdowns and three picks on 60.3% completion as a junior. Nine players made it onto the All-Patriot League first team on offense and five players made it on defense. The Crusaders’ performance this season also landed Bob Chesney another Coach of the Year award. They play New Hampshire this Saturday as the Wildcats beat Fordham 52-42 courtesy of 348 yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Max Brosmer and 284 yards and three touchdowns from running back Dylan Laube. If they beat New Hampshire, they’ll have by far their toughest game of the year against the top-seeded South Dakota State (assuming they win their matchup), but these Crusaders have fought hard all season long, and if anyone can pull off this upset, it’s this team. This has been a magical year for Holy Cross, and it’s time to make magic again in the playoffs.