By Ben Lepper ’25
The last time Holy Cross played in the second round of the FCS playoffs, it didn’t go very well, falling 21-16 to a fifth ranked Villanova team. But they haven’t lost since then. After going 11-0 in the regular season, the 8th ranked Crusaders played in their second ever second round appearance, the first to be played at Fitton. Coincidentally, this game was played exactly one year after their loss at Villanova. And, this time around, their opponent was still the Wildcats. But this time, they were from UNH.
UNH isn’t usually known as a football school, but this year, they put their doubters to rest. With a good quarterback in Max Brosmer, a great running back in Dylan Laube, and a defense that held Fordham’s high-powered offense to 42 points (believe it or not, their lowest point total of the year), they would make for a good opponent for the Crusaders. They came in with a 9-3 record, good enough for 2nd in the Colonial Athletic Association. Holy Cross, on the other hand, rested up over their bye with the goal of not being a second-round exit two years in a row.
It was clear from the start that this game would be a tough one for both sides, as the conditions were terrible. Rain poured down for most of the game, and throughout the game, players on both sides slipped, fumbled, missed field goals, and dropped easy passes. Pete Oliver started the scoring with a 39 yard score in the first, his first of two scores on the day. Holy Cross’ offense lived and died by the running game, with Oliver taking most of the load, as rising star Jordan Fuller went down with an injury fairly early into the contest. Oliver would end up with 175 yards on 30 carries and 2 touchdowns – one of the best games of his career.
After the initial Oliver score, there wasn’t another touchdown until after the half. Neither team could really figure out how to handle the conditions. Later in the first quarter, a Holy Cross punt would seemingly go backwards, resulting in a safety. And, in the second quarter, UNH kicker Nick Mazzie would hit a field goal, leaving the score 7-5 at the half.
Even though the weather may have had an impact on the low scoring nature of the game, the Holy Cross defense undoubtedly had a bigger one. Liam Anderson and Devin Haskins would both recover fumbles, and Walter Reynolds would intercept two passes, with John Smith picking off one of his own. The Crusader special teams returned to form today as well, with Terrence Spence blocking a punt.
After halftime, Holy Cross took control of the ballgame and never lost it. Matt Sluka would only complete 6 of his 16 pass attempts on the day, one of which was a touchdown to Jalen Coker, but he made up for that with his legs: 103 yards and two touchdowns, one of which came on a 47 yard scamper in the fourth quarter. The Wildcat defense could not stop the rushing attack, and while Max Brosmer would throw two touchdowns, it would not be enough. Holy Cross got their second round redemption, winning 35-19.
The weather may have affected the play, but it didn’t affect the fans. Fitton was packed and more energetic than ever. Cheers near the Holy Cross sideline rang out repeatedly, such as the classic “You can’t do that!” chant after a UNH targeting penalty, and a beautiful rendition of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” paired with a wave to the UNH sideline when it became clear that Holy Cross would win the game. Near one of the end zones, a group of twenty boys stood shirtless in the rain, cheering their team on and bringing laughter to all the other fans in attendance. And, once the final whistle blew, students ignored the PA announcer’s threat of legal action and rushed the field.
Holy Cross’ victory now brings them to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history. They will face the #1 ranked South Dakota State Jackrabbits this weekend. But, regardless of what happens there, this team will go down as one of the greatest football teams to ever step foot on Fitton Field. We’re lucky to have them.
Photo by Holy Cross Athletics