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Holy Cross Stays Perfect After Wild 53-52 OT Shootout with Fordham

The Crusaders proved their mettle on Saturday by dispatching one of highest-scoring teams in the FCS.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Holy Cross at Buffalo Photo by Joshua Bessex/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Holy Cross junior Jalen Coker snagged a pass from Matthew Sluka not even three minutes into the game against Fordham on Saturday afternoon, cut it back and outran the Rams secondary for an electric 58-yard score. It was plays like that first touchdown that showed everyone, for as exciting as Fordham has been this year, why the #5 Crusaders are undefeated and looking for not only another Patriot League championship but for a seed in this year’s playoffs.

Holy Cross junior Jalen Coker snagged a pass from Matthew Sluka not even three minutes into the game against Fordham on Saturday afternoon, cut it back and outran the Rams secondary for an electric 58-yard score. Playing from behind isn’t a position that visiting Fordham has found itself in often this year but Tim DeMorat and company weathered the storm of plays like that to dethrone the previously-undefeated #5 Crusaders in a greatly impressive win.

After the initial quick score by Coker, Fordham’s offense marched down the field to add three points of their own but a 52-yard kick return by Justin Shorter stole back all the momentum. Sluka capitalized on said momentum by leading a three-minute touchdown drive. Running back Peter Oliver rumbled in for a five-yard score and just like that, Holy Cross was up 14-3.

DeMorat, however, can make things happen in a hurry and he did just that on the ensuing possession. He connected with receiver Dequece Carter for an outstanding 29-yard touchdown to silent the Fitton Field crowd and draw the score back to within four before the first quarter ended.

Holy Cross’ defense forced DeMorat into an untimely intentional grounding penalty early in the second frame, though, and with the ball back in their hands, the offense extended the lead once more. Sluka and Oliver both kept the chains moving on the 73-yard drive but it was Sluka who did it himself for the score. He dove in from a yard away to make it 21-10.

Fordham hit right back, though. DeMorat marched the offense 66 yards in just seven plays and capped it with a deep strike to receiver Mekai Felton who came down with a beautiful 33-yard touchdown; his fourth of the season.

It wasn’t just his touchdown that was big for the Rams, however. On the ensuing kickoff, Felton tracked down Holy Cross return man Ayir Asante inside his own five-yard line to give the Crusaders suboptimal field position. Sluka did get the offense out of the shadow of their end zone but star linebacker Ryan Greenhagen stuffed him.

On a fourth and short, Sluka was flagged for a questionable false start and Holy Cross head coach Bob Chesney let the officials hear about it, resulting in a rare 15-yard penalty from the sideline in what turned into a cavalcade of errors. It suddenly felt as though Fordham had all the momentum with just over a minute until halftime.

DeMorat and Felton made Holy Cross pay for the errors as the duo hooked up once more for a big 20-yard touchdown before the break. The Rams, who hadn’t led up to this point, were on top 24-21 and a missed field goal try by Derek Ng ensured it would stay that way as the two teams headed into the locker room.

At intermission, Chesney told the sideline reporter simply “We need to settle down,” but that proved a lot easier said than done. Fordham forced a quick three-and-out and it seemed like DeMorat was primed to strike yet again. This time, though, it was the Crusaders D that made a big stop but with their next chance Sluka and company ran into more struggles and had to punt once more.

DeMorat proceeded to orchestrate a lengthy 83-yard drive that took 13 plays. He finished it with a one-yard touchdown run to open up Fordham’s biggest lead of the afternoon.

Desperation began to set in a little for Holy Cross and they answered the call well. Sluka scampered 66 yards on a big run to set up a score. Oliver cut the deficit back to three with a five-yard touchdown run and the Crusaders now had a newfound sense of life.

That momentum only grew after Carter couldn’t come up with a catch and the Rams had to again boot the ball away. Sluka continued to use his legs to make things happened and, as the fourth quarter began, he had his team knocking on the door. The offense petered out, though, and they had to settle for a field goal. Ng connected on his 23-yard attempt to tie things back up at 31-31.

The back-and-forth duel continued as the clock wound down. With just over ten minutes left in the game, Fordham’s Julius Loughridge broke free on third down for a 34-yard touchdown run that again quelled all the steam that Holy Cross had. The crowd again fell silent as the Rams took a 38-31 advantage back.

Holy Cross promptly responded. Sluka completed three passes on an 85-yard excursion that ended in the end zone. He connected with Coker for a 12-yard score that got the fans right back in it. There was only 8:11 left and neither team appeared as though it was going to give.

Fordham’s offense was not fazed by the Crusaders’ success. DeMorat snatched the lead right back with yet another big touchdown. He dropped a perfect pass over the top to Carter down the sideline and Carter came down with it for a 38-yard strike to make it 38-31.

Aided by a pass interference call, Holy Cross started to march for the tie with under six minutes to play. At their own 45-yard line, however, Sluka took an ill-timed sack and put his offense into a fourth and long. Shorter caught the pass on fourth but came up inches short of the sticks and Fordham took over.

Now with just over three to go, the Rams tried to bleed time but Holy Cross burned their timeouts to give themselves one last chance. The defense forced the punt and, with 3:21 left, they needed a touchdown.

Shorter was a man possessed on that last series. After tip-toeing down the sideline for 24 yards on the first play he hauled in a huge 39-yard pass down the middle to get Holy Cross in the red zone. Coker tied things back up a play later with a fade catch in the end zone. It was all square at 45 with 1:19 remaining.

Now it was DeMorat with the last chance. Instead of going with passes, though, DeMorat handed the ball off to Trey Sneed twice and they were unable to get anything done in the closing minutes. Overtime loomed.

The Crusaders won the OT coin flip and opted to go on defense first but it was the wrong decision. DeMorat only needed a play as he let it fly to Carter over the middle who went in untouched. Fordham was up 52-45 and Chesney’s team needed a touchdown.

Holy Cross’ journey back into the end zone was not as quick as the Rams’ but it was just as effective. After some backwards plays, Sluka found Shorter in the corner for the touchdown. Chesney, though, wanted no part of a second overtime and sent his offense back onto the field for the two-point conversion. In the do-or-die moment, Sluka handed the ball back to Asante who sprinted on a reverse into the end zone unabated. The fans went wild as their Crusaders improved to 8-0 in dramatic fashion.

Sluka gave it all he had. He ended his day with 168 rushing yards and 266 yards through the air and four passing scores. Coker brought in three touchdowns and all that was too much for Fordham. DeMorat tossed five scores as the Rams offense put up 499 yards but to no avail.

It was one of the most impressive and meaningful wins in recent memory for Holy Cross and one fans in attendance won’t soon forget. The Crusaders haven’t lost a game in league play dating all the way back to the 2019 season and are unbeaten still. They’ll also now hold the tiebreaker in the Patriot League race over Fordham if it comes to that.

Fordham, meanwhile, now has a six-game losing streak to Holy Cross and likely needs to win out if it wants to be considered for a bid to the playoffs. Up next for the Rams is Bucknell. Holy Cross will see Lehigh next weekend.