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Holy Cross 28, Villanova 38. Final

Some years, it's not easy for Patriot League fans to rally behind the league champion as they take on the best teams in the nation in the FCS playoffs. This year was different.

With senior QB Dominic Randolph finally breaking the Crusaders' championship drought (1991) and postseason drought (1983), the boys in Purple were a very easy team to root for on Saturday. It took Randolph four years - including a return for a fifth year for his final year of eligibility - to finally get Holy Cross over the hump. After three excruciating November swoons, it was awesome to see Randolph finally get a shot at a national championship.

Randolph and the rest of the Crusaders battled hard against a team that is a threat to win the Division I National championship. They gave them a scare, but ultimately Holy Cross added yet another "moral victory" to the Patriot League column as they battled bravely but fell, 38-28, to the CAA champions.

It was a script that was very similar to the first round game of 2007, where Fordham lost to CAA co-champion UMass 49-35. Like Fordham, Holy Cross lost their final regular-season game to Bucknell, backing into the playoffs after they secured the autobid. Like UMass, Villanova was forced to play uptempo Holy Cross high-scoring football. It resulted in a high-scoring game - but, unfortunately, a Villanova win.

After Villanova senior RB Aaron Ball took in a 6 yard TD run on an impressive initial Wildcat drive to go ahead 7-0, Holy Cross responded with a 13 play, 77 yard drive of their own. Deep in Wildcat territory, Gilmore decided to go for it on 4th-and-2 from the Villanova 6, and Randolph found senior WR Bill Edger for a big 4 yard pass to keep the drive alive. One play later, Randolph would take it in himself to tie the game at 7.

The tone set, Villanova and Holy Cross exchanged quick touchdown drives. Wildcat senior QB Chris Whitney found senior WR Matt Szczur for a big 26 yard gain, and freshman WR Dorian Wells made a nice grab to put Villanova up by a TD. But Randolph responded in a big way on the next drive, with three completions of more than 10 yards to Edger and freshman WR Kyle Toulouse. A two yard pitch-and-catch to sophomore TE Alex Schneider tied the game at 14 - and set the stage for a shootout.

After a puntless first quarter, Nova embarked on another grinding 13 play drive, this time mostly on the ground in the Wildcat. A 11 yard dash by Whitney resulted in one first down, another 11 yard toss to senior WR Bryan Harvey set up another first down - though all indications were that the ball was stripped from him before he came down, the officials ruled that he was down before the ball came out - a blown call that kept Villanova's drive alive.

A big 4th down conversion a few plays later - by junior RB Angelo Babbaro - set up a Chris Whitney 1 yard TD run to give the Wildcats a lead they would never relinquish.

Down 28-14, though, Randolph and the Crusaders refused to die. A nine-play, 80 yard drive midway through the 3rd quarter - ending in a 17 yard Randolph-to-Edger connection - cut the lead to 28-21. But Nova would counterpunch - set up by a big Whitney-to-Szczur 46 yard connection - to score again, making it 35-21.

Randolph had one more drive left in him in the 4th quarter - orchestrating another 9-play. 80 yard drive, connecting with Schneider for a 6 yard TD to cut the deficit to 7 once again. But it was Villanova's grinding offense that ground out the clock with brutal effeciency in the final quarter, ending with 25 yard FG by freshman PK Nick Yako to seal the win.

“The difference in the game was that both teams made big plays. They just made a couple more,” said Crusaders coach Tom Gilmore. “It was the kind of game where field goals weren’t going to win it and you were going for it on fourth downs. That’s the approach you have to take, because both teams were so explosive.”

Randolph finished 31-of-51 with 3 TD tosses and 0 interceptions. It was by far the best performance by a quarterback against the Villanova defense all season.

“Dom’s been an incredible leader, and our players believe in him,” Gilmore said. “I think he can look back and be really proud of what he was able to accomplish individually and what he helped us accomplish as a program.”

“Our offense played unbelievable, and we needed to be on top of our game because Dominic Randolph is probably the best quarterback we’ve seen,” Villanova head coach Andy Talley added. “He was terrific. He made a ton of plays, and I really have to compliment Holy Cross.”


Anonymous said…
hofstra dropping football. you heard it here first
Anonymous said…
Lehigh's next! that will be Coen's legacy!
Douglas said…
Villanova was certainly impressive in the snow this afternoon... Certainly made up for its one loss this season...

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