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Know Your 2013 Opponents: Holy Cross

Say this about Towson head football coach Rob Ambrose - he doesn't mince words.

The Tigers nabbed the first FBS scalp of the 2013 season on Thursday, dominating UConn 33-18 so physically that it recalled James Madison's 2010 bruising 21-16 victory over Virginia Tech.

Sill jacked after the UConn victory, he mentioned his next opponents - Holy Cross, Towson's next trip after the trip to Rentschler field.  And inadvertently, he mentioned what he thought of last season's Crusader squad.

"No matter how awesome the win, there's already a mentality of 'This was not the Super Bowl,'" Ambrose said to the Baltimore Sun.  "It doesn't matter if we play Holy Cross or the Pittsburgh Steelers.  These guys will be ready because we need this game to get where we want to be."

That might be exactly what the perception is of the Crusaders outside the halls of the Patriot League - a 2-9 team, the perceived polar opposite of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yet Holy Cross was one of Lehigh's toughest outs last season in Fitton field.  When they played Lehigh, they didn't resemble a 2-9 team at all.

In 2013, will Lehigh face off against the Steelers, or a team that looks like a 2-9 team?

"Not looking anything like a one-win team," I wrote after Lehigh's 36-35 scrape last season against the Crusaders, "Holy Cross gave Lehigh every single last thing they could handle, rattling off 21 unanswered points in the 3rd quarter against the No. 1 defense in the Patriot League and putting themselves in position to fire off the game-winning 43 yard kick with 11 seconds to play.

"The field goal would barely have the distance, but would be just wide right - the margin between winning and losing the game.  Lehigh's 36-35 win would be the second time in three Patriot League games that their opposition would be in position to tie or win the game in the final seconds, but miss the conversion."

Yesterday, Holy Cross looked very similar to that team that couldn't get over the hump in a 17-16 loss to Bryant to begin the season.

It included a near-identical end to the Lehigh game - a missed FG at the end of regulation, no good, wide left this time, that would have given Holy Cross the win.

"You're always disappointed losing," Holy Cross head coach Tom Gilmore told Jennifer Toland of the Worcester Telegram, "but the real disappointing thing is how we played, especially in the first half. We didn't play with any emotion. It was mistake after mistake after mistake — procedural penalties, dropped passes, missing blocks. On defense, we weren't trusting our techniques. We got out of position multiple times in the pass game. We missed tackles in the backfield. We just weren't finishing plays."

Gilmore, one of the more fiery and emotion-filled coaches in the Patriot League, clearly was on the downswing of the rollercoaster after the game.

"It just seemed like we lacked a lot of confidence out there," Gilmore said. "I'm not sure why. It wasn't freshmen that were out there making these mistakes. It was our more veteran players. The blame goes across the spectrum, starting with me, the coaching staff and down to every player that played on the field. We all are culpable after a game like this."

If Holy Cross is able to get things back together after the opening-week loss, it will require a better performance from an offensive line that seemed to struggle mightily.

Not only did junior QB Brian Elder get sacked six times and got rushed into three interceptions, the Crusaders also finished the afternoon with -3 yards rushing.  Add to that a whopping five false start penalties and a blocked extra point - which ultimately ended up as the score difference in the game - and you can imagine Gilmore's frustration.

Elder won the starting job of QB in the preseason, and ended his day 23 for 41 passing with 1 touchdown and those 3 interceptions.  Freshman RB Gabe Guild (98 yards receiving, 12 net yards rushing) emerged as Elder's favorite target, followed by senior WR Nate Stanley (6 catches 75 yards).

Senior WR Kyle Toulouse scored the other touchdown on a nice punt return, evading the first wave of tacklers then accelerating through the crowd for a 77 yard score.

Defensively the Cross gave up large chunks of yardage to the Bulldogs but only let up 17 points.

Junior FS Sam Jones (7 tackles, 3 tackles for loss) and junior DB Ben Coffaro (6 tackles, 1 INT) had good days for the Deep Purple defense, but couldn't stop Bryant as they marched down the field to set up their game-winning FG.

It's only one game, of course, and there's loads of important football to go with the Crusaders, but if they hope for their game against Lehigh to be a meaningful one in November, they'll have to look a lot better than they did against Bryant this weekend.

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