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Know Your 2015 Opponents: Holy Cross

Perhaps it should be called the curse of QB Dominic Randolph.

With Dom as the leader on offense, in 2009 Holy Cross won their first Patriot League football championship in the FCS Playoff era.

From there they proceeded to give Villanova all they could handle in a 38-28 thriller.  The Wildcats would go on and win the FCS National Championship, beating Montana 23-21, and had the purpliest or Purple fans wondering about how and when the Crusaders were going to take the next step.

Unfortunately for Holy Cross fans, they've been waiting ever since.

Sure, injuries have played a part in Holy Cross' struggles over the seasons.  They also, certainly, have had more than their fail share of agonizing, close losses over the last four years.  And even the rest of the league hasn't paid Tom Gilmore's team much mind, either, ranking them sixth out of seven Patriot League teams in the preseason poll.

Yet this team doesn't seem like they should be picked sixth.  Not with the skill guys they have coming back, and the guys coming back from injury.

Maybe they were simply picked sixth because of the "curse" of Dominic Raldolph.  If they were, it's a mistake.

Think of how unusual it is for the sixth-placed Patriot League team to also have two first-team all-Patriot League offensive players returning, both of whom are juniors who could take drastic steps forward.

Don't Remind Me
Junior QB Pete Pujals (2.353 yards passing, 705 yards rushing, 16 TDs) and junior WR Jake Wieczorek (694 yards 5 TDs) are the engine that makes the Crusaders go, and were heavily in evidence when Team Purple beat the Mountain Hawks 27-20 last season.

The last 4:24  of the first half in that game both demonstrate how the 2014 season went for the Mountain Hawks and how dangerous the Pujals/Wizzy combination can be,

After a field goal from senior K Connor Fitzgerald to tie the game at 3 and a Lehigh punt, Pujals directed the offense to a 5 play, 58 yard drive and put the Crusaders ahead with a 11 yard run.  Then Holy Cross would get an interception and Pujals would hit Wizzy for a 27 yard strike.

Just like that, it was 17-3, and the Mountain Hawks were in a hole they couldn't escape.

"We turned the ball over at the end of the half and didn't manage things well," head coach Coen said after the game. "That hurt. You're winning 3-0 then next thing you know, you're down 17-3."

Holy Cross not only returns Wizzy and Pujals.  They also return their leading running back not named Pujals, junior RB Gabe Guild (588 all-purpose yards, 5 TDs), and four more receivers and backs that had more than 100 yards receiving in Team Purple's offense.

But they also have an offense that had a bad tendency to turn over the ball last season, with a -6 turnover ratio last season.  It's a top priority for coach Tom Gilmore to get this fixed this upcoming season.

They'll need to fix it soon, too, because one of the notable things about Holy Cross this season is their interesting schedule, especially with a fairly brutal first six games.

They start the season on the road at Monmouth, who beat Lehigh last season and competes in the same conference as Coastal Carolina and Liberty, and at Towson, who competes in the CAA and were in the FCS National Championship game not all that long ago.

They then head home to face off against one of the projected contenders in the Patriot League football title race, Colgate, and then host 63-scholarship Albany of the CAA and always-tough Brown of the Ivy League, before travelling to the Bronx in a likely must-win game against Fordham to stay relevant in the Patriot League title chase.

"Aside from the knee brace and constant pain, how was last season?"
They'll need to do this while replacing their leading tackler on defense last season and their top pass rusher.  Fortunately for the Crusaders, they'll have two guys coming back from injury playing together for the first time in a long time, junior FS Luke Ford and senior S Matt Bhaya, the latter who was a preseason all-Patriot League member in 2014 before tearing his PCL and having to play the majority of last season hurt with a knee brace.

“I wasn’t where I wanted to be,”  Bhaya told The Worcester Telegram, “but I feel great this year and I’m moving around a lot better.”

When Bhaya, Ford and senior CB Steven Martinez are doing their thing, picking off passes and stumping opposing passing games, Holy Cross has a chance in any game.

(Of course, maybe it's not a great idea to get the Crusaders overly excited, as this viral video from Holy Cross demonstrates.)

(The video came from Holy Cross' coaching staff, their running backs coach who happens to be a Lehigh football alum - LB Jon Guynes.)

There's something about this Holy Cross team that screams "we are not sixth in the Patriot League".  If they can pull off some surprises in a brutal stretch to start the season, it's not out of the realm of possibility to see them taking the whole thing.  But they have to come together quick and make those big strides from the foundations of last year.  They will be an interesting team to follow before they make their trip to Murray Goodman later this season.

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