Holy Cross Crusaders
2018 Record: 5-6 (4-2)
Head Coach: Bob Chesney, 2nd year (5-6, 4-2)
Last Patriot League Title: 2009
Last FCS Playoff Appearance: 2009
8/31 @ Navy
9/7 vs New Hampshire
9/21 @ Yale
9/28 @ Syracuse
10/5 @ Bucknell
10/12 @ Brown
11/2 @ Lehigh
11/16 @ Fordham
Bob Chesney’s first season at Holy Cross was a bit of a roller coaster ride. The Crusaders struggled in the OOC, 1-5 but bounced back in Patriot League play to finish in a tie for second place. The season concluded with a wild 32-31 win over Georgetown. The victory was the largest comeback win (26 points) in the program’s history. Despite some of the high notes in league play the season ultimately ended with a disappointing 5-6 record. It was Chesney’s first losing record as a college head coach (9 years) and the Crusader’s third straight overall, 5th in the last 6 seasons.
Holy Cross will be a more a talented team in 2019 yet they might be hard pressed to improve upon last year’s 5 wins. The defense must replace several key contributors along the front seven while the offense has to find more consistency week in and week out in order for the Crusaders to take the next step this season. The biggest hurdle in Holy Cross’s way appears to be schedule, it’s borderline insanity; 2 FBS games and 7 road contests.
The biggest question on Mount Saint James is who will be the starting quarterback when the team travels to Annapolis to kickoff the 2019 season. Senior Emmett Clifford started three games in 2018 but struggled in those opportunities (204 yards 1 TD 3 INTs). Who ultimately takes the reigns will go a long way in determining the Crusader’s fortunes on offense (24.4 ppg in ’18). The strength of the offense will be an experienced offensive line and a talented group of running backs.
The starting quarterback job will likely come down Wake Forest transfer Matt Considine and junior Connor Degenhardt. Both are tall, 6’6, guys with arm talent to burn. Degenhardt does have an extra year of experience in (OC) Patrick Murphy’s system. Emmett Clifford will give Holy Cross an experienced back-up which can often prove to be a tremendous asset.
Whoever is under center will have the good fortune of working behind an excellent offensive one. The leader of the unit is 5th year senior tackle Jackson Dennis. He will be joined by fellow seniors Brett Boddy (Preseason All-PL) at guard and Max Daurella at center. Junior Brian Foley (T) is Holy Cross’s second Preseason All-PL selection along the line. The other guard position will likely come down to junior Jack Bowler and sophomore Nick Olsofka. Senior Joe Mattingly and sophomore Noah Fitzgerald figure to be key backups.
No one should benefit more from the Crusader’s road grading offensive line than senior Preseason All-PLrunning back Domenic Crozier (643 yards 8 TDs in ‘18). Senior Miles Alexander (373 yards 3 TDs) gives Holy Cross a quality second option in the backfield. Jordan Forest is a highly decorated freshman who has a great chance to see an increased role as the season progresses.
Holy Cross might have to rely on the ground game (138 ypg in ’18, 2nd in PL) early in the season while the pass attack finds is footing. The Crusaders lost their top three pass catchers to graduation so whomever assumes the quarterback spot will be working with a relatively inexperienced group of wide outs. Leading the way in 2019 will likely be junior Tenio Ayeni (14 rec 170 yards 1 TD in ’18). The Texas native should be the Crusader’s big play threat out wide. Senior Jon Jon Roberts (kick return specialist) and sophomore Spencer Gilliam (2 starts in ’18) are the only other receivers with significant experience. Freshman Ayir Asante is a tremendous talent who should see significant time. TE Derek Mountain (Sr) gives the Crusader offense an excellent red zone weapon (14 rec 212 yards 4 TDs).
The Crusader defense evolved into a rather stout unit during the second half of the 2018 campaign. In order to build off of last year’s momentum, defensive coordinator Scott James must replace several key players from the 2018 “D”. Defensive line and linebacker were especially hard hit by graduation.
The defensive line must replace three starters from last year’s unit. Senior DE Mark Ebo (3 sacks in ’18) is the lone returner in the trenches. Juniors Jordan Jackson and Benton Whitley (6 TFL) were key reserves in 2018; as was senior Kevin Bucceroni. Sophomore Jason Modak should see his role increase significantly. Freshman Thomas Kiessling comes to Worcester after a tremendous high school career at national power St. Xavier (OH). There is a good amount of talent returning, especially at DE, but the lack of size in the middle of the line has to be a concern.
Linebacker returns very little experience and depth (6 on roster). Sophomore Cullen Honohan (33 TT in ‘18) is easily the most experienced of the six having started four games last season. A pair of Liams, Anderson and Doran saw some action in 2019; albeit mostly on special teams. Highly regarded freshman Jacob Dobbs should see significant time given the lack of experience and numbers at the linebacker position.
Heading into the season the secondary is easily the strength of the Crusader “D”. The safety position has three very good players returning in 5th year senior Corey Stefanik (6 TFL in ’18), senior Alex Johnson (62 TT in ’18) and junior Joe Lang (77 TT in ’18). A pair of experienced juniors, Grant Hollorman and Josh Hicks along with sophomore John Smith should lead the way at corner back. Chris Riley (Sr), Kendrick Knight (Jr) and Terrell Prince (So) will provide valuable depth.
Sophomore Derek Ng had a very good rookie campaign handling the field goals (6/9, long of 45). Ng and senior Cody Wilkinson split the punting duties last year. The senior did fair a little better, 39 yard per punt average vs NG’s 35 yard per punt average. Wilkinson is expected to keep his kick off duties in 2019. Jon Jon Roberts will likely once again serve as the Crusader’s primary return man.
Bob Chesney has done an excellent job bringing energy to a Crusader program that has struggled to gain traction since their last Patriot League Title a decade ago. The two big questions heading into 2018 are; can Holy Cross notch a winning season and can they make serious run at a league title? It will be extremely difficult to accomplish either goal given the schedule and question marks on defense.
For a program desperately trying to build momentum this year’s schedule almost reads like a horror novel. Bob Chesney and his staff will be severely tested right out of the gate as the Crusaders will likely be underdogs in their first four games. Holy Cross needs to find a way to win at least one of those games otherwise the season could get away from them before the leaves change color in New England.
Prediction: 5-7 (3-3)