2013 Patriot League Football Preview: Holy Cross Crusaders Crusaders look to bounce back from tough 2012 season
Aug. 21, 2013
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - After seven consecutive winning seasons, Holy Cross dealt with heartbreaking losses and close calls to finish with a 2-9 record in 2012. The Crusaders hope a high amount of starters back on both sides of the ball will create a return to contention this season.
Holy Cross leads all schools with six preseason All-Patriot League selections, and has 15 starters back overall (six offense/nine defense) in 2013. Head Coach Tom Gilmore has turned the program into a winner in his first nine seasons at the helm, and his team certainly has a chance for a major turnaround this season.
A preview of the 2013 Holy Cross Crusaders season is included below, with a look at the offense, defense, special teams and schedule, five burning questions and links to information and previews for the season.
HEAD COACH: Tom Gilmore, 10th Season (53-47 overall/Holy Cross, 32-22 Patriot League) 2012 RECORD: 2-9 overall, 2-3 Patriot League (T3rd place) PATRIOT LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL: 3rd PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE: Mike Fess (WR); Kyle Pedretty (OL); Gary Acquah (DL); Kalif Raymond (RS); John Macomber (K/P)
OFFENSE: The Crusaders had a revolving door at quarterback in 2012, but now all of those players come back with experience. Juniors Ryan Laughlin and Steven Elder shared time late in the season, with Elder entering the fall at the top spot on the depth chart. They will have the benefit of two solid returning wide receivers in Mike Fess and Kyle Toulouse, though second-team All-Patriot Leaguer Gerald Mistretta departs at the position. Second-team All-League tight end Alex Schneider is also gone along with starting running back Eddie Houghton and second-team All-League offensive lineman Sean Whited. But there is experience at those positions, as Reggie Woods had the highest per carry average of any running back and Kyle Pedretty, Blake Berresford and Casey Bessemer all return as starters on the line.
DEFENSE: The Holy Cross defense has pieces in place for a solid year with nine starters returning. Senior defensive lineman Gary Acquah earned second-team All-Patriot League honors last year, while linebacker Roman SanDoval is the unit's top returning tackler. Matthew Boyd and Mike Galantini team with Acquah on the line, while Mike Tucker and Scotty O'Donoghue should slide back into starting roles at linebacker. Returnees in the secondary include Ben Coffaro, Logan Silver and Sam Jones, though the unit does lose a big piece with second-team All-Patriot Leaguer and leading tackler Tom Mannix moving on.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Holy Cross' pair of special teams standouts combined to receive three All-Patriot League honors in 2012, and both return to the field this season. John Macomber was named a second-team selection at both punter and placekicker after averaging 40.9 yards per punt and making 10-of-13 field goals. Kalif Raymond had an outstanding freshman season in the return game, as the first-team All-Patriot League return specialist averaged 24.3 yards on kickoffs.
SCHEDULE: Holy Cross will take on a 12-game schedule that offers few breaks in non-League play. The Crusaders will open with their six non-League contests, playing games at Bryant (Aug. 31), Central Connecticut (Sept. 14) and Dartmouth (Sept. 28) while taking on an attractive home slate that features Towson (Sept. 7), Monmouth (Sept. 21) and Harvard (Oct. 5). The Crusaders open Patriot League play at Bucknell (Oct. 12) before hosting defending champion Colgate (Oct. 19) and Lafayette (Oct. 26). Road trips to Fordham (Nov. 2) and Lehigh (Nov. 9) follow with a bye week heading into the season finale at home against Georgetown (Nov. 23).
1. Can the Crusaders close out games?
Holy Cross was probably a total of 10 minutes away from being 7-4 instead of 2-9, as games against Brown, Dartmouth, Fordham, Lehigh and Wagner all went into the loss column in the final minutes. While some of that could be chalked up to bad luck, it also means a team with a majority of its starters returning has to show that it can finish the job in the fourth quarter. It may be only a handful of plays that make the difference, but it will be up to the Crusaders to seize those opportunities this time around.
2. Who is the next Dominic Randolph....or Ryan Taggart?
After Dominic Randolph departed with almost every Patriot League record in the book in 2009, Ryan Taggart stepped right in and produced two solid seasons to keep the offense going. The transition was not quite as smooth in 2012, with Elder and Laughlin splitting time and neither emerging as the clear front-runner. Both players did complete more than 60% of their passes and showed flashes of great play, and now they are battling in camp for the right to emerge as the first-string quarterback. With a solid defense in place, the Crusaders might not even need the next Randolph. But whoever takes the snaps has to be steady and consistent for the Crusaders to thrive in the Patriot League race.
3. Will returning starters make this Gilmore's best defense?
Even during the run of winning seasons, including the Patriot League championship campaign in 2009, Holy Cross has always been known more for its offense than defense. But the defensive unit should be able to hold up its side of the bargain in 2013. Acquah leads a group that has nine starters back, and the unit showed promise last year which included a shutout of Georgetown in the season finale. With so many experienced players back, the Crusaders should pick up where they left off and boast a defensive unit that produces a solid season.
4. Can Macomber and Raymond give the Crusaders a "special" edge?
In a wide-open Patriot League race, any advantage can be a major difference. And coming into the 2013 season, Holy Cross appears to have the best special teams combination in the League in kicker/punter John Macomber and return specialist Kalif Raymond. Both players earned preseason All-Patriot League honors at their positions and provide the Crusaders with strong play at spots where many League squads are looking for answers. Having a reliable kicker and return game threat gives the Crusaders a leg up on many of their counterparts, which could certainly play a major role if Holy Cross faces another run of nail-biters.
5. How will Holy Cross handle the schedule?
There are certainly positives to Holy Cross' 12-game schedule, particularly the setup that keeps the Crusaders in New England for all six of their non-League contests to open the season. The first lengthy road trip of the year is not until Oct. 12 at Bucknell in the Patriot League opener. But Holy Cross will have to face the challenge of playing in 11 consecutive weeks until its bye on Nov. 16. The Crusaders need to stay healthy and ready to go after playing their six non-League games in consecutive weeks to start the season, as they will face off with teams who will have played one or two fewer contests once they hit Patriot League play.