The Holy Cross Crusaders have accomplished a great deal on the football field recently, entering a new prime era of their program’s history under head coach Bob Chesney. Back-to-back Patriot League championships and FCS playoff appearances in most recent seasons top the list of their latest exploits. Last week, though, the Crusaders achieved a new feat by ending UConn head coach Randy Edsall’s career.
Well, that might not officially be the case. But Holy Cross’ 38-28 toppling of FBS independent Connecticut on Saturday, its first win over an FBS opponent since 2002, was enough to inspire Edsall’s end-of-season retirement announcement on Sunday, which one day later changed to an immediate resignation from the Huskies post.
Ironically, Chesney’s name has already been floated externally to succeed Edsall in Storrs; these rumors coming alongside mention of fellow FCS names such as Towson coach and former UConn assistant Rob Ambrose. However, Chesney has positioned HC as the class of the Patriot League, and top 25 voters have taken notice. The Crusaders’ No. 24 spot in this week’s Stats Perform FCS Top 25 marks their first in-season ranking since Sept. 18, 2017 (they clinched the final slot in the season-ending coaches poll in the spring).
Awaiting Holy Cross this month are road tests at Yale and Monmouth that could offer it its most meaningful opportunities to sustain and boost its historic ranking. That’s not to mention a home bout with Harvard to open October that is sure to have locals buzzing.
Yet before all that excitement can materialize, an underrated in-state foe makes the trip Saturday from North Andover to Worcester, Massachusetts. Merrimack of the NEC is transitioning up to Division I in a multi-year process and therefore remains ineligible for an FCS playoff auto-bid in the near term.
With that, though, the Warriors (1-0 after defeating Division II Saint Anselm) enter as an underdog with nothing to lose and a lot to prove. They are led by head coach Dan Curran, an all-conference-caliber player at New Hampshire for Sean McDonnell from 1996 to 2000 who spent time in both the NFL and arena football in his pro playing career.
McDonnell told HERO Sports of his protege, “There’s an innate toughness to Danny Curran, and it’s not just a physical toughness; it’s mental toughness. When he was here [at UNH], he was not a very demonstrative person. As I watched him grow here over the years and watch him coaching, his teams have taken up his personality.”
The way McDonnell sees it, Holy Cross would be wise not to overlook Merrimack amidst the hype.
“It’s a no-nonsense program down there,” he said. “They’re a physical, strong, tough program. They’re every place, man. Recruiting, camps, everything. [Curran’s] staff and Danny himself do a tremendous job of putting Merrimack on the map in New England, but also [elsewhere] in the country right now, especially in the southern part of our country, Florida, and Virginia.”
McDonnell also recognized the clear challenge that Curran and his Warriors face in playing at HC in its home opener, calling the nationally televised UConn game win that sent shockwaves through the Northeast a “tremendous feather in your cap.”
“What Bobby Chesney and those guys are doing down there is pretty good,” the New England football mainstay praised.
The nation seems to agree, as Stats Perform’s poll indicates (our Sam Herder placed Holy Cross No. 23 on his ballot).
The prospect of the Crusaders sticking around and ascending in the national picture, however, will require a focused effort against a motivated bunch from Merrimack, one that is well aware of the recognition at stake in traveling to a ranked rival that is riding high.