Since 1951, when Fordham and Holy Cross have met on the gridiron, the Ram-Crusader Cup has been on the line. While the storied Lehigh-Lafayette series gets much attention as Patriot League football rivalries go, and well-deserved eyeballs at that with its longevity, the Rams and Crusaders have been going at it with less broad acclaim for decades.
On Saturday, though, Fordham and Holy Cross will be the center of the PL world and be FCS playoff difference-makers when they meet in the Bronx for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff on ESPN+.
Fordham and HC both enter with 4-0 marks in PL play, but each has a quality nonconference win to boot. Holy Cross handled business against floundering FBS independent UConn to the tune of a double-digit win to open the fall, while Fordham snatched its own notable road victory by decisively defeating the CAA’s Stony Brook 31-14. The Seawolves have won three of five games since. Down the road from SBU, HC closed September by drilling then-ranked Monmouth by 30 on the Hawks’ turf. Bracketology fixture Monmouth remains in contention for the Big South title pending its smackdown with Kennesaw State later this month.
With another Holy Cross win Saturday, the Crusaders clinch at least a share of the Patriot League crown (which will, more likely than not in this scenario, be the outright title after November 20’s games) and the purple-clad league leaders would secure the conference’s automatic playoff bid for the third straight season. In turn, Fordham can prevent all that from getting in motion for the back-to-back reigning champion Crusaders by taking Saturday’s contest at home, which would assure the Rams a minimum of a shared PL championship and the possibility of snagging the PL auto-bid depending on PL 3-1 Colgate’s outcome vs. eliminated Lafayette.
While guaranteeing a chunk of the conference title is certainly a desirable end for both sides of the Ram-Crusader Cup game, life in the traditionally one-bid Patriot League makes securing the auto-bid king. Simply put, even with Fordham and Holy Cross’s quality nonconference showings, the bubble is too crowded by power and mid-range FCS conferences for the Rams or Crusaders to have a reasonable crack at the at-large berth necessary if either team loses out on the automatic berth.
Both squads have playoff-caliber talent jumping off their respective depth charts. Fordham QB Tim DeMorat is a prolific passer, ranking fifth nationally in touchdown passes on the season with 27 through nine games. DeMorat trails only the likes of Incarnate Word’s Cameron Ward, Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere, and Southeastern Louisiana’s Cole Kelley in the category.
Holy Cross counters with the defending Patriot League Rookie of the Year in starting signal-caller Matthew Sluka, whose 11 rushing touchdowns in nine games this season are good for a tie for 10th in the FCS.
The production isn’t limited to the offenses. Fordham’s James Conway, the freshman linebacker selected to the Stats Perform Jerry Rice Award Watch List, and Holy Cross’ Jacob Dobbs, the junior linebacker on the Stats Perform Buck Buchanan Award Watch List, both occupy the top 5 in the FCS in tackles per game. Each player exceeds 10 stops an outing. Conway has followed the footsteps somewhat of the injured Ryan Greenhagen, who turned heads nationwide with his NCAA-DI-record-setting, 31-total-tackle mega performance at FBS Power Five Nebraska.
With healthy big names in store, the Ram-Crusader Cup figures to be an enticing matchup of a pair of playoff-worthy units for whom only one postseason spot can realistically be had. This year’s game may not be at Yankee Stadium some subway stops away from Fordham’s city campus, but there are home-run-hitters aplenty in action, and only those on the winning team, Cup in hand, will be in good position to showcase their skills in the FCS playoffs.