No one would mistake the recent competitive stature of the Patriot League in the FCS with that of a subdivision “power” conference. The league has been carried nationally by back-to-back-to-back conference champion and automatic playoff bid recipient Holy Cross. The Crusaders are at it again in 2022, as last week, they snagged their second FBS win in as many seasons by stunning Buffalo on a Hail Mary Matthew Sluka heave as time expired.
That highlight is what made the rounds on social media, followed by ample shine on ESPN’s SportsCenter, and rightfully so. Yet Holy Cross’ trending upset might have overshadowed the bigger picture in what was an auspicious weekend overall for the Patriot League, one that could signal progress toward a conference-title race that better challenges the ’Saders in November.
While Holy Cross got to work in western New York, Patriot Leaguers elsewhere swiped a pair of wins against CAA Football competition, each on the road.
Colgate dropped Maine in Orono in a 21-18 final. The Raiders shut out the Black Bears in the first half on their way to allowing just three points through three quarters. ’Gate’s Michael Brescia did most of his damage at quarterback on the ground, gashing Maine for a team-high 87 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 15 carries, a workload that matched that of running back Max Hurleman. Unmistakably, though, it was excellence on defense that spurred Colgate to its first triumph over Maine since 1999.
There was no defense to be found when one looked south to West Long Branch, NJ, where Fordham locked horns with Monmouth in a shootout. The Rams took the track meet 52-49 behind QB Tim DeMorat’s passing bonanza that saw the All-American go 34/51 passing for 452 yards and six touchdowns. The Patriot League’s first-team all-conference QB outdueled the CAA’s 2022 preseason equivalent in Tony Muskett, who went 14/27 passing for 323 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception for Monmouth.
It was a needed showing for Fordham (706 yards of total offense) after it made a shaky Week 1 impression by yielding 31 points to NEC cellar-dweller Wagner, albeit in a win.
In another Patriot League-vs.-NEC Week 1 meeting, Lafayette took down top-end NEC member Sacred Heart in shutout fashion. The Leopards’ 6-0 win was headlined by their limitation of Pioneers tailback Malik Grant to a measly 46 yards on 21 carries. No stop of Grant was more important than the one marking the final play of regulation in which the RB was stuffed inches shy of the goal line to secure Lafayette’s victory.
Rounding out notable Week 1 outcomes in the PL, even rebuilding Bucknell showed season-opening promise in taking the CAA’s Towson to overtime before falling 14-13 on a game-ending missed PAT.
This Saturday, however, will be the most informative as to whether the Patriot League has true threats to Holy Cross’ reign. The Crusaders themselves are in for a nonconference test when Yale pays a visit to Worcester. The Bulldogs, along with their Ivy League mates around the region, will be playing their season opener; HC can expect fresh legs and a fight from a top-half Ivy team.
Fordham looks to keep pace by improving to 3-0 when it hosts UAlbany. The Great Danes hail from CAA Football but don’t bring the prolific offense boasted by the Rams. It’s a gettable game for Fordham if its defense can settle down after the floodgates opened at Monmouth, though it should be noted that the Hawks have high-end skill-position talent that will do that to teams this season.
Conversely, Lafayette will have scrutiny on its middling offense when it seeks to upset William & Mary, which is arguably off to the CAA’s hottest start. The Leopards entertain the Tribe in Easton, PA, where they will require a big day from Malik Hamm on the defensive line to make W&M QB Darius Wilson and co. uncomfortable. Such stifling run defense and disruption did the trick against SHU, but Lafayette will have to be more balanced to topple the Tribe.
If the Patriot League can manage to go at least 2-1 in these three headliner games, all out-of-conference matchups, it will offer some reason for confidence that Holy Cross, for all its recent glory and pending its performance vs. Yale, won’t run away with the league trophy this fall.