Tag: Northeast Conference

Holy Cross, Sacred Heart Seek First Postseason Victory

Quarterback Matthew Sluka has guided the Holy Cross football team to a 9-2 overall record this fall. (PHOTO COURTESY: Mark Seliger Photography/Courtesy of Holy Cross Athletics)

By Matt Noonan

Saturday will be a special day for either Holy Cross or Sacred Heart University.

The two teams secured a date in the opening round of the 2021 NCAA FCS Playoffs with the winner advancing to the second round next Saturday, December 4 against Villanova University.

Neither team has won a postseason contest, but this is certainly not the first time either school has competed in the playoffs.

Holy Cross, which is making its sixth appearance in the postseason, has lost three first-round matchups, a quarterfinal meeting with Western Carolina, and their first and only trip to the Orange Bowl in 1946 to the University of Miami.  

Sacred Heart has made three trips to the playoffs and dropped a pair of first-round contests to Fordham University in 2013 and 2014. This past spring, the University of Delaware outlasted the Pioneers, 19-10.

Both teams captured their respective conference title this fall – the Patriot League for Holy Cross and Northeast Conference (NEC) for Sacred Heart – and boast identical six-game winning streaks, which began last month.

Holy Cross appears to be the “favorite” in this matchup – currently, the Crusaders are ranked 24th in the latest FCS Coaches Poll with the 10th best rushing attack (the team is averaging 217.7 yards per game). Additionally, their defense is very good. The Purple and White have forced 24 turnovers, including 18 interceptions, which is the second-most in the FCS behind Austin Peay with 19 and held opponents to 76.6 rushing yards per game.

Linebacker Jacob Dobbs was named the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, while coach Bob Chesney earned the conference’s Dick Biddle Coach of the Year award (Dick Biddle was previously an assistant and coach of the Colgate University football team). Both are also being considered for national awards.

Holy Cross quarterback Matthew Sluka, who was named the Patriot League Rookie of the Year this past spring, has tallied 23 touchdowns this fall, including a team-high 13 scores on the ground. He will certainly be a player to watch, along with halfback Peter Oliver and linebacker Liam Anderson.

The most intriguing matchup to watch on Saturday is the Holy Cross rushing defense against Sacred Heart’s Malik Grant, who led the Northeast Conference with 1,288 yards on 226 carries and nine touchdowns. He is currently averaging 117.09 yards per game and one of 12 FCS halfbacks to rush for 1,000 yards or more this season.

In addition to Grant, fans should keep an eye on halfback Julius Chestnut, who only played four times this fall, but is gaining attention from NFL scouts. The Bowie, Maryland native has rushed for 100 yards or more in three contests while locating the end zone three times.

Holy Cross has won a pair of meetings against Sacred Heart with their last win coming in 2009 when the Crusaders won nine games like they did this fall.

Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. with the game being streamed on ESPN+.

Sacred Heart’s Nofri Hopeful To Lead Pioneers To First Playoff Win

After winning its second-straight Northeast Conference (NEC) crown, Sacred Heart’s Mark Nofri hopes the team’s recent momentum will continue in the FCS playoffs. (PHOTO COURTESY: Sacred Heart Athletics)

By Matt Noonan

Mark Nofri and his Sacred Heart University football team wanted to compete in the postseason this fall – it was a preseason goal.

But after capturing the Northeast Conference (NEC) for the second consecutive season, Nofri’s squad has tweaked its preseason objective to winning the program’s first-ever playoff game on Saturday against Holy Cross.  

“I know it’s one of the next steps we’ve wanted to take,” said Nofri when meeting with the media earlier today.

“This will be the fourth time we’re in the FCS playoffs, and each game we’ve been in we’ve had shots to win it in the fourth quarter (but) just couldn’t get it done.”  

Sacred Heart has certainly been competitive when competing in the postseason – two of their three matchups have been decided by 10 points or less – but for the Red and White to be successful, they must play their best football, especially against a talented Crusaders squad that enters the postseason riding a six-game winning streak.

Like the Pioneers, the Crusaders are also seeking their initial postseason victory – Holy Cross has appeared in four FCS Tournaments, but has lost a trio of first-round matchups, along with a quarterfinal meeting with Western Carolina in 1983. They also saw their bid for a national title conclude this spring against South Dakota State.

No matter the outcome, Saturday will be a special day for one of these programs, but as Nofri explained, “For me personally, I would love it for the kids. I want to see them win a playoff game and be one of the (or) at least the first team in school history to win a playoff game.” 

Holy Cross, Sacred Heart to meet in NCAA FCS Tournament

Malik Grant and the Sacred Heart University football team will enter the 2021 NCAA FCS Tournament on a six-game winning streak. (PHOTO COURTESY: Sacred Heart University Athletics)

By NoontimeSports.com

One day after clinching its second-straight Northeast Conference (NEC) championship, the Sacred Heart University football team secured a date with Holy Cross in the opening round of the NCAA Division I FCS postseason.

The two teams will meet on Saturday, November 27 at Fitton Field in Worcester with kickoff scheduled for 12 p.m. The winner will advance to the second round to compete against fifth-ranked Villanova University.

Sacred Heart won eight games this fall, including six league tilts to secure the conference crown. They won the NEC this spring with a 3-1 record but saw their bid for a national championship conclude in the first round to the University of Delaware.

“It’s exciting to be one of the 24 teams left playing,” said Sacred Heart coach Mark Nofri. “We’re excited to be in the FCS Playoffs. Holy Cross is a great draw, they’re one of the best schools in the Northeast and the entire country.” 

The Crusaders captured third third-straight Patriot League title after winning all six matchups, including a 52-24 victory last week over Fordham University. Their impressive win over the Rams was highlighted by quarterback Matthew Sluka, who concluded the game with four touchdowns.  

Saturday’s home playoff game will be the first for Holy Cross since they hosted Western Carolina in the NCAA Division I AA playoffs on December 3, 1983. The Catamounts beat the Crusaders, 28-21, and advanced to the national championship, but lost to coach Ray Dempsey’s Southern Illinois Salukis by a score of 43-7.

Holy Cross has competed in the NCAA FCS Tournament four times with their last three trips, including this spring ending with first-round setbacks. Sacred Heart is seeking its first postseason victory in program history.

“I know our guys will be fired up and ready to play,” said Nofri. “We have quite a few guys from Massachusetts on our team and we look forward to the challenge of playing up there.”

Holy Cross has won the last two meetings with the Pioneers, including a 52-21 victory in 2009. Quarterback Dominic Randolph concluded the game with four touchdowns, including two on the ground.