Holy Cross turns back Lafayette, will play at Fordham Saturday for Patriot League title
After a convincing win in home finale, HC and Fordham carry 4-0 league marks in next weekend's clash
Telegram & Gazette
Holy Cross' Jordan Fuller is lifted up by C.J. Hanson after scoring a touchdown against Lafayette.
WORCESTER — As Holy Cross’ leading receiver in 2019, Ayir Asante showed great promise as a freshman, but he wasn’t able to build on that momentum in HC’s shortened spring season. Due to COVID protocols, Asante played in just one of the Crusaders’ four games.
Coming into this season, the 6-foot speedster was determined to continue his development in the Holy Cross offense. Through HC’s first eight games, though, Asante had just one touchdown reception, and a season-high 50 receiving yards in last week’s win at Lehigh.
In the Crusaders’ final regular-season home game at Fitton Field Saturday, Asante broke through for one of the best games of his career and helped lead Holy Cross to a 35-10 victory over Lafayette.
Asante had nine receptions for 137 yards and three touchdowns, and with a balanced attack, Holy Cross racked up a season-best 517 total yards.
Asante’s three-touchdown performance was the first for a Holy Cross receiver since Brendan Flaherty in 2015.
Holy Cross' Ayir Asante is pushed out of bounds by Lafayette's Shaikyi Hannah.
“After COVID shutdown my sophomore year, it was interesting for me to find my role again in this offense with new pieces and a new emphasis with what our offense is,” Asante said. “I just had to mature a little bit. I had to do what was best for the team. I always had to be ready for the opportunity, ready for the moment, and when the moment presented itself, I was very happy I could make those plays.”
HC’s victory sets up a Patriot League showdown next weekend at Fordham. At 4-0, the two-time defending PL champion Crusaders and Rams share first place in the league standings.
“That’s what you want,” Holy Cross coach Bob Chesney said. “You want every week to be a battle.”
The Crusaders improved to 7-2 overall, and had another dominant defensive effort. For the third straight week, HC held its opponent under 200 yards.
Holy Cross senior running back Peter Oliver carried 18 times for 105 yards, and the HC ground attack got back on track. Lehigh held the Crusaders to a season-low 78 yards last week. Oliver carried five times for 30 yards on HC’s opening possession.
“Running the ball early was important,” Chesney said. “(Lafayette) is good. Their linebackers are very good, and their front three are very good. We weren’t sure how it was going to play out, but I liked the push we got up front.”
For the first time this season, HC had a 100-yard rusher and a 100-yard receiver in the same game.
Sophomore quarterback Matthew Sluka was 6 of 11 for 97 yards, and sophomore quarterback Marco Siderman 18 of 23 for 173 yards and two TDs. Sluka and freshman running back Jordan Fuller scored rushing TDs for HC.
Chesney liked the way his receivers competed downfield. Asante’s TD receptions were for 16, 47 and 19 yards.
“Now we have to have those from Ayir every single week,” Chesney said, “and I know he will. He’s just so committed. He’s a leader, and he works so hard. It didn’t go his exact way over the last couple weeks. He didn’t hang his head. He didn’t complain. He just comes out and works.”
Lafayette (3-6, 2-2) was the sixth opponent Holy Cross has held under 20 points this season. The Crusaders combined for seven sacks of Lafayette freshman quarterback Ah-Shaun Davis, and against the strong-armed Davis, protected the deep ball.
“Our camaraderie on defense is incredible,” said senior cornerback John Smith, who had a second-quarter interception. “Things started to click, and once things start to click, you play fast. When we play with the swagger we have, there aren’t a lot of teams that can do anything on us.”
In the first quarter, Lafayette had no first downs and just 4 rushing yards.
Holy Cross quarterback Matthew Sluka unleashes a pass against Lafayette.
The Leopards got it going to open the second quarter and drove to the HC 31, but Smith’s team-leading fourth interception of the year led to HC’s second score of the game.
Siderman went 4 for 4 for 60 yards and completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Asante, who made a great back-shoulder grab near the front corner of the end zone.
After another strong defensive stand by HC, Siderman had the Crusaders on the move again, but his pass, intended for Asante near the sideline, tipped off the hands of Lafayette linebacker Reggie Thomas and into those of linebacker Major Jordan, who returned the pick 50 yards for a TD.
HC led, 14-7, at halftime.
Senior kicker Derek Ng, who last week made the longest field goal in the PL this season, a 50-yarder, was 0 for 2 in the first half. He missed a 45-yard attempt on HC’s first possession, and Lafayette’s Jyaire Stevens blocked his 47-yard try at the end of the first half.
The Leopards went three-and-out to open the second half, and HC junior Devin Haskins got a piece of Jakob Trestik’s punt to give the Crusaders great field position at the Lafayette 42.
Holy Cross took advantage of the short field. HC ran seven straight running plays, and Sluka scored from 6 yards.
Later in the third, Sluka hit Asante with a deep pass at the 20. Asante beat the Lafayette defender and ran the rest of the way to the end zone.
“We were taking the one-on-one matchups,” Asante said. “It was a great ball. He put it up and allowed me to play football.”
It was Asante’s third career 100-yard receiving game. In 2019, he led HC with 48 receptions, 697 yards and 6 touchdowns.
After the game, Holy Cross honored its 29 seniors in a Senior Day ceremony.
“They mean so much to us,” Asante said. “They shaped my Holy Cross experience, and they are our big brothers. It’s huge for us to get this win, period. To get it for them was even better.”
We definitely have them here in Central CT, particularly near the Farmington River. I also had a close encounter with one in PA this summer. He was perched in a tree right above a country road I was on.