College of the Holy Cross Community Rallies Around Undefeated Football Team

Holy Cross student wears purple school colors and cheers

Football found its way to the Fountain family's Thanksgiving dinner table last week. Growing up in North Reading, Massachusetts, Brianna Fountain '25 became enamored with the sport, specifically, she and her father bonded over the New England Patriots.

But this year, instead of Bill Belichick or Mac Jones, the conversation shifted to Holy Cross coach Bob Chesney and quarterback Matthew Sluka '24. 

"I find myself talking to my dad a lot about plays, sending him highlights, things like that," Fountain said. "I think he's proud of me for knowing so much. He loves being involved. He's probably getting season tickets next year."

As the Crusaders prepare for their playoff game against New Hampshire on Saturday, the road to the postseason included an undefeated run for the first time in 30 years that captivated the campus community. Compared to other undefeated schools, Holy Cross' enrollment is much smaller, which has created an environment where students aren't cheering for numbers on a TV screen, but attending games to witness the success of their friends and classmates. 

"This is the guy [Samuel Slade '26] that lives three doors down breaking off a 20-yard run, it's really incredible to watch," Rocky Perea '26 said. "It's nice to see that people who are existing in the same community as I am, even though they have a different routine and schedule, that we share in this community and we're here together. It's nice to attach that to the guys on the field that you're watching."

Perea's view of the game is often from the press box as a student broadcaster on WCHC 88.1 FM. Often joining him is Ben Lepper '25. 

Lepper was on the call for what is now Holy Cross history — when Chesney opted for a two-point conversion and the win against Patriot League opponent Fordham in overtime rather than playing it safe and opting for the extra point. 

Ayir Asante '23 crossed the goal line securing the walk-off win and a fourth consecutive Patriot League Championship as Fitton Field erupted in euphoria. 

"The last thing I said before the score was, 'Asante’s got room.' That’s it, then everyone erupts in cheering," Lepper said. "That's the most incredible football experience I've ever had at a game, and I've been to professional games."

Lepper described the energy from Fitton Field as permeating across campus. Boston's WGBH News even declared the Crusaders as "the most exciting football team in Massachusetts" this year. 

As New England views the football team from afar, on campus it has created connections through generations, whether it's Fountain strengthening her bond with her father or conversations between Lepper and his parents, who are Holy Cross alumni. His father graduated in 1991 — the last year the Crusaders finished with a flawless regular season, prior to 2022.

The parents of Colin Healy '25 were also attending Holy Cross in 1987, another football regular season that ended without a loss. Healy heard about Crusader football all his life, but experiencing it on campus is unique. 

"I think it's pretty special being a small school with 3,000 students," he said.

Lucas Giarrusso '25 was almost a part of the football team. He tried out as a first-year student, but ultimately opted to concentrate on academics. Coming out of high school in California, Giarusso had to choose between two Jesuit schools: Santa Clara and Holy Cross. While many factors weighed on him, Holy Cross offered something its West Coast counterpart didn’t.

"I wrote my college essay on the language of sports. Sports is big for me," Giarusso said. "It's not the main factor by any means, but one of the things that pushed me to Holy Cross over Santa Clara was there was a football team."

Through the 11-0 season, the Crusaders team grew into something larger than athletics and Fitton Field; it's something the campus community will also look back on. 

"It's almost a personal connection," Giarrusso said. "It gives a new dimension to football."