Dec. 7, 2006
By Patricia Sutton
Special to GoHolyCross.com
The 2006 Crusader Football season was full of successes. The team finished the season 7-4, their best record since 2000, and finished third in the Patriot League with a conference record of 4-2. Holy Cross led the Patriot League in several statistical categories, including total offense (384.4 yards per game), passing offense (271.5 yards per game), pass efficiency defense (108.4 rating), first downs (239) and third down conversions (46.3 percent). In the final game of the season, Holy Cross was fighting for a chance to win the Patriot League championship, an opportunity they had not had since 1991. Holy Cross' postseason bid came up just short, falling to Colgate 29-28, a loss the Crusaders will not soon forget.
Head coach Tom Gilmore was named Patriot League Coach of the Year for his efforts. Gilmore became the first Holy Cross head coach to win the honor since Mark Duffner in 1991. Gilmore was honored to receive the award. "This is a program award rather than an individual award," said Gilmore. "Such recognition comes when all of the players and coaches are doing a great job and the program is performing well. I also think the award testifies that the program has moved to a legitimate place of respect in the Patriot League, and the other coaches recognize our progress."
In addition to coach Gilmore's award, several of the players were also recognized for their achievements. Seven Crusaders were named to the All-Patriot Football teams. Senior cornerback Casey Gough (Hinsdale, Ill.), junior wide receiver Ryan Maher (Boca Raton, Fla.), senior offensive tackle Hall McMillan (Annapolis, Md.) and senior offensive guard Andrew Schoepfer (Waterford, Conn.) were all named to the All-Patriot League first team, while senior linebacker Dan Adams (Springfield, Va.), junior wide receiver Thomas Harrison (Wilmington, N.C.) and senior defensive end John Markus Pinard (Bellevue, Wash.) were second team selections. Maher and Schoepfer were also selected to the 2006 New England Division I-AA All-Star team, as announced by the New England Football Writers. The two Crusaders were among 28 players from around New England named to the squad. The seniors on this year's team were a key component to the team's great chemistry and success. Deep in talent and possessing a strong work ethic, this senior class completely turned around the football program after a 1-11 year their freshmen season, and after losing former head coach Dan Allen to illness. Under Gilmore's leadership, the Crusaders improved every season to become a dominant force in the Patriot League. Next season, the Crusaders will miss the leadership of the seniors, but Gilmore hopes these leadership roles will quickly be filled by underclassmen ready to step-up to the challenge.
Many believe that this year's team has paved the way for the future of Holy Cross football. Senior co-captain and 2006 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District I squad selection Chris Neilson laments, "I think this year's team has just laid the foundation for future success. With a win this year over the eventual league champion, Lafayette, players should now know they can compete with and beat the best in the league. After having so many big wins in the past two years, players now should have the confidence to know they can go out and beat whomever they are playing." Beating defending Patriot League champion, Lafayette at their home field 38-28, was a highlight for many this season.
Although, the team is graduating 21 seniors, the future looks promising for Holy Cross. Among the key returnees is sophomore quarterback Dominic Randolph (Amelia, Ohio). This season, Randolph emerged as a key player for the Crusaders at quarterback. He led the Patriot League in passing yards and total offense. In addition, he was named Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week four consecutive weeks, becoming the first player in conference history to accomplish that feat. Randolph believes that consistency is the key to next year's squad competing for the Patriot League championship. "To win the league title and advance to the NCAA playoffs, we need to be the most consistent team in the league," said Randolph. "By working on the little things, such as finishing drives, we will give ourselves a better chance to get there."
Holy Cross will also return four of its top five receivers, including Maher, who led the Patriot League in receptions per game and was second in receiving yards.
Gilmore is hoping the Crusaders can build on their success, however he is realistic of the challenges that his club will face next year. "I am very optimistic about our potential to reach our goals, but I am also cognizant of the additional challenges that we will face in the process," said Gilmore. "Our opponents now respect this program again, and they will be well-prepared for us next season. Since we will not be able to sneak up on anyone, we will have to raise the level of everything we do in order to be prepared to successfully meet those challenges." For Gilmore and his team, that starts right away with off-season workouts and spring practices. Believing there is always room for improvement, the Crusaders will be working hard to once again contend for the Patriot League title.