HC ready to light up '12; Opener vs. UNH tonight.
COLUMN: COLLEGE FOOTBALL
Holy Cross again will open its season under the lights at Fitton Field, and just because this is the second time around, it doesn't mean the novelty of this nighttime event has worn off one bit.
"Ever since last year's game, we've been looking forward to this one," HC senior wide receiver Gerald Mistretta said. "We can't wait."
The Crusaders will host No. 14 New Hampshire at 7:30 tonight. Last season, Holy Cross played the first home night football game in program history and battled nationally ranked UMass in an eight-point loss before a crowd of almost 16,000.
"It really was an electric atmosphere," Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore said. "It was an exciting game - the final result wasn't what we hoped for, but it was a lot of fun being a part of it. I think all the elements are there to have another great game."
Holy Cross and UNH renewed their rivalry last season after a 27-year hiatus. The Wildcats took a thrilling 39-32 victory in Durham.
"This rivalry is important for New England college football," UNH coach Sean McDonnell said.
Tonight will mark the first time in the 117-year history of the HC program that the Crusaders play a game in August.
Holy Cross fifth-year senior quarterback Kevin Watson will make his first career start. Watson has played in eight games, including seven in 2010, as a backup, and came into preseason camp atop the depth chart because of that experience.
"He came in confident and with knowledge, and he just handled the situation like he was the returning starter," Gilmore said. "That's the way he's approached it."
Sophomore Steven Elder gave Watson some pretty good competition and was projected as the No. 2 quarterback, but he recently suffered an elbow injury that could be season-ending. Junior Max Librizzi begins the year as Watson's backup.
Recent injuries have also forced two major moves on the defensive line. Senior Jack Maliska of Winchendon, an All-Patriot League selection last year, has spent the last few days of practice taking reps on the offensive line. Freshman Mike Galantini is slated to start at Maliska's defensive tackle position tonight.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Maliska will be the backup right guard. "He was the only one with the size and the strength that could do it," Gilmore said. "He agreed to do it enthusiastically. It's very hard to move over to the offensive line, but he's learning the position."
Starting tackles Kyle Pedretty and Blake Berresford, along with backup offensive linemen Mike Chieco, Billy Lang, Emanuel Mendoza and Jake Keller all missed time in camp because of injuries. Mendoza and Keller will not dress tonight.
Gilmore said the Crusaders could use Maliska on defense if they need to. Senior Nick Mercurio is also switching sides. Mercurio played 29 games over the last three seasons as a wide receiver, but performed well enough in camp to earn one of the starting outside linebacker spots. Mercurio is expected to help the Crusaders' blitz package with his speed.
Quarterback Kevin Decker led UNH to its eighth straight Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearance last year and capped an outstanding career by passing for 3,272 yards and earning the Colonial Athletic Association's Offensive Player of the Year honors. Redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich beat out senior James Brady and sophomore Andy Vailas to become Decker's replacement.
Tickets will be available at the gate.
Three more in Ring
Before tonight's game, Holy Cross will add three names to the Crusader Football Legends Ring of Honor at Fitton Field.
Ronnie Cahill (class of 1940), Pat McCarthy ('63) and Jeff Wiley ('89) will join previously honored George Connor, Gill Fenerty, Bruce Kozerski, Gordie Lockbaum, Jon Morris, Edmund Murphy, Bill Osmanski, Vince Promuto, John Provost and Joe Wilson.
Full slate of games
All of the local colleges open their seasons this weekend.
Tomorrow night, Fitchburg State is at Becker at 6, and Anna Maria is at Worcester State at 7.
On Saturday, Assumption plays at Bowie State at 1, Nichols is at Westfield State at 1, and WPI is at Curry at 1.
Last year ... 76-32 (.704)
24 New Hampshire
17 at Holy Cross, 7:30
23 Fitchburg State
14 at Becker, 6
18 Anna Maria
28 at Worcester State, 7
34 at UConn, 7:30
27 at Bowie State, 1
23 at Westfield State, 1
24 at Curry, 1
24 at Boston College, 3:30
34 Notre Dame
21 vs. Navy, 9 a.m., at Ireland
30 at Alabama, 8