|Hewitt Tomlin has thrown for
1,163 yards in four games this season.
Johns Hopkins athletics photo
A sign in the New England Patriots’ locker room tells players to “ignore the noise.”
Johns Hopkins coach Jim Margraff tells his own players exactly the same thing. And this year, it’s particularly relevant as the Blue Jays carry one of the longest winning streaks in Division III into the second half of their Centennial season.
The next two weeks, however, pit JHU against two teams with just one conference loss each. Margraff said he and his players are well versed in the Centennial’s history of tiebreaker scenarios come playoff time. In 2004, when Muhlenberg went to the playoffs, five teams were tied with 4-2 conference records. Last year, three teams stood with 7-2 records, and again the Mules won the tiebreaker and got the automatic qualifier.
“It’s a good conference, and we all beat each other up a little bit,” Margraff said. “Some teams just match up well or poorly with other teams, almost historically. You can look at records and all that type of stuff, but when you get down to it, each week is pretty unique.”
The 2011 season has been a sterling one for the Blue Jays on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Hewitt Tomlin is coming off a week in which he passed for 390 yards and has 1,163 so far this season. He is the Centennial’s career leader in total offense and has a record-tying nine career 300-yard games.
Fellow players have a lot of confidence in the senior. He didn’t start the first game of his freshman year, but filled in when then-starter Tyler Porco got hurt. Tomlin hasn’t looked back since.
“He’s always been a good football player, but he’s really worked himself into an outstanding football player,” the coach said of his start offensive player. “But he’s also matured a great deal, and he’s one of our team leaders right now. ... He’s in total control of himself and our offense out there.
“Having the opportunity to play that entire freshman year really put him ahead of the curve,” Margraff said.
On the other side of the line, the defense on average has given up barely a touchdown a game. In the opener against Merchant Marine, JHU fumbled inside its own 10 to set up the opponent’s scoring opportunity. And against Susquehanna, the only points allowed came off an interception return in the fourth quarter. Two teams have been shut out.
The Blue Jay defenders are primarily a senior-laden group, though two freshmen are starting. The leadership includes linebacker Ryan Piatek, who has been out a few weeks but should be back to face Gettysburg on Saturday, free safety Mike Milano, cornerback Sam Eagleson and a ferocious front four: Kale Sweeney, Tyler Brown, Dan Keenan and Brian Peters.
Experience and excellence are combined on defense. “There’s been great leadership there as well as some pretty good football players,” Margraff said.
Johns Hopkins has slowly risen to No. 18 nationally after starting the year 10 spots out of the Top 25. Margraff said his players, especially the four-year ones, recognize how seasons can turn on them. The last time JHU started this strong was in 2005, when a 7-0 squad ended up dropping three of its last four matchups.
“I know it’s nice to be in some polls,” he said. “But as we’re facing one of the top offenses in the country this week, there’s just much more to be worried about. ... I don’t think much of the outside stuff interests them right now.”
One season that’s fresher in his team’s mind is 2009, when JHU went three rounds deep into the postseason. Then, the success was built around a solid defense as well as an offense that was anchored by hard-hitting running back Andrew Kase. This season, the team centers primarily around Tomlin’s arm and receivers Daniel Wodicka, Sam Wernick and Scott Cremens.
Finishing strong means strengthening the core running game and improving the team’s kicking.
It also means not getting tied up in tiebreakers with other Centennial teams.
Ernie Larossa, the sports information director at Johns Hopkins, gave me a great stat as the Blue Jays head into their game against Gettysburg on Saturday. He noted:
“The Centennial Conference was formed in 1983 as a football-only conference (it became an all-sports conference in 1993). No football coach has reached the 100-win mark in league games yet, but the two coaches who are tied for first on CC's career victory chart will meet Saturday in Gettysburg. Johns Hopkins’ Jim Margraff and Gettysburg’s Barry Streeter have both won 97 CC games in their career and the winner on Saturday figures to have a leg up in the race to reach 100 first. Margraff's all-time CC record entering this week's game is 97-52-2, while Streeter is 97-94-3.”
It’s exciting to see history play out.
Parity. For the past five years, I’ve interviewed coaches in the ODAC for D3football.com’s preseason Kickoff publication. And each year, coaches talk more and more about the balance in the conference. On any given Saturday, any team can win. And it’s not just talk in the ODAC, it’s the truth.
Early in this century, Bridgewater dominated the league and made some deep playoff runs, including a trip to the Stagg Bowl in 2001. Since 2006, though, we’ve seen Washington and Lee, Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon all take a turn in the NCAA postseason. The downside to this regular-season parity is that since 2006, ODAC teams are 0-7 in the playoffs. Some playoff games were close, but no team has been able to get over the Round 1 hump like the Eagles teams of years before.
It’s not necessarily an uncommon occurrence on the national landscape. For many years prior to UW-Whitewater’s championship runs, the WIAC failed to produce teams that made it far into the postseason. When there’s parity, teams can beat each other up. There are injuries. Several factors can make for exciting competition locally but then become unable to translate into wins after conference play.
The 2011 season has further entrenched the conference’s claim to parity. All but one team, the injury-plagued Guilford, has an overall winning record, and some ODAC matchups have seemingly been able to fall either way.
Emory & Henry has been on the losing side of a couple of these close matchups. Two weeks ago against W&L, the Generals kicked a field goal as time expired for the 17-14 win. This past weekend, the Wasps surged late with a pair of touchdowns to fall just shy in a 38-36 game against H-SC. The Tigers shut down E&H’s attempt with no time on the clock to get a 2-point conversion. Wasps quarterback Kyle Boden set a conference record with 51 completions en route to 390 yards. For the Tigers, Travis Lane connected for 291 yards, including 159 to Sean Cavanaugh, while Kirk Rohle had 149 yards on the ground. H-SC also had 11 tackles for loss. This was H-SC’s closest conference game of the season after winning two others by 14-point margins.
The Tigers’ biggest rival, Randolph-Macon, has been on the losing end of two one-score games, one of which came against E&H. Over the weekend, the Yellow Jackets also dropped a 34-30 shootout to defending conference champs W&L. R-MC led most of the game until Luke Heinsohn’s 5-yard run with about 2 minutes on the clock gave the Generals the lift they needed for the win. R-MC’s Zac Naccarato passed for 324 yards while W&L’s Charlie Westfal also had a surprising 231-yard day through the air.
So far this year, among the top six teams in the conference, games:
Only one game between the top six teams has been decided by a larger margin. By comparison, the Centennial, which has three more teams than the Old Dominion, has had five games decided by 7 points or less, while the USAC has had just three.
As I said earlier, “any given Sunday” applies to the ODAC at least as much as it does to any other conference in the region – and probably moreso. With matchups between W&L and H-SC as well as The Game still to come, we have time to see if one team begins to separate itself from the pack. But a big question will be whether this parity, this increased competitiveness inside the ODAC, can ultimately lead to bigger payoffs in the postseason.
Greensboro held close to N.C. Wesleyan through the first half but began to stumble on a day in which the Bishops posted 10 tackles for a loss, including five sacks. Greensboro’s Ryan Throndset put up big numbers through the air (270 yards), but the Bishops rushed three players at least 13 times each to stay fresh and get points after the break.
In Danville, Va., visiting Christopher Newport fell behind 14-0 going into halftime before a second-half surge brought 23 unanswered points. The Captains had two big plays to get their first 14 points: a 49-yard run from Markeese Stovall and a 75-yard catch by Rudy Rudolph. After the game, coach Matt Kelchner said in a CNU news release: The first half “was like we were sleepwalking. I pulled everybody together at halftime and had a good heart-to-heart talk. We really stepped up in the second half.” The win put them in a tie at the top of the USA South standings with Ferrum.
Farther north, in Winchester, Va., Shenandoah narrowly escaped Maryville’s wild comeback. The Scots were down 21-0 at halftime but brought the game to a 21-all tie midway through the final period. Scots quarterback Melvin Burston had a total of more than 200 yards and three touchdowns rushing and passing, while Hornets signal-caller Daniel Wright put up 246 yards in the air and had three scores. One of those touchdown strikes came with just 2:27 left in the game as Wright hit Kyle Feldman with a 36-yard game-winning pass.
Wesley placekicker Dan Tryon tied a school record with 14 points on kicks, including a 45-yard field goal that was a yard shy of his record.
Susquehanna sacked Moravian a whopping 11 times in a 20-0 victory. Eleven different players were in on the stops, including Bill Mancini and Ken Schetroma, who each had two.
Gettysburg got a narrow 14-10 win over Muhlenberg with the help of 132 receiving yards from Aden Twer and 11 solo tackles from Larry Delviscio.
McDaniel’s Mike Oliveto had 124 receiving yards in a 31-14 loss to Franklin and Marshall.
This is the fifth season that I’ve written the Around the Mid-Atlantic column, and because of that, I want to hear about the best games you’ve seen in that time frame. Tell me about the game: describe the events, the atmosphere, the heroes of the day. Any season from 2007 through 2011 is fair game, and it can be regular season or playoffs, just as long as it involves at least one Mid-Atlantic region team.
I’ve got a couple that quickly come to mind, and I’m sure you do, too. In the year’s final column, I’ll publish as many of them as is reasonable. Email me!
I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column or Division III football in general. Please write to me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @D3MidAtlantic. I invite you to talk about players and performances on the message board’s Around the Mid-Atlantic thread. Additionally, if there is an idea you’d like to see me write about, post it there or email me.