Around the Region
A familiar destination, an unfamiliar path
|After being held to 17 points in a loss to Ursinus, the Blue Jays returned to their scoreboard-torching ways.
Johns Hopkins athletics photo
By Andrew Lovell
When the Johns Hopkins football team takes the field for a game, it does so with the same goal as every other college football team: to defeat its opponent.
When the Blue Jays fall short of that goal, head coach Jim Margraff has trouble finding any moral victories. A win is a win; a loss is a loss.
"It's never good (to lose)," Margraff said, "but if you don't learn from it, then you lose twice."
Johns Hopkins has done a lot of winning in Margraff's 28-year tenure as head coach, and that's especially true from 2002 until now. Over the last 16 seasons, the Blue Jays have earned at least a share of the Centennial Conference title a whopping 13 times and earned NCAA postseason bids nine times.
Those impressive totals include the 2017 season. Johns Hopkins capped a 9-1 regular season with a 56-21 win against McDaniel this past Saturday to clinch a share of its ninth straight CC title, along with a seventh straight trip to the NCAA playoffs.
Yet despite all of those noteworthy facts and figures, it's the "1" in the "L" column that made the most noise this season.
Johns Hopkins lost to conference opponent Ursinus 21-17 on Sept. 30 in a back-and-forth game that came down to the final minute of regulation. What's so special about a seemingly random mid-season road loss to a conference foe? Well, nothing, except for the fact that Johns Hopkins entered that game with a 45-game regular-season winning streak and a 40-game Centennial Conference winning streak.
"It was one of those things that sort of just snowballed," Margraff said. "Gosh, we ran 90-something plays and only had 17 points. That's so unlike us."
The loss was perceived as a shocker in the world of Division III football, but Margraff wasn't stunned. The Blue Jays entered the game against Ursinus with a 4-0 record, but their first two games came in a nail-biting overtime win against eventual ODAC champion Washington and Lee, and then with a late touchdown drive in the final two minutes of regulation against Susquehanna.
Johns Hopkins had been winning, but it was playing far from its best football.
"I hate when people say, 'Well, maybe this loss woke you up,'" Margraff said. "But if you look since that point, our guys became more focused."
Since the loss to Ursinus, Johns Hopkins has strung together five straight wins, including four in utterly dominant fashion: 45-7 vs. Franklin and Marshall, 52-0 vs. Gettysburg, 57-14 vs. Juniata, 56-21 at McDaniel. That increased focus has helped a young team, one not loaded with as much proven talent as some of Johns Hopkins' past playoff teams, mature and develop over the course of the season.
|A seventh straight playoff appearance is something to smile about.
Johns Hopkins athletics photo
Nowhere was that more evident than in the thrashing of Franklin and Marshall. The Blue Jays' defense held an offense that averages nearly 40 points and 400 yards of offense to just seven points and 205 yards of offense, while also forcing two turnovers and piling up nine sacks.
"Our defense was outstanding that day against a very good offense," Margraff said. "That gave them a lot of confidence going forward and we've seemed to hopefully hit our stride right now."
The Blue Jays' defensive front, anchored by players like sophomore Mike Kalanik, senior Lance Hammond and senior Keonte Hensen, has been a strength for a team that graduated all of its 2016 starting linebackers and a standout free safety in Jack Toner.
It's been a similar story on offense, where sophomore David Tammaro has admirably filled the shoes of Jonathan Germano at quarterback. Tammaro sports a sparkling 24-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, along with 2,774 yards and a 65.9 completion percentage in nine games this season.
Junior Luke McFadden and senior Brett Caggiano have thrived as the team's top wide receivers, combining for 103 receptions, 1,881 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"They're both big guys on the outside, so it's hard to be able to cover both," Margraff said. "It opens up some things for our younger, smaller guys underneath."
If the loss to Ursinus was a turning point for the Blue Jays, they've certainly not looked back. They'll enter Saturday's first-round playoff matchup against Washington and Jefferson (10-0) on a five-game winning streak, during which their average margin of victory has been 35 points per game.
Johns Hopkins and Washington and Jefferson, champions of the Presidents' Athletic Conference, have only met once before, a 42-10 Blue Jays win in the first round of the 2012 NCAA playoffs.
"We're excited to play groups like that," Margraff said of Washington and Jefferson. "Years back, when we started to get a little bit better and play in the postseason, the thoughts of playing and winning versus Washington and Jefferson, versus Rowan, Hampden-Sydney, Thomas More, that was almost a dream back then."
It's become a reality now for the Blue Jays, who will embark on a four-hour ride from Baltimore, Md., to Washington, Pa., on Friday for a rare overnight trip. As always, winning will be the goal. Time for reflection on the Blue Jays' run of success will have to wait.
"I enjoy the coaching end of it, and really looking back doesn't interest me right now very much," Margraff said. "I'm sure there'll be a time for it one day, but now's not the time."
Playoff reaction: Mid-Atlantic sends three teams to field of 32
Huntingdon had already clinched the USA South Conference title and its third straight NCAA playoff berth entering the final week of the regular season, but Johns Hopkins (Centennial) and Washington and Lee (ODAC) both needed wins to clinch their respective conferences.
Both did so in resounding fashion, but like in 2016, no Pool C bids came out of the CC, ODAC or USA South. Here's a quick look at the three upcoming first-round NCAA games:
Mount Union bracket
Washington and Lee (8-2) at No. 2 Mount Union (10-0), 12 p.m., Saturday: Josh Breece rushed for 280 yards and three touchdowns, Collin Sherman rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns, and Drew Richardson tossed a pair of touchdowns as Washington and Lee routed Shenandoah 48-21 to clinch the ODAC.
The Generals' reward? A first-round NCAA date with 12-time national champion Mount Union. Washington and Lee has made the NCAA tournament four times previously (2015, 2012, 2010, 2006), with each trip ending in a first-round loss. Mount Union, on the other hand, won three playoff games last season alone, and has played in 19 Stagg Bowls since 1993.
This is about as tall a task as a Division III football team can face, but the Generals enter on a hot streak, having won their last six games.
No. 21 Johns Hopkins (9-1) at No. 14 Washington and Jefferson (10-0), 12 p.m., Saturday: Tammaro passed for 290 yards and four touchdowns, including two to Caggiano, and Ryan Cary ran for a pair of TDs as Johns Hopkins defeated McDaniel 56-21 in the regular-season finale.
With the win, Johns Hopkins clinched a share of its ninth straight Centennial Conference crown and its seventh straight trip to the NCAA playoffs. The Blue Jays have advanced to the second round in each of the previous three seasons, but that streak will be tough to extend against Washington and Jefferson (10-0), a program making its 25th postseason appearance.
The Presidents and Blue Jays have only met once before, a 42-10 Johns Hopkins win in the first win of the 2012 playoffs.
Mary Hardin-Baylor bracket
Huntingdon (9-1) at No. 18 Berry (10-0), 12 p.m., Saturday: Vic Jerald rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns, while Otis Porter caught five passes for 108 yards as Huntingdon closed out the regular season with 27-17 win over LaGrange.
The Hawks, who had already clinched their third straight USA South title and NCAA playoff berth, will carry a nine-game winning streak into their first-round matchup with Berry.
Berry, which finished 0-9 in its first football season in 2013, has steadily improved in each season since, culminating in a perfect 10-0 mark in 2017. The meeting between Huntingdon and Berry will be the first in official game action, though the two teams have scrimmaged each other in previous seasons.
Centennial-MAC slate: Franklin and Marshall to host Widener
For the second consecutive season, Franklin and Marshall will play in a CC-MAC bowl game.
The Diplomats (9-1) will host Widener (7-3) in one game; Albright (8-2) will host Susquehanna (7-3) in the other. Both games are scheduled for noon kickoffs on Saturday.
The CC-MAC Bowl Series, now in its third season features the top two teams in each conference that did not qualify for the NCAA playoffs. Albright, like Franklin and Marshall, will be making its second straight appearance, while both Susquehanna and Widener will be making their first appearances.
Tanner Erisman passed for 290 yards and three touchdowns, including two to K.J. Pretty, and Taalib Gerald rushed for 139 yards and three TDs as Franklin and Marshall topped Gettysburg 51-21. ... Zack Clifford passed for 207 yards and three touchdowns, while Montel Lee and Tyus Brown combined for five sacks as Ferrum defeated Maryville 31-24 to finish the season 8-2, its best record since 2005. ... Tre Frederick rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns, and Eric Hoy added 93 yards and five touchdowns as Randolph-Macon topped Hampden-Sydney 56-28 for its fourth straight win against its rival. ... Nick Crusco passed for 228 yards and three touchdowns, and Tucker Garner tallied three of Susquehanna's five sacks in a 28-21 win against Juniata. ... Christian Miles and Sean Bowman each rushed for two scores, and Nathaniel Lake intercepted a pair of passes as Averett clinched its first winning season since 2009 with a 54-0 shutout of Greensboro. ... Matthew Stickney rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown as Muhlenberg beat Moravian 29-14. The Mules will face Carnegie Mellon Saturday in an ECAC Bowl. ... De'Eric Bell rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns, including the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter, in Guilford's 42-38 win over Emory and Henry. Hunter Taylor passed for 400 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. ... Jeremy Walsh rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns, while Robert Geiss tossed a pair of touchdowns to Christopher Longo as Dickinson topped Ursinus 40-17. ... Steve Keoni passed for 214 yards and three touchdowns, E'Montie Dears rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns, and Landon Cheviron kicked the game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired to give Methodist a 38-35 victory against N.C. Wesleyan.
Top 25: Johns Hopkins holds steady
For the second straight week, Johns Hopkins checked in at No. 21 in the D3football.com Top 25 poll.
Huntingdon, Franklin and Marshall, and Washington and Lee each received votes.
Thank you/contact me
If you've read the Around the Mid-Atlantic column at any point this season, emailed me with feedback or just simply to chat about D-III football, thank you. Enjoy the playoffs and keep in touch! Drop me a line at email@example.com or send me a tweet (@Andrew_Lovell).
Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing.
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