|Johns Hopkins celebrates Alex Lahman's game-winning field goal.|
CRESTVIEW HILLS, Ky. — Johns Hopkins junior Alex Lachman knew his game-winning 43-yard field goal was good as soon as he hit it.
"I was sprinting in the other direction when it went through" he noted of the kick, which lifted the visiting Blue Jays to a stunning 31-29 upset of 10th-ranked and previously unbeaten Thomas More in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The next stop for Johns Hopkins is the NCAA quarterfinals and a date with third-ranked Wesley, which knocked off visiting Mississippi College, 43-9, on Saturday. It's the second straight road victory against an undeated team in the playoffs for the Blue Jays, who will make the much shorter trip to Dover, Del., for the quarterfinal game against Wesley.
Lachman's game-winner was set up by near-perfect execution of the two-minute drill by the Blue Jays, who moved from their own 30 to the Thomas More 26 in 50 seconds, which left one tick on the clock for Lachman to attempt the game-winner. The Blue Jays converted a third down and a fourth-and-10 on the drive and gained five valuable yards on a crucial offsides penalty against the Saints with the ball sitting on the TMC 40 with five seconds remaining.
Sophomore Hewitt Tomlin then hit junior Tucker Michels on a quick nine-yard out with one second remaining to bring on the field goal team. With 15 field goals on the year entering the game, head coach Jim Margraff and the Blue Jays had complete confidence in putting the game on Lachman's foot.
"The last thing we did at practice on Thanksgiving morning was run the field goal team out to practice just that situation," Margraff stated in the postgame news conference. "He hit it well and it looked like it would have been good from 50."
A rally in the final minute didn't seem like it would be necessary for the Blue Jays (10-2), who matched the school record with their 10th win of the season. Hopkins sprinted out to a surprising 21-3 halftime lead as they capitalized on a pair of Thomas More turnovers late in the second quarter.
At this point in the playoffs there are no secrets, but the Blue Jays managed to surprise the Saints on their third play from scrimmage as sophomore quarterback Tyler Porco, who is primarily used to run the ball, executed a perfect play-action fake and found junior Dan Crowley in stride two steps behind the defense for a 63-yard touchdown pass. The play was the longest of Porco or Crowley's career.
The Saints made the Blue Jays pay for one of their three first-half turnovers late in the first quarter as freshman Zach Autnreib intercepted Tomlin and returned it inside the Blue Jay 15-yard line. A face mask penalty on the play against the Blue Jays set up the Saints' inside the JHU 10, but the defense held and the Saints were forced to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Dustin Zink with 5:42 remaining in the first half.
Johns Hopkins, which has forced two or more turnovers in 13 straight games dating back to last season, made the Saints pay on back-to-back turnovers in the final eight minutes of the second quarter.
A bad handoff from Thomas More quarterback Trevor Stellman was inadvertently kicked nearly 30 yards behind the line of scrimmage by JHU senior Steve Levinson and recovered by senior co-captain Colin Wixted at the two-yard line. Tomlin rolled right on first down and found junior tight end Brian Hopkins in the middle of the end zone to make it 14-3 with 6:54 remaining in the first half.
The Saints had a chance to hop back into the game in the first half, but one play after Stellman was knocked out of the game, freshman Rob Kues was intercepted at the JHU six-yard line by senior Devin Hewlett to kill the threat.
Any chance of the Blue Jays sitting on the ball were gone two plays later, as senior Andrew Kase needed just two carries to move the ball from the Blue Jay 19-yard line to the Thomas More 45. Four completions from Tomlin to Michels, Sam Wernick (two) and Kase moved the ball down to the one-yard line. Kase went over from one-yard out for his 50th career touchdown to account for the 21-3 halftime lead.
The inevitable run by the Saints came quickly in the third quarter as Nick Olthaus caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Stellman just under six minutes into the third quarter and Cardario Collier snapped a 15-yard scoring pass less than three minutes later to slice the deficit to 21-17.
"Thomas More is a great team and showed great resolve with their effort in the third and fourth quarters," Margraff stated.
A good return of the kickoff after Collier's touchdown and a personal foul on the return by the Saints gave the Blue Jays possession at the Saint 39-yard line and they needed just six plays to find the end zone. A crucial fourth down conversion by Tomlin, who hit junior D.J. Hartigan for 28 yards on a fourth-and four, set up Kase's second touchdown run of the game to make to make it 28-17.
The Saints, who entered the game with a perfect 11-0 record, showed why they were the number two seed in the South Region as they moved 65 yard on nine plays and capped their third touchdown drive of the second half with a one-yard run by Collier on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 28-23, but the Saints misfired on a fake extra point attempt and the score stood at 28-23.
Stellman directed what appeared was the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter as he moved the Saints 80 yards in just five plays and hit Jeff Brinck with a 23-yard touchdown pass with 51 seconds remaining to give Thomas More its first lead at 29-28. The two-point attempt failed again and as it turned out, 51 seconds was one too many to leave on the clock as Lachaman's game-winner sailed through moments later and set off a wild Blue Jay celebration.
"I'm happy I made it for the team," Lachman added. "I was hoping when we got the ball after their touchdown I would get a chance. As soon as they went offsides and we hit the out I knew I could make it. We practice that situation all the time."
Reid Vanderlinden, JHU's freshmen long-snapper, knew it was good from the moment Lachman hit it. "I could tell by the sound it was good," Vanderlined noted. "I looked up as it went past the line and knew it was going through."
The Blue Jays gained 146 rushing yards, including 107 by Kase, against the nation's second stingiest rushing defense, which entered the game allowing just 51 yards per game on the ground. Despite turning the ball over an uncharacteristic four times and holding the ball for just 26 minutes, the Blue Jays still held a 414-327 advantage in total offense. It's the school-record fifth straight games JHU has totaled 400 or more yards.