Johnathan Charles has come a long way in his junior season with the Muhlenberg football team. After beginning the year on the third string and not seeing any varsity playing time, he worked his way to becoming the starting nose tackle.
Next season, he might push for a starting job at wide receiver.
Charles lived every defensive lineman's dream, intercepting a pass to provide a big momentum shift as the Mules closed out their regular season with an impressive 45-7 win at rival Moravian.
With its fifth straight win, Muhlenberg improve its record to 8-2 – the ninth season of at least eight wins in program history and the first since 2008. The Mules finished in sole possession of second place in the Centennial Conference for the second year in a row and now await word on a postseason bid. If they don't receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, they almost assuredly will be invited to play in an ECAC bowl game.
Charles' first career interception was one of several milestones for Muhlenberg players. Senior Terrence Dandridge rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns to go over 1,000 yards for the season. Sophomore Ian Gimbar recorded four sacks, running his season total to a school-record 13. And junior Joe Carlucci threw for one score and ran for another to earn the win in his first career start.
The 38-point margin of victory was the largest for Muhlenberg in the series, which dates back to 1900.
The Mules scored on their first possession, capping an 11-play, 79-yard drive on a 1-yard run by Carlucci, but had to punt after their second. On the first play after the punt, the Greyhounds (2-8, 2-7) ripped off a 21-yard run, and three plays later a 16-yard completion was good for a first down on third-and-9.
Two plays after that, however, Charles picked off a screen pass at midfield, reaching back with his left hand to snag the ball and quickly securing it with his right hand before setting off in the opposite direction. The 6-foot-3, 258-pounder broke a tackle in rumbling to the 25-yard line before he was stripped of the ball from behind. Fortunately, teammate Matt Johnson recovered the fumble.
"I got a fumble recovery once before, but that was my first time ever actually running with the ball," said Charles, whose brother attends Moravian. "I knew what to do. I saw the end zone and went for it. Maybe I should've held it a little tighter," he added with a smile.
After the interception – the first by a Mule lineman since 2008 – sophomore Connor Winter banged home a 34-yard field goal to make it 10-0 early in the second quarter.
Shortly thereafter, Moravian looked to get on the board with a 22-yard field goal following an interception of its own, but sophomore Michael Long blocked the kick.
From there, it became the Terrence Dandridge show. The senior carried eight times for 59 yards on the ensuing drive, including the last eight for the touchdown, as the offensive line opened up gaping holes in the Greyhound defense.
After a three-and-out, the "out" coming on a third-down sack by junior Christian Smith, Dandridge rushed four more times for 16 yards on the next possession, which ended with Carlucci finding Long with a 6-yard scoring pass just 18 seconds before halftime.
Dandridge finished the first half with 137 yards and added 12 more and two touchdowns in the first 6:02 of the second half as Muhlenberg ran its lead to 38-0. He finished the game with a season total of 1,013 yards (his second 1,000-yard season) and received the Bianco Award as the Mules' game MVP for the second year in a row.
Both third-quarter touchdown drives were set up by long passes to senior Isaiah Vaughn (one on a trick play from sophomore wide receiver Tyler George), who finished with five catches for 109 yards for his fourth 100-yard game of the season.
Gimbar broke the school record of 11 sacks in a season, set by Kenneth Cobb two years ago, early in the third quarter and added one more later on. After a 1-yard run by junior Kevin Van Laar extended the lead to 45-0, senior John Muha kept the shutout bid alive with an interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Moravian finally got on the board in the final two minutes, however, by returning a punt for a touchdown.
The Mules outgained the Greyhounds by nearly a 2-1 margin (460-231) and allowed only 13 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Freshman Matt Pagano led the defense with nine tackles, including 1½ for losses.
"We played really well," said Charles. "We dominated on defense and executed on offense. It was just an all-around great job."