After three weeks of physically and mentally challenging preseason training, the 19th-ranked Blue Jays geared up to display their hard work and growth under the lights of Homewood Field for their 2018 season opener.
Fans flooded the stands on Blue Jay Opening Day, Thursday, Sept. 30 to cheer on the Jays as they faced the Randolph-Macon College Yellow Jackets.
“I was definitely excited to be back in that atmosphere and be able to hit a different color jersey again. Overall I think the team played hard but didn’t get off to the start we wanted to,” sophomore defensive back Macauley Kilbane said.
The first half consisted of six lead changes. Hopkins opened scoring with a 32-yard blocked punt return converted into a touchdown by senior running back Tyler Messinger. However, the Yellow Jackets went on a 10-point run to quickly grab the lead.
The Blue Jays found their groove again in the middle of the second quarter to regain a 21-17 lead. Junior running back Hogan Irwin scored a nine-yard touchdown run and junior wide receiver Dane Rogerson scored a 69-yard touchdown reception. The Yellow Jackets, however, took back the lead with a 17-play, 75-yard drive, capped with a one-yard touchdown pass.
After a neck-and-neck first half, Hopkins flipped on the switch in the second, coming out of their halftime break with a new competitive fire. The Blue Jays overcame a 24-21 deficit in the first to go on a 42-7 run in the second, scoring touchdown after touchdown to advance the count to a dominating 63-31.
“We came in at halftime knowing that our coaches were going to make some adjustments and put us in the right place to finish the game off right,” Kilbane said.
The Jays converted a three-point deficit to an 11-point lead within the first five minutes of the third quarter. Junior quarterback David Tammaro notched a 22-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Ryan Hubley, a move that secure the first touchdown of the half.
After a commanding defensive effort, Hopkins quickly regained possession of the ball, allowing Tammaro to find senior wide receiver Luke McFadden and cap a four-play, 53-yard drive. The Blue Jays now led 35-24.
Late in the third, the Yellow Jackets fought back with a touchdown of their own. However, the Jays still kept their lead, the score reading 35-31. It took Hopkins less than 90 seconds to respond to the Yellow Jackets with another touchdown. Senior wide receiver Stuart Walters impressively covered the final 37 yards of the four-play, 72-yard drive. The Blue Jays pushed their lead to 42-31, but it wasn’t over just yet.
Less than two minutes after Walters’ touchdown, Kilbane grabbed an interception return for a touchdown, and not long after, sophomore wide receiver Zac Fernandez and junior wide receiver Jacob Yohr each scored a touchdown to close out the game.
Kilbane’s touchdown was particularly significant as it was the first time a Hopkins defender had returned an interception for a touchdown since the 2013 season.
Thursday night’s victory marked the eighth straight season-opening win for the Jays and head coach Jim Margraff’s 300th game as the head coach of the program. Margraff has had an impressive impact on the Hopkins football program, as he now ranks fourth among all active Division III coaches in career victories.
“It is only the start of my second season, but I have already learned so much from Coach Margraff, not just as a player but a person as well,” Kilbane said.
Many Blue Jays had noteworthy performances Thursday night. Tammaro led a Blue Jay offense that tallied a total of 606 yards, with Tammaro going 21-of-33 for 349 yards and four touchdowns. Rogerson had five receptions and a game-high 120 yards. Fernandez also added five receptions for 75 yards.
“Our offense is extremely explosive, as evident by them putting up 63 points, and there are so many playmakers that we know they’re going to have the defense’s back,” Kilbane said.
On the defensive end, junior linebacker James Closser had a team-high 13 tackles and freshman linebacker Robert Fletcher added seven tackles himself and blocked the punt that Messinger then returned for a touchdown in the first half.
Senior strong safety Ian Lodge and senior defensive lineman Anthony Davidson also both added seven tackles.
“Collectively, I think the defense played well, but we know we still can improve our techniques. We have an extremely close group of guys who are willing to do what it takes,” Kilbane said.
Hopkins, now the No. 18 team in the country, will return to competition for its Centennial Conference opener against the Susquehanna River Hawks on Saturday, Sept. 8 at 1 p.m.