On Saturday, the Blue Jay football team hosted the Muhlenberg College Mules in quite possibly the most important game on the Centennial Conference schedule this season. With a win, the undefeated Mules would be in prime position to end Hopkins’ eight-year reign atop the Conference. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen.
The Blue Jays were able to swing the momentum in their favor on the first possession of the game. After Muhlenberg drove all the way to the Blue Jay 30-yard line, senior safety Addison Quinones intercepted a pass from quarterback Michael Hnatkowsky. Just over three minutes later, Hopkins was on the board. Senior wide receiver Luke McFadden caught a three-yard touchdown pass to put the Blue Jays up 7-0.
After the game, McFadden commented on the factors that led to the early score.
“The big play to [sophomore wide receiver] Ryan Hubley really got that drive going and then our ability to obtain a few big first downs in the red zone allowed us to punch one in early,” McFadden said.
Hopkins was then able to double its lead early in the second quarter on freshman wide receiver Emmett Turner’s four-yard touchdown — the first of his career. The team then further extended its lead on a five-yard rush by junior quarterback David Tammaro and carried a commanding 21-0 advantage into the half.
Muhlenberg was not going to go away quietly, as the team controlled a relatively quiet third quarter. After getting on the board with a safety around the midpoint of the quarter, the Mules increased their point total to nine on a three-yard touchdown run by running back Mark Riggio. Blue Jay freshman defensive back Chris James also recorded his first career interception during the quarter. Muhlenberg trailed by only 12 points heading into what would turn out to be a wild fourth quarter.
Hopkins scored only 15 seconds into the fourth on senior running back Stuart Walters’ two-yard touchdown run. Junior kicker Mike Eberle missed the ensuing extra point. About four minutes later, the Blue Jays picked up a key turnover when sophomore defensive back Finn Zechman recovered a fumble on a punt. Hopkins went three-and-out though and was forced to punt again. Two plays later, Blue Jay junior defensive end Mike Kalanik recovered another fumble. However, Hopkins was unable to take advantage of the turnover and Muhlenberg scored a touchdown on its next possession, narrowing the deficit to 27-16.
Walters fumbled and lost the ball on the first play of the Blue Jays’ next possession. However, on the very next play, Zechman intercepted Hnatkowsky to get the ball right back. Hopkins went three-and-out, but once again, the defense stepped up, as Quinones picked up his second interception of the game. Another three-and-out gave the Mules the ball back, but they eventually turned it over on downs, securing the Jay’s 27-16 victory.
Despite the stiff competition, the Blue Jay offense still managed to pick up 376 yards during the game. The Mules, meanwhile, had 338 yards of offense. Tammaro threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns, compared to Hnatkowsky’s 278 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.
Hopkins outgained Muhlenberg on the ground 160-96. Walters led the game with 77 rushing yards. The Mules edged the Blue Jays 278-262 in receiving yards, but Hubley led all individuals with 161 yards.
McFadden talked about the team’s offensive performance against one of the most formidable defenses it has faced this year.
“I thought we came out strong in the first half, which was crucial in allowing us to jump out to an early lead. That being said, we left a lot of points on the field in the second half, which is something that we need to improve on moving forward,” he said.
He also discussed his individual progress since returning from a broken finger, which forced him to miss four games. Saturday’s game was his second game back.
“Personally, I have a lot of things I need to improve on coming off the injury. It’s great to be playing again and I’m really happy to be back out there with the guys but it’s always a work in progress,” McFadden said.
The key difference in the game was turnovers. The 6:1 ratio illustrated both the Blue Jays’ defensive prowess and Muhlenberg’s constant missed opportunities.
With the win, Hopkins moved from No. 23 to No. 17 in the D3football.com rankings. Muhlenberg, who was previously No. 18, dropped out of the Top 25 poll altogether.
The Blue Jays now control their own destiny. Win out, and they receive the Centennial Conference’s automatic playoff bid. They will next face Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa. on Nov. 3. The game will kick off at 1:00 p.m.