Win or lose, the Blue Jay football team’s game against the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Engineers last Saturday would be one for the record books. Hopkins was playing in its second-ever NCAA Division III Quarterfinal game, and its first on Homewood Field. However, the Jays were not going to settle, and they had their sights set on something even bigger: a spot in the semifinals.
Hopkins finished the regular season ranked No. 14 by D3football.com, while RPI missed out on the Top 25 altogether. As a result, the road to the quarterfinals was not an easy one for either team. Both teams were coming off road wins in the second round against higher-ranked opponents. The Jays were fresh off a confidence boosting blowout victory over Frostburg State University, and the Engineers had edged The College at Brockport by one possession.
While the conditions were not quite as frigid as they were for Hopkins’ game at Frostburg State, the forecasted chilly and rainy weather, especially for the second half, was far from ideal. Therefore, it was critical for both sides to get off to a strong start in the first 30 minutes of play.
The two teams looked to be evenly matched in the first quarter. After forcing a punt on RPI’s first possession, the Jays got on the board first, when senior running back Stuart Walters broke past the defense and raced to the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown run. The Engineers then put together a scoring drive of their own, culminating with wide receiver Keaton Ackermann’s 16-yard touchdown reception.
Both teams went three-and-out on their next possessions, before Hopkins scored again early in the second quarter. Walters picked up his second rushing touchdown of the game, this one coming from three yards out. Neither team scored another touchdown in the half, but the Jays pushed their point total to 17 on junior kicker Mike Eberle’s 31-yard field goal.
Hopkins carried a 17-7 lead into halftime, which positioned the team well for the second half, especially with rain now affecting the playing conditions. However, it was important that the Jays kept their foot on the pedal and did not leave anything up to chance. They were able to capitalize on their first possession of the half, ultimately reaching the end zone on a two-yard touchdown run by junior running back Hogan Irwin.
Each team’s next possession ended with a punt, before RPI scored its second touchdown of the game on a reverse play that Ackermann took 23 yards to the house. Hopkins wasted no time putting the Engineers’ deficit back at 17. On the Jays’ next possession, junior quarterback David Tammaro’s two-yard touchdown run pushed the score to 31-14, where it remained as the third quarter came to a close.
RPI put itself in position to score early in the fourth quarter but was kept off the board after missing a field goal. Hopkins bolstered its lead on its next possession when Tammaro found senior wide receiver Luke McFadden for a seven-yard touchdown pass. The team was unable to convert on its ensuing two-point conversion attempt, leaving the score at 37-14, which would also end up being the final score. The Jays emerged victorious and secured their spot in their first-ever NCAA Division III Semifinal game.
Hopkins’ standout performers included Tammaro, who threw for 284 yards and a touchdown, and ran for an additional 81 yards and a score. His ability to evade the Engineers’ defensive pressure and scramble downfield was particularly impressive.
Walters finished the game with 122, 60 and 37 yards on rushes, receptions and kick returns, respectively. Sophomore wide receiver Ryan Hubley had 10 catches for 97 yards, while McFadden went for 81 yards and a touchdown on six receptions. On defense, senior defensive lineman Anthony Davidson had six total tackles, two tackles for loss and a game-high one and a half sacks. Freshman linebacker Robert Fletcher totaled a remarkable 17 total tackles, three of which were for a loss of yards. After the game, Fletcher discussed his heavily involved defensive performance.
“In every game, I try to remember that I play for God’s glory. He has blessed me with everything I have, and my goal on Saturdays is to show everyone else what an amazing creator we have by playing with the talents He has given me,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher has had an extremely successful freshman season that earned him Hopkins’ first Centennial Conference Rookie of the Year award. His 59 solo tackles are 23 more than the next closest Blue Jay, while his 95 total tackles lead the team by 27. He also leads the team with three blocked kicks. Fletcher talked about his first year at Hopkins and his key takeaways from the season.
“I never expect anything. I am just one part of this team that works hard everyday to be where we are. None of this would be possible without the amazing coaches and guys. If there is one thing I would take away from this season, it’s that God has blessed me to be where I am on such an amazing team with teammates and coaches who push me to be better everyday,” Fletcher commented.
The Jays’ energy and excitement right now is at an all-time high, but the team is making sure to stay focused in preparation for its matchup with the University of Mount Union, the No. 1 team in the final D3football.com ranking. Fletcher explained the team’s mindset heading into its semifinal game.
“The thrill of the win and the excitement from the RPI game lasted a short while. Now we are focused on winning the next game. We are going to give everything we have this week to prepare and beat Mount Union,” Fletcher said.
Hopkins and Mount Union will face off this Saturday at 12:00 p.m. If you cannot make the trek to Alliance, Ohio, the game will be accessible for streaming on ESPN3 and WatchESPN.