The Hopkins Blue Jays knocked off the No. 18 Rutgers University Scarlet Knights by a score of 15-13 on Saturday afternoon. A large homecoming crowd was treated to a gorgeous day on Homewood Field and a roaring start by the Jays as Hopkins went on a six-goal run using six different goal-scorers to open up the festivities.
The Jays and Scarlet Knights would trade goals for most of the game, but a late Rutgers run pulled the Scarlet Knights within two midway through the fourth.
Rutgers came into the game with a 6-4 record, with their biggest win of the season coming last week when the Scarlet Knights went into the Horseshoe in Columbus, Ohio and knocked off then No. 4 Ohio State University Buckeyes 14-6. Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala spoke enthusiastically about the Jays’ win on Saturday.
“I think that’s a great win. That’s a good team and make no mistake, if you didn’t watch them last week and how they played on the road, that’s a good team,” Pietramala said.
Over the past few years, a small rivalry has been brewing between the two schools as Hopkins received at-large bids to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament in 2016 and 2017 that Rutgers thought they deserved. Since then the games have been intense and at times chippy. Saturday was no different, as the game ended in a small scuffle near midfield as time ran out.
Hopkins retained possession with around a minute left on the clock, so they only needed to hold onto the ball to close out the game. Rutgers was left to resort to sending a double team to senior attackman Kyle Marr to try and get back on offense. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights (and Marr), what actually happened was a full minute of Rutgers defenders committing penalties on Marr in overaggressive, futile attempts to get the ball back.
In the end, two Rutgers defenders committed a combined three penalties, two slashing and one illegal cross-check. Hopkins was not all too pleased with the final slash by Rutgers defender Jack Stahanczyk as it came with less than two seconds on the clock when Hopkins was clearly going to win the game. Marr responded by throwing the ball off Stahanczyk’s back as the clock hit double zero and freshman attackman Joey Epstein had some words for Stahanczyk when he ran past to celebrate with sophomore goalie Ryan Darby. Epstein was then hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty postgame as a result.
Nonetheless, it was quite the day for the Jays’ attack as the starting three finished with 10 of the 15 Blue Jay goals. Junior attackman Cole Williams had a breakout day, scoring three goals and recording two assists to replicate last season’s form.
The freshman phenom Epstein stole the show with five goals and three assists and captured national headlines for his outburst. He was named to the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Team of the Week; he was honored as the Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the fourth time; and he was recognized as the Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week. Last but certainly not least, Marr had two goals of his own and reached the 100 career goal mark.
While it was a struggle early on in the season for the Hopkins offense, if the Blue Jays want to make their late season push for the postseason, it’s now or never, and they seemed to be up to the task on Saturday. Williams discussed how the Hopkins offense has come together in the last couple of weeks.
“I definitely see us starting to gel. I think the confidence level is rising. Joey [Epstein] is playing great. He is a freshman and going out there and balling out. Kyle [Marr] is making his shots, and I guess I am trying to find my way by giving the ball to Joey [Epstein] and giving the ball to Marr and kind of being the distributor,” he said.
Sophomore face-off specialist Kyle Prouty had a day at the face-off dot with a dominating 21 of 30. Prouty is now 72 percent on face-offs in his last six games and 65 percent on the season. If Hopkins can start to dominate the face-off on a weekly basis heading into the crucial part of the regular season, the Jays may finally reach their potential. The defense has come on, and Darby has steadily improved every game in goal. The Jays seem to be clicking at just the right time.
For a look around the Big Ten, the No. 1 ranked Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions and Hopkins are tied atop the Conference standings at 2-0. Meanwhile the No. 3 University of Maryland Terrapins and Rutgers are at 1-1. The University of Michigan Wolverines and No. 12 Ohio State round out the bottom of the conference at 0-2. All the teams are still in the hunt to make the Big Ten Tournament at this stage, but only the top four teams will make May’s tournament at Rutgers.
In most years, the magic number is three wins to solidify a spot in the Big Ten Tournament and this year looks to be no different. On Sunday, Hopkins has a noon matchup against Ohio State at Homewood to try and reach that magic number. Big Ten Tournament aside, it is a chance for the Jays to build their case to make the NCAA Tournament by picking up a win against an opponent with which they will likely compete for at an at-large spot come May.
Next Sunday will shape up to be a great game; worth the short trek to Homewood Field. A university-wide tailgate will be held in the Athletic Circle at 11 AM, where Mission BBQ will be served along with giveaways, lawn games and every child’s dream: inflatables. So come on out on Sunday, eat some food, win some prizes, cheer on your Blue Jays and catch some rays before we all hunker down Sunday night to watch the season premiere of Game of Thrones.