Come game day, the Blue Jays persevere

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Johns Hopkins wide receiver Dan Wodicka has caught 54 of quarterback Robbie Matey's 145 completed passes this season.
Johns Hopkins athletics photo

Defending a title is never an easy task. If last Friday's wild night is any indication, Johns Hopkins is in store for a rollicking few weeks as the Blue Jays seek to repeat as Centennial Conference champions. The Blue Jays persevered through two lightning delays, terrible weather, and a fourth quarter deficit against one of the league's top challengers in a 49-35 victory over Gettysburg on Oct. 19.

"I'm proud of our guys for keeping their focus," said head coach Jim Margraff. "You never know what to expect in league play."

The showdown with Gettysburg was fraught with unpredictable twists and turns. First, the Bullets gave up a late touchdown on a fake field goal to Muhlenberg the week before, spoiling what was to be a showdown of undefeated Centennial foes when Gettysburg traveled to Baltimore. Then, kickoff was delayed for 50 minutes by lightning. The game was delayed again for 40 minutes in the middle of the second quarter. Finally, the matchup between two of the nation's top scoring defenses turned into a shootout. With the game in the balance, the Blue Jays defense rose to the occasion.

"We never lost focus and we fought to the end," said senior strong safety Adam Schweyer, who tied for the team lead with nine tackles. "We knew we had to make stops in the fourth quarter. We played out of our minds in the fourth quarter."

Johns Hopkins now boasts the nation's No. 13 scoring offense, averaging more than 41 points per game. The offense complements the defense, which allows fewer than 16 points per game, good for 30th in the nation. Before allowing 35 points to the Bullets, the Blue Jays had the No. 13 scoring defense in the nation. Despite two potent offenses battling against two normally stout defenses, it was a defensive touchdown that ultimately decided the game. Taylor Maciow's 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown with just under five minutes to play closed out the scoring.

"Our defense takes a lot of pride in what we do," said Schweyer. "When the defense scores or sets up our offense for a score, it's a great feeling."

The offense and defense drive each other every day in practice. The Blue Jays know that they can win any type of game, as they proved against Gettysburg. It will take that kind of versatility to survive the rest of the CC slate.

"We haven't had too many games like that this year where we had to fight through ups and downs," said junior wide receiver Dan Wodicka. "Every team can beat you in the Centennial each week. We love playing in big games."

Wodicka shined in his team's biggest game of the season to date, hauling in 12 catches for 72 yards. After catching passes from a record-setting quarterback in his first two seasons, Wodicka is now the favorite target of first-year starter Robbie Matey. The junior saw limited action last season in relief of Gagliardi Trophy finalist Hewitt Tomlin, who graduated with nearly every Blue Jays passing record in his name. The transition of leadership under center has been smooth.

"Robbie's done a fantastic job this year," said Wodicka, who has caught 54 of Matey's 145 completed passes. "No one is surprised to see him playing so well. He's the hardest worker on the team."

Having one of the nation's top running backs in the backfield certainly helps Matey. Senior Jonathan Rigaud averages over 117 yards per game and has scored 13 touchdowns. He carried 21 times for 210 yards and a 63-yard score in the win over Gettysburg. In a matchup of the league's top two backs — Gettysburg's Ted Delia also has 13 rushing scores on the season — Rigaud and his team came out on top, thanks to an explosive offense and a playmaking defense.

"We know our offense can score all day if they have to," said Schweyer.

The two units push each other every day in practice and pick one another up each week on game day.

"Our defense fuels us every day in practice," said Wodicka. "It helps us going against one of the top defenses in the country all week every week."

Consecutive road games at Ursinus and Franklin and Marshall will determine the Centennial title. Both the Blue Jays and Diplomats control their own destinies at this point, but Johns Hopkins will not be overlooking the Bears. Ursinus is the last Centennial team to defeat the Blue Jays, on Oct. 16, 2010. This year's Johns Hopkins team knows that it cannot rely on the success of the past. They have shown that they can handle adversity and know that they will be taking every opponent's best shot from here on out.

"We graduated a great class last year. These guys want to set their own mark," said Margraff. "In our league, you play for first place every week."

Racing down the stretch

This is my first season writing this column. Is every conference race in the Mid-Atlantic always this entertaining this late in the year?

Defending champs need help in the USA South

Christopher Newport has won the league's automatic qualifier the past two years and three of the past four. The Captains never had to contend with LaGrange for a conference title. In their inaugural season in the USA South and just the program's seventh year overall, the Panthers control their playoff destiny. The Captains have to win out and hope for a LaGrange loss.

LaGrange, Christopher Newport and Ferrum sit atop the league standings, each at 3-1 in USAC play. LaGrange defeated Christopher Newport, which defeated Ferrum. The Panthers play the Panthers (not a typo) on Nov. 3.

LaGrange has been winning with defense, allowing just 11.5 points per game in conference play. Defense decided the Panthers' 17-13 win over Maryville. Linebacker Andre Carter had three sacks, two of which were for safeties. He also recovered the fumble that set up LaGrange's go-ahead touchdown drive.

Ferrum held off Methodist, 21-13, behind two rushing touchdowns from quarterback Tim Reynolds. Marcus Morrast and Christopher Newport rebounded from the loss to LaGrange and defeated Averett, 28-13. Morrast passed for three touchdowns and rushed for another, accounted for 275 yards of offense and, most importantly, did not turn the ball over.

Like Maryville, Greensboro fell out of the five-way tie for first place. North Carolina Wesleyan trailed Greensboro 17-6 at halftime. The Battling Bishops erupted for a 39-0 third quarter en route to a 45-23 win. Dwayne Hollis almost singlehandedly took over the game. Hollis returned the opening kick of the second half 90 yards for a touchdown. He closed the third quarter by returning an interception 40 yards for a score and picking off another pass on Greensboro's next play from scrimmage. On North Carolina Wesleyan's first play following Hollis's second pick, John Jackson hit Jamias Williams for a 59-yard touchdown pass on the final play of what was quite possibly the most impressive quarter of football any team or player has played this season.

Running around in circles in the ODAC

Aside from winless newcomer Shenandoah, every ODAC team has taken to heart the "Any Given Saturday" mantra. Keith McMillan conducted an exercise on Twitter after Bridgewater's upset of win over Washington and Lee on Saturday, which I'll take a bit further here. Check this:

Bridgewater > W&L > Guilford > Randolph-Macon > Emory and Henry > Catholic > Hampden-Sydney > Shenandoah.

Is Hampden-Sydney the second worst team in the league? Not at 3-1 and tied for first place. How about this:

Randolph-Macon > Emory and Henry > Catholic > Hampden-Sydney > Bridgewater > Washington and Lee > Guilford > Shenandoah.

Is Guilford the second worst team in the league? Is Washington and Lee the third worst team? Not at 3-1 and tied for first place.

Entering last Saturday, the Generals were the only remaining ODAC team that controlled its own destiny. Bridgewater forced three Nick Lombardo turnovers and held the Generals to just 14 points, 23 points below their average entering the game. The nation's number one rushing attack still piled up 385 yards on the ground, but the Eagles offense outgained the Generals, 427-416. Quarterback Willie Logan was sharp, completing 21 of 26 passes for 280 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception on a hail mary at the end of the first half. It was a 17-14 game with the Generals driving late in the fourth quarter before the Bridgewater secondary took over. Anthony Moton II intercepted a pass and returned it 58 yards for a score. The Generals' final drive ended in a Daniel Brent interception.

Bridgewater's win opened the door for Hampden-Sydney and Guilford. The Quakers rallied from 14 down late in the third quarter to defeat Randolph-Macon, 38-35. Freshman quarterback Matt Pawlowski connected with Adam Smith for the go-ahead score with two minutes remaining. Pawlowski finished the day 24-37 for 354 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He was named ODAC Offensive Player of the Week for the third time this season. Will McGhee rushed for 158 yards and a score for the Yellow Jackets.

The Tigers handled Shenandoah and have now quietly dominated in three straight games since losing the ODAC opener to Catholic. The ODAC picture will become much clearer after Hampden-Sydney hosts Guilford on Saturday.

Emory and Henry posted its first ODAC win of the season thanks to Matt Turchin's leg. The kicker booted three field goals, including the game-winner with 10 seconds left, as the Wasps rallied from a 14-0 deficit to defeat Catholic, 15-14.

Centennial contenders remain hopeful

In the conference with the clearest frontrunner, four other teams still have a chance. The two teams with the best chance to dethrone Johns Hopkins host the Blue Jays in the next two weeks.

Ursinus quarterback Chris Curran passed for four touchdowns and ran for another in a 36-0 win over Susquehanna. His second scoring toss of the day was a 93-yard completion to Darius Jones, setting a school record for longest touchdown pass. The Bears are the next Centennial Conference team with a chance to knock off Johns Hopkins.

Franklin and Marshall has one more week to take care of business before it gets to take a crack at Johns Hopkins. The Diplomats dominated Moravian, 34-2, behind three rushing touchdowns from Frank Strumolo. The Dips play at Susquehanna on Saturday and host Johns Hopkins on Nov. 3.

Muhlenberg kept its faint hopes alive with a 35-14 win over Juniata. The Mules have bounced back for two straight wins since losing two in a row. Terrence Dandridge ran for two scores and Dan Deighan passed for two in the victory. The defense forced four turnovers, including three interceptions.

Gettysburg is on the outside looking in, having lost to Muhlenberg and Johns Hopkins in consecutive weeks. The Bullets host Moravian this weekend.

Coasting to victory

Wesley traveled from Delaware to California and came back victorious, defeating Menlo College 30-13. Justin Sottilare threw for 283 yards and three first-half touchdowns. Only one regular season game against a Division III opponent remains for the Wolverines. It's this weekend, and it's a big one (see below).

Looking ahead

McDaniel at Juniata: Sometimes, the most entertaining games are those played solely for pride. After this game, only one team will remain winless in Centennial play. McDaniel is still looking for its first win of 2012 and appeared to have it within reach on Saturday against Dickinson. The Green Terror led 31-21 heading into the fourth quarter. Dickinson rallied to tie the game on a Adam Kaminski field goal with eight seconds left in regulation. After Cole Ahnell hit Matt Wood for a touchdown on Dickinson's first overtime possession, Marek Laco came up with two huge stops to shut down McDaniel's offense and send the Green Terror to their ninth straight defeat. McDaniel has not won a game since defeating Juniata on Oct. 29, 2011. Juniata won its season opener over Thiel, but has dropped its first six league games. The Eagles are looking for their first season of two or more wins since 2006.

Wesley at Huntingdon: Who wants the Pool B playoff berth? This is basically a late October playoff game. The winner is virtually guaranteed the one playoff bid reserved for independent teams. The loser will have to hold its breath and hope for a Pool C at-large berth on Selection Sunday.

What did I miss? Do you know about any upcoming milestones, big games or new names in the Mid-Atlantic? Please share them with me. If you have suggestions for next week's column, please reach out to me at @adamturer or adam.turer@d3sports.com. Enjoy Week 9!

Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing.

2012-2015 columnist: Adam Turer
2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman

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