ALLENTOWN, PA – Muhlenberg College doesn’t charge admission to its football games. After games against Johns Hopkins last year and today, maybe it should.
The 21st-ranked visiting Blue Jays twice answered game-tying touchdowns by the Mules in the second half, got a game-winning one-yard scoring run by junior Tyler Messinger with 4:39 to play and a game-ending stand by their defense to grab a 31-24 victory before a crowd 3,271 at Scotty Wood Stadium Saturday afternoon.
A year ago, Johns Hopkins got a pair of interceptions in the end zone in the final minute to seal a 30-24 victory at Muhlenberg. Today’s sequel was just as thrilling for every one of those fans, none of which had to pay to get into the game.
Johns Hopkins (7-1, 6-1 Centennial) led 17-3 in the first half and still had a 17-10 lead at the start of the third quarter, but the Mules tied it up on their first possession of the second half on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Michael Hnatkowsky to Ryan Curtiss.
The Blue Jays needed just three plays to go 49 yards and take a 24-17 lead with sophomore Dave Tammaro connecting with senior Brett Caggiano from 38 yards out to give the Blue Jays the seven-point lead. The drive was set up by a 47-yard kickoff return by senior Ryan Cary.
That score held until midway through the fourth quarter, when the Mules took over at the own 43 and went 57 yards in 11 plays with Hnatkowsky hitting Mason Kholi with a five-yard scoring pass over the middle to draw the game even at 24.
Again, the Blue Jays answered after a long kickoff return – this one a 45-yarder by sophomore Patrick Kelly that set the JHU up at the Muhlenberg 45.
Johns Hopkins was slightly more deliberate on this drive as they used seven plays and 2:59 to cover the 45 yards. Cary had a hand in four straight plays that moved the ball to the Mule 22 and Tammaro then connected with freshman Zac Fernandez to give the Blue Jays a first-and-goal at the one; Messinger went in one play later to give the Hopkins a 31-24 lead with 4:39 on the clock.
The Mules (5-3, 4-2 CC) had the ball twice down the stretch and twice the Blue Jay defense came up with stops. The first drive started at the Muhlenberg 15 and the Mules worked their way out the 31, but sacks by Keonte Henson and Lance Hammond forced the Mules into a fourth-and-20 that generated only 10 yards to turn the ball over on downs.
The Blue Jays nursed the clock on their ensuing drive and senior Jamie Sullivan missed a 46-yard field goal with 37 seconds left to give the Mules one last chance, but three straight incompletions were followed by a desperate completion and pitch sequence that left the Mules with less than three seconds on the clock and time expired before they could try a Hail Mary from the Johns Hopkins 44.
A pair of late-game defensive stands didn’t look like they’d be necessary after the Blue Jays built the 14-point first-half lead. Muhlenberg opened the game with a 21-yard Brian Goodwin field goal at the 10:50 mark of the first quarter, but the Blue Jays responded with 17 unanswered points in a 17-minute span to build the 17-3 lead.
Cary was on the receiving end of an 18-yard strike from Tammaro just 72 seconds after Goodwin’s field goal to cap a quick five-play, 65-yard drive that gave the Blue Jays a 7-3 lead with 9:28 remaining in the first quarter.
The four-point lead was 11 when Messinger went in from six yards out on the second play of the second quarter and Sullivan drilled a 31-yard field goal to polish off an eight-play, 50-yard drive to make it 17-3 with 7:26 remaining in the half.
The Mules answered with an impressive 12-play, 71-yard drive that Hnatkowsky finished with a 17-yard strike to a wide-open Curtiss down the middle to pull within 17-10. The Blue Jays worked their way to the Muhlenberg 29 in the final seconds of the period, but were unable to get off a pass as time expired and carried the seven-point lead into halftime.
That lead held for less than four minutes of the third quarter before Hnatkowsky hooked up with Curtiss for the second time to make it 17-17. From there, the Blue Jays sandwiched the Caggiano and Messinger touchdowns around the Kholi score and all that was left was the final frantic 4:39 that ensured only one thing – Muhlenberg should charge admission whenever Johns Hopkins visits Scotty Wood Stadium.
Tammaro was 21-of-31 for 306 yards with two touchdowns; Cary has seven receptions for 72 yards and the one score, while Caggiano (3-90-1) junior Luke McFadden (4-97-0) were also key in the passing game.
Junior Robby Johnson paced the Blue Jay defense with nine goals, while Hammond had five tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses and 2.0 sacks. Junior Anthony Davidson added two sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
Hnatkowsky was 26-of-38 for 371 yards with three touchdowns and Curtiss (11-159-2) and Josiah Wright (6-10-7-0) were his favorite targets.
Johns Hopkins will return to action on Saturday, November 4 when the Blue Jays welcome Juniata to Homewood Field. Johns Hopkins will honor its seniors in a special pregame ceremony.
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