Af­ter 3 years of fall­ing short in play­offs, Jays hop­ing for more

JHU is favored to win eighth Cen­ten­nial ti­tle in a row

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Todd Kar­povich

Johns Hop­kins has seen one play be the dif­fer­ence be­tween ad­vanc­ing an­other step in the NCAA Di­vi­sion III foot­ball play­offs and heart­break in each of the past three sea­sons.

The Blue Jays have come up short on a fourth-and-1, suf­fered an in­ter­cep­tion at the goal line and been on the wrong end of a long touch­down pass over that span. None­the­less, the coaches and play­ers for Johns Hop­kins have moved past those dis­ap­point­ments and are poised to take that next step this sea­son.

Led by se­nior quar­ter­back Jonathan Ger­mano and safety Jack Toner, the Blue Jays are the fa­vorites to win their eighth con­sec­u­tive Cen­ten­nial Con­fer­ence ti­tle. Hop­kins opens the sea­son Thurs­day against Washington & Lee, which started 10-0 and also ad­vanced to the NCAA play­offs in 2015.

“Our goal each year is to win the Cen­ten­nial Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship. Af­ter that, it’s ex­tra foot­ball,” Hop­kins coach Jim Mar­graff said. “We just try to win our con­fer­ence, and af­ter that, we just try to do as well as we can. We’ve run into some good teams over the past

cou­ple of years.”

In last sea­son’s NCAA sec­ond-round play­off game, Johns Hop­kins could not con­vert a fourth-and-1 from Wes­ley’s 13yard line with 1:38 re­main­ing. The Wolver­ines were able to run out the clock and hold on for a 42-37 vic­tory.

The year be­fore, the Blue Jays had the lead and the ball on Ho­bart’s 8-yard line with just un­der 10 min­utes left in that sec­ond-round play­off game. The Blue Jays, how­ever, lost a fum­ble and the States­men re­sponded with an 88-yard scor­ing drive. Hop­kins then drove to the Ho­bart 22, but an in­ter­cep­tion at the goal line with 10 sec­onds left killed its fi­nal chance in a 24-21 loss.

And in 2013, Wes­ley quar­ter­back Joe Cal­la­han, now with the Green Bay Pack­ers, threw a 33-yard touch­down to Steve Kou­dos­sou with 12.8 sec­onds re­main­ing for a 29-24 vic­tory.

Johns Hop­kins ad­vanced to the quar­ter­fi­nals in 2009 and this year’s play­ers want to be­come the sec­ond team to achieve that mile­stone — and more.

“We’ve been there every year and it’s been one play here and one play there,” Toner said. “I don’t think it’s us mak­ing mis­takes. The other team made plays and you have to credit them. So, when we get to that point this year — if we’re for­tu­nate enough — it’s about step­ping up and some­one mak­ing a play that can get us over that hump.”

Toner, who was named to the Sport­ing News’ Di­vi­sion III Pre­sea­son All-Amer­ica team, could be the player who takes Hop­kins to the next level. He is re­garded as one of the best safeties in pro­gram his­tory and is the leader of the de­fense. He is one of 15 se­niors on this year’s team who have not lost a reg­u­lar-sea­son game.

“We don’t play afraid to lose,” said Toner, who fin­ished with 51 tack­les, nine pass breakups and six in­ter­cep­tions last sea­son. “We go out every game think­ing we can win and we are go­ing to win. We are not go­ing out there think­ing, ‘If we lose, we’ll lose our Coach: Jim Mar­graff (27th sea­son, 189-84-3 at Johns Hop­kins) 2015 record: 11-1, NCAA Di­vi­sion III sec­ond round Ex­pected fin­ish: Pre­sea­son Cen­ten­nial Con­fer­ence fa­vorites 2016 schedule Sept. 1, Washington & Lee, 7 p.m. Sept. 10, at Susque­hanna, 1 p.m. Sept. 17, Mo­ra­vian, noon Sept. 24, at Muh­len­berg, 2 p.m. Oct. 1, Ju­ni­ata, noon Oct. 14, at Dick­in­son, 7 p.m. Oct. 21, Get­tys­burg, 7 p.m. Oct. 29, at Ursi­nus, 1 p.m. Nov. 5, at Franklin & Mar­shall, noon Nov. 12, McDaniel, noon first reg­u­lar-sea­son game.’ That’s not good for any­body.”

In ad­di­tion to Toner, the Blue Jays will be led de­fen­sively by ju­niors Keonte Hen­son and Lance Ham­mond, who an­chor the de­fen­sive line. Hen­son earned first-team All-Cen­ten­nial hon­ors last year, while Ham­mond made the sec­ond team. The two were one of the most dom­i­nant de­fen­sive­line tandems in Di­vi­sion III, com­bin­ing for 100 tack­les and seven sacks.

How­ever, Hop­kins must fill the void left at line­backer by the losses of Cen­ten­nial Con­fer­ence De­fen­sive Player of the Year Keith Corliss and first-team all-con­fer­ence pick Brady Watts. Jack Camp­bell, who led the team in tack­les (101) and was an Aca­demic All-Amer­i­can in 2015, will be the leader of that group.

“We want to force turnovers and em­pha­size getting the ball back in our of­fense’s hand be­cause we know how great they are at scor­ing points,” Toner said.

Ger­mano re­turns to lead Hop­kins’ dy­namic of­fense. In his first year as a starter in 2015, he set a school record with 35 Coach: Ed Hot­tle (Sixth sea­son, 25-27 at Steven­son) 2015 record: 9-2 over­all; tied for sec­ond in the Mid­dle At­lantic Con­fer­ence at 7-2 Ex­pected fin­ish: Picked third in the MAC pre­sea­son poll 2016 schedule Sept. 2, N.C. Wes­leyan, 7 p.m. Sept. 10, at Albright, 1 p.m. Sept. 17, Le­banon Val­ley, 1 p.m. Sept. 24, FDU-Florham, 1 p.m. Oct. 1, at Mis­eri­cor­dia, 1 p.m. Oct. 15, at Wi­dener, 1 p.m. Oct. 22, Delaware Val­ley, noon Oct. 29, at King’s, 1 p.m. Nov. 5, Wilkes, 1 p.m. Nov. 12, at Ly­coming, 1 p.m. touch­down passes. Ger­mano went 217for-311 (.698) for 2,963 yards with just eight in­ter­cep­tions.

He tied the Hop­kins record by throw­ing touch­down passes in 12 con­sec­u­tive games and also had 388 rush­ing yards with four touch­downs. Ger­mano’s 39 over­all touch­downs were also a sin­gle-sea­son school record.

One of Ger­mano’s fa­vorite tar­gets is se­nior wide re­ceiver Bradley Mun­day, who earned Cen­ten­nial Of­fen­sive Player of the Year hon­ors af­ter fin­ish­ing with 83 re­cep­tions for 1,066 yards and 12 touch­downs. Quinn Don­ald­son is also back; he has 88 re­cep­tions for 1,471 yards and 16 touch­downs in his ca­reer.

“It’s al­ways good to have ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause it makes you more con­fi­dent in ev­ery­thing you do,” Ger­mano said. “Even this pre­sea­son, I saw we were tak­ing big­ger steps and big­ger strides. We are re­ally look­ing for­ward to Week1a­gainst Washington & Lee and this en­tire sea­son in the Cen­ten­nial Con­fer­ence.”

Last year, the Blue Jays tied the sin­gle- Coach: Mike Dai­ley (first sea­son) 2015 record: 0-10; last in Cen­ten­nial Con­fer­ence Ex­pected fin­ish: Picked to fin­ish last in Cen­ten­nial pre­sea­son poll 2016 schedule Sept. 3, at Catholic, 1 p.m. Sept. 10, at Mo­ra­vian, 1 p.m. Sept. 17, Muh­len­berg, 2 p.m. Sept. 24, Ursi­nus, 1 p.m. Oct. 1, at Get­tys­burg, 1 p.m. Oct. 15, at Franklin & Mar­shall, 1 p.m. Oct. 22, Dick­in­son, 1 p.m. Oct. 29, at Ju­ni­ata, 1 p.m. Nov. 5, Susque­hanna, 1 p.m. Nov. 12, at Johns Hop­kins, noon sea­son record with 11 wins and fin­ished ranked 10th by the Amer­i­can Foot­ball Coaches As­so­ci­a­tion and 13th by D3­foot­ball.com. Much of Hop­kins’ suc­cess can be at­trib­uted to Mar­graff’s re­cruit­ing ac­u­men. As the land­scape has changed, his coach­ing staff has learned to stay ahead of the curve.

In­stead of go­ing door to door to visit play­ers, the Hop­kins staff watches clips of po­ten­tial re­cruits. The coach­ing staff has also worked sev­eral one-day clin­ics hosted by Ivy League schools to get a look at the type of stu­dent-ath­lete that fits the pro­gram’s mold.

“We have a great staff, great guys, so it’s nice we’ll see a kid from Cal­i­for­nia at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia or Prince­ton. A lot of times they will say, ‘Let’s take the two-hour drive or hour-and-a-half drive down to Bal­ti­more and check out Hop­kins,’ ” Mar­graff said. “It’s a fan­tas­tic univer­sity and it’s a beau­ti­ful cam­pus. We’ve had a lot of suc­cess with foot­ball re­cently. For a lot of these guys, it winds up be­ing not only a vi­able choice, but a top choice for them.”

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Last sea­son, his first as a starter, Johns Hop­kins quar­ter­back Jonathan Ger­mano set a school record with 35 touch­down passes and threw just eight in­ter­cep­tions.

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