The wind was blowing at Homewood Field in Baltimore. Hard. It was with this wind in their faces that the Tartans began their game Saturday afternoon against the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. Recently ranked 22nd in the American Football Coaches Association Division III Coaches poll, the Blue Jays looked to move to 3?0 on the season with their sixth straight victory. Meanwhile, the Tartans looked to rebound from last week?s 16-14 loss to Grove City, when they dropped to 1?1 on the season.
?We would love to win [this week],? said Tartans head coach Rich Lackner, ?but we want to improve on last week?s performance; we are a lot better than what we showed.? Last week the Tartans committed six turnovers and nine penalties. This week did not appear to be different.
Trouble began for the Tartans early in the game. In the first quarter, a bad snap lead to a blocked punt which gave the Blue Jay offense the ball on the Tartans 22-yard line. Three plays later, a three-yard run by junior T.J. Lyons ? and the subsequent extra point ? gave Hopkins a seven-point lead.
The Tartans began the following drive with a fumbled snap, though senior quarterback Jarrod Highberger was able to recover the ball. Two runs for short gains left the Tartans with a fourth-and-long situation and they were forced to punt. The punt was blocked by a group of Hopkins defenders, one of whom ran into the kicker, resulting in a penalty and a Tartan first down.
A run by first-year fullback Travis Sivek led to a Tartan first down. However on the following series, first-year running back Cody Whitman fumbled a hands-off and the ball was recovered by Johns Hopkins junior defensive lineman Lee Everett at the Tartan 36 yard line.
Four plays, 30 yards, and 75 seconds later, the Blue Jays scored on a 20-yard screen pass, making the score 14?0.
Sophomore wide receiver Mark Davis returned the kick-off from the goal line for 24 yards before being brought down, giving the Tartans their best starting position of the game thus far. Sivek started the drive with a five-yard run, but the second play? a quarterback sweep ? failed to deceive the Johns Hopkins defenders and resulted in a short loss. This brought up third-and-six.
Highberger dropped back to pass and threw a deep ball, which was affected by the wind, intercepted, and returned to the 30 yard line. Johns Hopkins proceeded to rush the ball and in four plays had managed to score again.
With fewer than 100 yards of total offense, they had been able to score three touchdowns; the Tartans had not yet penetrated into Blue Jay territory. As the first quarter ended, the Tartans controlled the time of possession and the Blue Jays controlled everything else. However, this was about to change.
The Tartans began the second quarter with the wind at their backs and a 15-play, 80-yard drive which culminated in a touchdown rush by Sivek. They effectively mixed their running and passing games ? often having success running from shotgun formation ? and kept the John Hopkins defenders off balance.
The Tartan defense held the Blue Jays to a three-and-out on their following possession, and was forced to punt. Because of the wind, the punt only netted two yards which set the Tartans up in excellent field position. The Tartans were able to move the ball on the first three downs, but failed to convert a fourth and two and turned the ball over on downs.
On the ensuing possession, the Blue Jays were able to drive within field goal range and converted a 32 yard field goal to make the score 24?7. Two plays later, the second quarter ended.
The Tartan defense began the third quarter on the same solid level that they played in the second quarter. After two possessions, the Tartans put together a drive highlighted by solid passes from Highberger, including a fourth-and-five reception by sophomore receiver Jonathan Kline that allowed the drive to continue. Capped by a short touchdown run by Sivek, the Tartans cut their deficit to ten points.
For the remainder of the game, the Tartans were not able to overcome the deficit, but the defensive play was stellar, including a fourth quarter sack by senior linebacker Roman Feola, a fumble recovery by junior defensive lineman Jared Wenger, and interception by junior defensive lineman Mike Burnside. Throughout the day the defensive was led by the sharp play of Feola and sophomore safety Aaron Lewis.
Ultimately, it was the officials and not the wind that cost the Tartans a chance to win the game. Two poor spots late in the game stymied the Tartans? shot for a comeback. Furthermore, the team was hurt by absences of junior running back Joe Hurley and junior linebacker Thomas Pfister.
Nevertheless, the Tartan defense continued the high level of play which was evident in week two against Grove City, and the offensive unit showed that when not plagued by turnovers it was effective in moving the ball both on the ground and in the air.