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You wouldn't know it from the results, but the Johns Hopkins' football team's high-powered offense is—quite literally—learning on the fly.
The unbeaten Blue Jays feature one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, averaging more than 500 yards and 40 points per game. And, in a departure from the power running style that has been the foundation of past success, they are getting it done through the air.
Led by senior quarterback Hewitt Tomlin, Johns Hopkins recently racked up 433 and 545 passing yards in back-to-back wins against Dickinson and Gettysburg, respectively, earlier this season. With the offense taking off, the 10-0 Blue Jays won the Centennial Conference title and are eyeing a deep run in the NCAA Division III tournament.
Johns Hopkins hosts St. John Fisher in a first-round playoff game on Saturday, Nov. 19, at noon at Homewood Field. It will be the Blue Jays' third trip to the Division III playoffs; they also qualified in 2005 and 2009.
As good as JHU has been this season, the team is still very much a work in progress, says head coach Jim Margraff.
"We've been improving each week to get to where we need to be," said Margraff, in his 22nd year with the Blue Jays. "Our goal is to finish each week 1-0. With that in mind, we can have a lot of success this season."
That week-to-week approach has proven effective—JHU has won a school-record 15 consecutive games dating to last season, the second-longest active run in Division III.
Tomlin and a trio of pass-catchers—senior Sam Wernick, junior Scott Cremens and sophomore Daniel Wodicka—have emerged as the Blue Jays have expanded their playbook.
All four figured prominently in the most dominant offensive performance in school history, an 83-21 win at Gettysburg on Oct. 22. In the win, the Jays set school records for total offense (731), passing yards (545), plays from scrimmage (100), pass attempts (56), completions (43), touchdown passes (7) and first downs (39). The 39 first downs were one shy of the NCAA Division III single-game record, and the 83 points were a conference record.
"Every play, it feels like this is going to be the big one; this is the one that could go all the way," said Wodicka, who leads the team in receptions and receiving yards. "We know that if we work hard and get open, we're going to get the ball."
The Johns Hopkins defense has done its part, too, permitting less than 10 points per game. Safety Michael Milano, one of seven seniors on defense, broke into the starting lineup in 2009, when the Blue Jays made their deepest run into the NCAA tournament before losing in the third round to Wesley, 12-0. He says that the past few years have changed the national perception of Johns Hopkins football, from an afterthought to a perennial power.
"We're here for just a few years, but we know that what we do will have an impact on the underclassmen and the program," Milano said. "We are really building a legacy for this football program."
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