The Johns Hopkins football team went undefeated in the regular season for the second time in three years, captured the Centennial Conference title for the third consecutive year and the ninth time since 2002, and ranked as high as eighth in the most recent American Football Coaches Association poll.
But do all those accomplishments fade in light of Saturday’s 29-23 loss to No. 14 Wesley in a first-round game of the NCAA Division III tournament?
“I don’t know if it diminishes anything,” junior defensive end Michael Rocca said in a news conference after the contest at Homewood Field in Baltimore. “You come into every year with the same goal. You play one game at a time and win one game at a time. You want to win the conference championship, and we did that. Then you get to the playoffs, and there are 32 teams left and everybody’s good. You’ve got to beat some good teams to make a run. It was a great game out there today, two good teams going at it.”
Senior quarterback Robbie Matey nodded his head as he listened to Rocca speak. “It takes away nothing from our season,” he said. “We finished 10-0 [in the regular season]. We lost to the 14th-ranked team in the nation. We had a great season, and they made a couple big plays down the stretch to beat us.”
As successful as the Blue Jays (10-1) were in the regular season, they have struggled in postseasons. They have been bounced from the first round of the NCAA tournament in three of the five years that they have qualified and are just 1-2 when hosting a playoff game.
Saturday’s loss may have been especially painful for Johns Hopkins. The team scored 10 straight points – including a 10-yard touchdown pass from Matey to senior wide receiver Dan Wodicka with 49.7 seconds left – to take a 24-23 lead in the fourth quarter before the Wolverines (9-2) went 82 yards in five plays to score the game-winning touchdown with 12.8 seconds remaining.
The roller coaster of emotions might have added a few more gray hairs to Jim Margraff’s head, but the Blue Jays coach refused to be depressed after the contest.
“I told the guys after the game, that’s one of the great things in sports,” he said. “You get to treat something like life and death – which it isn’t – but you get to treat it that way on a Saturday. Our goal many times is to play with emotion, don’t let emotion play with you. I really thought our guys kept their heads about them. I don’t think they got out of sorts. They played hard, and I think Wesley just made a couple great plays at the end.”