After Wednesday morning's practice, Johns Hopkins football coach Jim Margraff was joking about an imaginary bucket list, but one not for him. Instead, it was a bucket list for Division III football teams.
Saturday, Margraff and his Blue Jays will get a chance to cross off one of those objectives: play at national power Mount Union. The No. 15-ranked Blue Jays (10-1) head to Alliance, Ohio, to take on the No. 1 team in the country in the second round of the NCAA playoffs at noon.
"This is an opportunity that few [teams] get," Margraff said. "The chance to play the best in the their division."
The term "best" clearly applies in this situation.
This year, the Purple Raiders (11-0) won their 21st consecutive Ohio Athletic Conference championship, and they're coming off a 72-14 dismantling of Christopher Newport (Va.) in the first round. Mount Union holds a 74-13 record all-time in the playoffs and a 178-7 overall record since 2000. The Raiders have reached the title game 15 times, winning 10 national championships.
Entering Saturday, Mount Union will be fielding the No. 1 total defense (151.7 ypg), only giving up 5.4 points per game.
But the Blue Jays are quick to downplay the David versus Goliath comparison, considering their recent success. The Centennial Conference champions have the No. 10 ranked offense (504.1 ypg) and No. 16 ranked defense (274.9 ypg) nationally.
"They are a very good football team that has been very solid in every aspect of the game this season," Mount Union coach Larry Kehres said. "Any time you play a team that has won their conference and had the success they have had, we know we are getting a good football team."
Still, the Blue Jays will be entering as an underdog and must avoid defeating themselves before they take the field.
"A lot of teams go into [a] game [against Mount Union] thinking they have already lost," Hopkins senior running back Jonathan Rigaud said. "We can't do that."
"We are really excited to make another run and come in with the mentality to do something special," said senior safety Adam Schweyer, who was a freshman along with Rigaud on the 2009 squad that upset Hampden-Sydney (Va.) and Thomas More (Ky.) on the road to reach the NCAA quarterfinals.
Saturday's game will be the first time Johns Hopkins faces Mount Union and the Blue Jays' first game against a team ranked No. 1 in the country.
Yet, being the underdog does have one perk.
"We don't feel any added pressure ... we have nothing to lose," said Rigaud, who referenced No. 15 Texas A&M's upset win over No. 1 Alabama in the Division I ranks earlier this month. "I think the main thing we have to have is that mental focus and we have to play to the end, until it's zero on that clock."
If they can do that, and leave Ohio with the win, one thing is guaranteed.
"It'll be a fun six hour ride home," Schweyer said. "I know that."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun