Stover helps Johns Hopkins achieve goal

Matt Stover had a hand in this. Or a foot.

Johns Hopkins plays in the NCAA Division III football quarterfinals Saturday, in part because its kicker studied last summer with Stover, the former Ravens great.

That kicker, Alex Lachman, booted a last-second, game-winning 43-yard field goal last week in Hopkins' 31-29 playoff victory over Thomas More.

The win sends the Blue Jays (10-2) to Dover, Del., to face Wesley (12-0) at noon. It's the third straight postseason road game for Hopkins, which has scored back-to-back victories over previously undefeated teams.

"We're playing about as well as we can play now," coach Jim Margraff said. "Wesley is one of the [Division III] superpowers, so we'll have to fight for every inch.

"If we're still around in the fourth quarter, we'll find a way to win."

Hopkins would be hard-pressed to match last week's finish. Trailing by two points with 51 seconds left, the Jays marched 44 yards to set up the winning kick by Lachman, a junior who punched it through with room to spare.

"He [Lachman] crushed it," Margraff said.

"That ball would have been good from 60 yards."

The kick would have done Stover proud. The NFL's fifth all-time scorer, Stover spent time with Lachman in August, critiquing his style and offering tips on a muggy day at McDonogh School.

On Wednesday, when he learned of Lachman's heroics from a Baltimore Sun reporter, Stover was elated.

"Fantastic!" he said. "That's a huge kick. When you see a guy like Alex, whom you've invested in, who has worked hard and who can help his team win ... that's what it's all about."

Margraff had sought Stover's help, as their daughters, both McDonogh students, are friends. Stover, now with the Indianapolis Colts, lives in Cockeysville.

"Matt and I are car-pool daddies, and he offered to help out," Margraff said.

"Alex is a terrific kicker, but we haven't really coached him at all [at Hopkins]."

Who better to tutor Lachman than the second-most accurate kicker in NFL history?

"He [Stover] helped a lot," said Lachman, a political science major from Livingston, N.J. "He changed my set-up. I used to take a wider angle on my approach, but he narrowed it some."

Stover called Lachman "a very attentive and coachable kid" who was anxious to hone his skills.

"I tweaked his technique here and there," he said. "I told him that it's nerve-wracking to be a kicker, and that just because you're nervous doesn't mean you're not a good one.

"I taught him how to be his own coach, and how to gain confidence."

The rest is history.

Last week, as he readied to kick with one second left in the game, Lachman said he felt "a weird sense of calm. As soon as I kicked it, I knew it was good. I was celebrating before it went through [the uprights]."

It was Lachman's 16th field goal in 21 attempts and his longest boot this year.

On the sideline, teammates strained to look - or closed their eyes.

"I couldn't watch the kick," defensive end and co-captain Glenn Rocca said. "I knew he'd make it, but I turned away. It just felt like the right thing for me to do - and it worked."

"I trusted Alex to make it, I really did," said Dan Crowley, Hopkins' star receiver.

"He's not that big a guy [6-feet, 200 pounds], but his leg is unbelievably strong. Put the ball anywhere under 50 yards and I trust him. Attempting that kick was definitely better than trying a 'Hail Mary' pass."

Lachman called the kick payback for his having botched a last-ditch 38-yard attempt against Ursinus in October that cost Hopkins a victory.

"This was the ultimate redemption," he said.

Afterward, he was buried on the field beneath an avalanche of Blue Jays, everyone but the coach who was tangled up on the sideline.

"My head set was tied to my field pass and I couldn't get it off," Margraff said. "But watching these guys pile up was a beautiful thing. For them to be that cool and collected on the last drive was a testament to what this team has done all year."

The ripple effect of Hopkins' victory began quickly. As he trotted to the jubilant locker room, Margraff said, "my cell phone started binging and bonging like crazy. I must have had 40 text messages before I got inside."

One note, from a 60-year-old Hopkins' alumnus, especially touched him.

"The man said he was listening to the game [on the Internet] and that he had tears in his eyes when the kick sailed through the uprights," Margraff said.

Stover, meanwhile, is tickled at the success of his protege.

"Am I proud of Alex? More than proud," Stover said. "But I'm not surprised.

"I knew he had it in him."

Division III quarterfinals