Don't invite the Johns Hopkins football team to surprise birthday parties or movies with twist endings.
Taking all the mystery out of another key Centennial Conference showdown, the Blue Jays found the end zone six times — including four times in the first half — to cruise to a 45-24 victory over visiting Franklin & Marshall on Saturday afternoon.
Before an announced 885 at Homewood Field in Baltimore, No. 11 Johns Hopkins scored 40 points in a game for the seventh time in nine games. More importantly, the program improved to 9-0 overall and 8-0 in the league to capture at least a share of the conference title for the seventh consecutive year, and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
"Our guys played well," coach Jim Margraff said. "We got a lot of big plays today. I thought [running backs] Stuart [Walter] and Brandon [Cherry] ran well and hard, and we got some big plays in the pass game, too. I'd like to see us be more consistent, but anytime you can put some points on the board like that in the first half, it's a good sign."
Johns Hopkins fed the Diplomats (6-3, 5-3) a steady diet of Walters and the defense. Walters, a junior, carried the ball 10 times for career-high 146 yards and three touchdowns.
Walters has amassed 2,087 career rushing yards and became the 10th player in program history to reach the 2,000-yard mark. He also scored the 23rd, 24th and 25th rushing touchdowns of his career, joining three players including current teammate Cherry (11 rushes for 64 yards, and two catches for 30 yards and one touchdown) for third place in that category.
"The offensive line was awesome today," said Walters, who scored his third touchdown of the game after evading two tackles in the backfield and sprinting 37 yards down the left sideline with 1:45 left in the third quarter. "The holes were wide open. It felt like every time I got the ball, I saw green grass everywhere. That's a compliment to our offensive line."
The defense put the game out of reach after Walters' third touchdown gave the Blue Jays a 35-17 advantage. Junior defensive back Dan Johnson made amends for a special teams gaffe in the first quarter by snatching a pass from Franklin & Marshall senior quarterback Matt Magarity and returning the interception 23 yards to the end zone with 23 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
"I was actually blitzing on that play," said Johnson, a Westminster graduate. "I saw the tight end release right away, and I knew it was a screen. I have a general idea of where the ball is going to go and where the receiver is going to be. So I just tried to get in that path, and I just saw the ball and I grabbed it."
An interception by junior free safety Jack Toner and a strip and fumble recovery by junior cornerback Marcus Spearman halted two Diplomats drives in Johns Hopkins territory and made a score late in the fourth quarter moot.
The Blue Jays didn't waste any time getting on the scoreboard, taking a 7-0 lead on a 37-yard touchdown strike from junior quarterback Jonathan Germano to junior wide receiver Bradley Munday in just six plays and 121 seconds on the first possession of the game.
Franklin & Marshall's ensuing drive appeared to stall at its own 47-yard line, but junior punter Cody Hubbs line-drove a punt that hit off Johnson's right heel, and junior Dan Riordan recovered the ball at Johns Hopkins' 25.
Junior Billy Zwicharowski converted a 25-yard field goal to trim the Blue Jays' lead to 7-3 and record the first first-quarter points against Hopkins by a Centennial Conference opponent this season.
On Johns Hopkins' next possession, the offense went 61 yards in eight plays, and Walters ran 9 yards off the right tackle for a 14-3 advantage with 2:05 left in the second quarter.
The Diplomats scored the first points of the second quarter when sophomore running back Logan Lewis beat Johns Hopkins senior middle linebacker Keith Corliss and caught a 19-yard lob from Magarity in the end zone. The score drew Franklin & Marshall to within 14-10 with 10:03 left in the period.
But on the second play of the Blue Jays' ensuing drive, Walters bounced to the left and rumbled 62 yards for a touchdown with 9:26 remaining. And after a Diplomats punt, Germano connected with Cherry (Boys' Latin) for a 9-yard score that gave Johns Hopkins a 28-10 advantage with 4:40 left in the second quarter.
Germano, who has thrown for 25 scores this fall, tied Braden Anderson for the school record for touchdown passes in a season.