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Under-the-radar defense has anchored Johns Hopkins football in 2014

While Johns Hopkins' offense has been a clear reason for the Blue Jays' success -- leading the Centennial Conferencein points, total yards and rushing yards -- the team's defense has been nearly as successful.

The No. 9 Blue Jays are 6-0 overall and 5-1 in the league courtesy of a defense that leads the Centennial in fewest points per game (14.0) and lowest percentage of touchdowns surrendered in the red zone (27.8). The unit also ranks third in the conference in fewest first downs (103) and fewest yards per game (317.8).

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Coach Jim Margraff said those numbers would be even better if he hadn't pulled some starters late in games where the outcome was clear after three quarters.

"Our defense has played extremely well because if you look, many of the yards and a number of points have been scored late in games when the game has been decided," he said Wednesday. "When you look at what we're doing in the first half or the first three quarters, it's incredibly impressive. We're playing plenty of guys right now. There's a lot of good things happening. Our guys are playing at a very high level and we're getting a few kids back right now, and we're playing a ton of people. We've got good speed on defense. I think schematically, [defensive coordinator] Mickey [Rehring] has done a great job putting his game plans together. Right now, that's the strength of our team."

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Senior quarterback Braden Anderson and a pair of running backs -- sophomore Stuart Walters and junior Brandon Cherry (Boys' Latin) -- are the faces of the offense, but the defense is a blue-collar group.

Senior safety Ryan Rice might be the most recognizable name after he was named a second-team preseason All-American by D3football.com in the summer. But he has also been battling injuries that have cut into his playing time.

Still, Margraff said he and the other coaches like the current crop of players, who don't mind being unheralded.

"I think our kids feed off of that right now," he said. "We play a ton of guys in the front seven. There are a few guys that I think are having exceptional seasons, but that can almost change week to week right now. Ryan Rice has been our leader and has done a great job. [Junior] Brady Watts has been outstanding at strong safety. But some guys are playing the best ball of their careers right now. [Senior defensive tackle] Michael Rocca and [senior defensive end] Michael Longo have both been outstanding. So we have a lot of guys contributing and a lot of guys playing at a high level right now, and I don't think they really care who gets the credit."

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One defensive player Johns Hopkins won't have when Gettysburg (3-3, 3-2) visits Homewood Field on Friday night is senior cornerback Jimmy Holder (Loyola Blakefield), who is still dealing with a head injury.

"He's not feeling great, and we don't know if that has anything to do with football or something else," Margraff said of Holder, who played sparingly in the team's 42-7 thumping of Dickinson last Friday. "But we're taking zero chances."

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