Regret gave way to revelry for the Johns Hopkins football team.
For the second year in a row, the Blue Jays were stunned by Susquehanna, this time 28-27 in Saturday’s Centennial Conference opener before an announced 1,990.
River Hawks quarterback Michael Ruisch completed a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback with an 11-yard touchdown to tight end Frank DePaola with eight seconds left.
But about an hour after the game, about 400 players, coaches and parents packed the Newton White Athletic Center adjacent to the football field to witness the unveiling of a hallway display paying tribute to former head coach Jim Margraff, who died Jan. 2 at age 58 in his home in the Baltimore area.
“We are certainly honoring a legacy of excellence that has been established by this program,” Johns Hopkins athletic director Jennifer S. Baker said. "We are honoring Hopkins and the support Hopkins gives this program. We’re honoring one another, and more importantly, we’re honoring the man who brought us all together.”
After Alice Margraff, who was married to her husband for 26 years, cut a ribbon, many of the people in attendance strolled down the hallway to the football program’s offices. Along the way, they passed a display featuring a monitor showing photos of 20 of the teams Jim Margraff coached in 29 seasons and a case containing his National Coach of the Year award from the American Football Coaches Association, several of his Centennial Conference championship rings, and the trophy from reaching the NCAA Division III tournament semifinals last fall.
Alice Margraff acknowledged the difficulty of watching from the stands and not seeing her husband on the Johns Hopkins sideline.
“I’m certainly touched by Hopkins continuing to honor Jim’s legacy,” she said. “He loved playing here, but I know that he loved coaching here even more.”
Those who attended the celebration were treated to plates of pulled pork and corn, which was in line with Jim Margraff’s wishes, according to Grant Kelly, the school’s senior associate athletic director/director of development.
“He would say, ‘Grant, can we just get rid of all the fluff, just get some kegs of beer, get some barbecue, get everyone together as a family, and have some fun?’ ” Kelly recalled. “So that’s what we did today in honor of Coach Margraff.”
Greg Chimera, who played fullback for Margraff and in February was chosen as his coach’s successor, said he believes “Coach is always looking down at us.”
“Last year, we were in the same situation — a tough game against [Randolph-Macon] and then a loss to Susquehanna,” he said. “Everyone hit the panic button, and all Coach said was, ‘We have to practice better.’ So that’s what we’re going to focus on. It’s really going to test our pride and poise to come back next and get after Moravian [on Friday], and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The celebration of Margraff’s life almost offset the Blue Jays’ first regular-season loss at home since Oct. 2, 2010, when that squad fell 30-27 to Muhlenberg.
Johns Hopkins rolled to a 21-7 advantage capped by junior linebacker Ryan Weed’s 45-yard interception return for a touchdown — the first of his career at the high school and collegiate levels — with 5:21 left in the second quarter.
But Susquehanna outscored the Blue Jays 21-6 in the fourth quarter, reaching the end zone on its last three offensive possessions. The winning series lasted 11 plays, 75 yards and 1:52, capped by Ruisch rolling to his right and throwing across his body to DePaola, who was running a crossing pattern to the left and waltzed into the end zone. The extra point by sophomore kicker Elijah Hoffman cemented the final score.
The Johns Hopkins offense failed to score a touchdown over the last 37:19 and went 3-for-5 inside the River Hawks’ 20-yard line. Twice in the second quarter, the unit stayed on the field in fourth-down situations, but came up empty.
Junior wide receiver Ryan Hubley set career highs in both catches (12) and yards (161), and senior quarterback David Tammaro completed 32 of 53 throws for 370 yards and one touchdown. But Tammaro rued the offense’s inability to execute in the red zone.
“We’ll have to look back at the tape and re-evaluate some things,” he said. “We obviously want to punch the ball in when we get inside the 20. We’re definitely a better offense than that. We should have come out with more points.”
Ruisch passed for 287 yards and two touchdowns on 25-for-42 passing. Susquehanna running backs Da’Avian Ellington and Xavier Briggs-De Vore each rushed for 62 yards and one score. The latter’s 2-yard plunge into the end zone completed a 10-play, 99-yard march in the fourth quarter.
“Besides from the obvious, I have full trust in our defense and our defensive coordinator, and they made some big plays,” Chimera said. “So hats off to them. They went 99 yards on us. I thought they did a great job of executing. We just came up a little short.”
Chimera and several players pointed out last year’s Hopkins team responded to a 37-35 upset loss to Susquehanna by winning 11 consecutive games before falling to perennial powerhouse Mount Union in the national semifinals. Alice Margraff said Saturday’s loss would have pained her husband, but he would have projected confidence with his staff and players.
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“He would have said, ‘We’ll get back at it next week,’ ” she said. “I think the losses are hard, but sometimes you don’t celebrate the wins enough. He would have just said something about continuing on, knowing that they could do what they did last year.”