Conquering the lion’s den

Muhlenberg football takes down The College of New Jersey in their final tune-up before conference play.

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Muhlenberg's football team in a huddle. Photo by Assistant Photo Editor Kira Bretsky '27

On Saturday, Sept. 16, the Mules entered the jungle with one goal: to remove the king from his throne. Several days later, they left Ewing, N.J., having dethroned the Lions and all else who stood in their way.

24th-ranked Muhlenberg football posted a 38-10 victory over The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) in their final game before beginning conference matches, continuing their undefeated opening to the season. These early contests, while against out-of-conference opponents, are crucial for players and coaches in evaluating implemented strategies and systems before heading into Centennial Conference action. Yes, every game is equally important, and the goal is to always come out on top, but conference games are always more fiery, faster-paced, and detail-oriented than any other.

“Playing in the Centennial [Conference] is really a gauntlet,” said Josh Castro ‘25. “Any team can beat any other team on any given Saturday. We’ve had a lot of opportunities to learn from small mistakes that happen early in the season, so we should be tuned up when it matters as we start our Centennial schedule.” An attitude shared amongst teammates that will help the Mules weather the storm during their upcoming conference schedule.

Defensive back Alex Batista ‘24 echoed a similar message: “All three teams [we have played] were great programs, but our focus is always and will continue to be on us. The Centennial Conference is one of the best conferences in the country, and whenever you lace those cleats up, you have to bring your best during every play.” These weeks of preparation have served the team well thus far, and they are eager to continue fine-tuning their game plans.

Regardless of how close the coaching staff is to perfecting their schemes, the players are still hungry to perform, with their victory over TCNJ being an example. “I think we did a great job focusing on executing our system at a high level and not worrying about what the opponent is going to do,” added Castro. “We’re starting to develop an identity and figure out what works best for us as a team. We have a lot of great players who make plays when we call on them.” 

We appreciate the recognition, but polls don’t win football games

Josh Castro ’25

‘Berg was also well equipped to handle TCNJ’s pass-first offense: “Defensively, we executed and did our job,” said Batista. “We anticipated a heavy pass game heading into the week and understood a lot of the game would come down to our secondary versus their receivers. We embraced it with open arms and welcomed the challenge.” Coming off of this week, the team should feel confident in their ability to handle dynamic Centennial Conference foes and control the tempo of games, not the other way around.

The Mules jumped up a spot in the Division III national ranking after this weekend, from 25 to 24. Being a part of the top 25 is commendable, but the team’s mentality remains fixated on improving week in and week out. “We really aren’t focused on any national ranking or media chatter,” explained Castro. “We know we’re a good football team, and our focus is just on going 1-0 each weekend and letting the polls rank us wherever they think we belong. We appreciate the recognition, but polls don’t win football games and we haven’t done anything worth celebrating yet. We’re just focused internally and taking care of what we can control each week.”

Being a senior, Batista reflected on some previous teams he has been a part of at Muhlenberg that have also been nationally recognized: “As an upperclassman who has been lucky enough to play on some pretty good teams here at Muhlenberg, I try to pass along to underclassmen that all the ranking does is place an even bigger target on our backs. Although it is amazing to receive that recognition, we have to put it behind us and continue to stack good weeks to reach our goals/aspirations for the season.”

Actions speak louder than words, or in this case rankings, and this ambitious group is solely keen on returning the Centennial Conference trophy to Allentown. The hunt for that trophy begins on Saturday, Sept. 27 when the Mules will travel to Collegeville, Pa., to take on another fierce predator with the Ursinus Bears.

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Evan is a media and communication major minoring in creative writing and journalism with a passion for sports writing as well as soccer, being outdoors and spending time with close friends and family. He is eager to continue learning about and tinkering with writing while learning from the talented Weekly staff.

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