The Muhlenberg Football team clinched its first outright Centennial Conference Championship since 2008 with a convincing 52-7 victory over rival Moravian this past Saturday. With the win, the Mules finished the regular season with an undefeated record and drew a first-round home playoff matchup against MIT this coming Saturday, Nov. 23.
Once again, the Mules dominated both sides of the ball throughout the course of the game. Michael Hnatkowsky ‘21 continued to shine, throwing the ball, adding five more touchdown passes and breaking his own record for most touchdown passes in a single season, a mark that he set last year. Tight ends Ryan Curtiss ‘20 and Chris Hillburn ‘20 caught two apiece, while wide receiver Nick Ugarte ‘21 hauled in one. The Mules also found success on the ground, as they rushed for 167 yards. Mark Riggio ‘20 and James Diggs ‘21 each found the endzone with a rushing touchdown.
The Mules finish the regular season averaging 41.9 points per game to lead the Centennial Conference. Wide Receiver Max Kirin ‘20 credits the experience of the offense as well as great team camaraderie as contributing factors to the offense’s ongoing success throughout the season and their ability to generate big plays.
“Our offense is a very experienced group. Most of us have been playing together as a unit for almost three years now, and our chemistry and experience is really what makes us so great,” Kirin said. “We were able to make lots of big plays against Moravian, and those are the kinds of plays that we pride ourselves on making each and every game. We work hard and push each other during the week and know how to get the most out of each other, which has allowed us to be very successful so far this season.”
Defensively, the Mules allowed only seven points to Moravian and limited the Greyhounds offense to only 150 yards of total offense. Muhlenberg’s defense finished first in the Centennial, limiting opponents to just 11.7 points per game as well as finishing second in allowing 270.9 yards per game to opponents. Joseph O’Hagan ‘20 stated that the Mules defensively have continued to play at a high level throughout the season thanks to trust amongst the unit as well as their ability to execute their assignments on a weekly basis.
Even after allowing a second-quarter touchdown to the Greyhounds that trimmed the Mules’ leads to just a touchdown, the defense regained their composure and kept Moravian out of the endzone for the remainder of the game. “We have a tremendous amount of trust on the defensive side of the ball,” O’Hagan explained. “Each guy continues to do their job each and every week. If you play on the Muhlenberg defense, you know the guy to the right and left of you is gonna do their job every down. It showed during the Moravian game when we gave up a touchdown and then settled in and shut them down for the rest of the game. We all came together, dug in and did our jobs.”
Prior to the game, the team’s 25 Seniors were honored as part of Senior Day as the Class of 2020 played their final regular season game at Scotty Wood Stadium. The senior class has won 38 games over the past four years, breaking a school record. Kirin recognizes the high expectations his past teammates set as well as the rich football tradition at Muhlenberg as motivating factors to play winning football each year.
“Being a part of the winningest class in program history is very special,” Kirin said. “There have been so many talented players and teams that have done great things for the Mules over the years, which makes it all the more special. The older guys we played with early in our college careers set great examples for us on how to win and carry on the Muhlenberg tradition, and we owe so much to them.”
Head Coach Nate Milne attributes the Class of 2020’s daily effort and leadership as well as their positive impact on their younger teammates as an important ingredient for the Mules’ undefeated season.
“Seniors are the foundation of your program. They make everything go. This group of seniors [competes] really hard everyday in practice. That shows everyone else on the team what our expectations are,” Milne made clear.
While the senior class set the record for most wins in program history, they accomplished an even loftier goal in winning an outright Centennial Conference Championship. Holding the Centennial Conference trophy at midfield was a monumental moment for the Mules. O’Hagan exclaimed that “it was a dream come true” to celebrate at midfield with the rest of his teammates, since the senior class “has been talking about this moment for the past four years and have worked so hard to get here.”
The Mules will now turn their focus towards a first-round home playoff game against MIT, the winners of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC). MIT will be one of Muhlenberg’s toughest opponents they face this season, as the Engineers have played at a high level throughout the course of the regular season. This is also the Mules’ first non-conference opponent since the first week of the season. Milne believes that if the Mules continue to play the same way they did during the regular season and execute their gameplan, they will have a great chance of winning.
“Our focus is always internal and making sure we are playing our best,” Milne said. “We will have a unique game plan for MIT. So long as our team understands their reads and keys, we will have a chance to win.”
It’s a win or go home situation for the Mules as they host MIT this weekend in the first round of the NCAA playoffs at noon. If the Mules win, they will take on the winner of the Western New England-Brockport game at Scotty Wood Stadium on Nov. 30 in the second round of the playoffs.