They say all good things must eventually come to and end. Unfortunately for the Mules, the end to their previously undefeated season came on Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, MD.
Despite a valiant comeback effort in the second half, the Muhlenberg football team was handed its first loss of the 2018 season by Johns Hopkins University, by a score of 27-16. The Mules trailed 21-0 at halftime, not looking like the dominant offense that had won 10 consecutive games dating back to last season and had torn through Centennial Conference play since the beginning of this season. However, they played much better football in the second half, and despite ending up on the losing end, they definitely made it a much more competitive game in the last thirty minutes, outscoring the Blue Jays 16-6 in the half.
“We really just went into halftime and realized that we weren’t playing Muhlenberg Football, so we made sure that when we came out in the 2nd half we would play our brand of physical football,” said running back James Diggs, ’21, who ran the ball ten times for 32 total yards on the ground.
The loss to a Hopkins squad that entered the game with one loss on the season definitely was not the result the Mules were looking for. However, instead of feeling disappointed and dejected over the loss, the team plans to use their loss as motivation for next week and throughout the remainder of the season. This optimistic approach to the season has been consistent throughout the entire football program all season, which is a primary reason for their position at the top of the Centennial Conference standings.
“This past week’s loss against Hopkins will help us I believe moving forward, said quarterback Michael Hnatkowsky, ’21, who threw for 278 yards and a touchdown, despite also throwing four interceptions. “It was a tough game and one that we felt we did not play our best in and that is what stings the most. We will bounce back and play hard for these next two weeks and whatever we are given after that.”
Now that perhaps the most anticipated game of the team’s schedule has come and gone, the team will turn its attention to its upcoming game against the Gettysburg Bullets, which also marks the final home game of the Muhlenberg regular season. With a number other than zero now staring at them in the loss column, it might be easy for the team to put the immense amount of pressure of being undefeated behind themselves as they continue fighting for playoff and bowl consideration. However, like it’s been all season long, the team is going into this game with the same winning mindset as always, with the goal of playing, as the players like to simply put it, ‘Muhlenberg football.’
“We treat each game no different then the previous. We are going to go out and play this game like we played the first game and every game after that,” said Ryan Curtiss, ’20, who caught 3 passes for 36 yards in the loss in Baltimore. “There is pressure for us to win to be able to have a chance for the playoffs, but we will not overthink it. We will play our game like usual.”
Hnatkowsky added that although each game on the schedule is important, the team is just going to focus on one game on a time in order to optimize the chances of success for the football program.
“I think we have done a good job really not looking to far ahead this season and really treating each game with much importance,” said the sophomore signal caller. “I expect that we will continue this and we will just worry about Gettysburg this weekend and then focus on Moravian the following week. As the season grows, the games start to mean more, but I feel that we do a good job as a whole team just staying within ourselves.”
When it comes down to wins and losses, the Mules have definitely proven to be one of the top teams in NCAA Division III football throughout this season. However, what most do not see aside from the scoreboard and the standings is leadership. No matter the result of each game, the Mules have maintained a marvelous leadership quality spanning everyone in the football program. The players take pride in being there for each other, both on and off the field, and they are truly positive models of what it means to be a Muhlenberg student-athlete.
“Everyone on the team respects each other not only as teammates but as brothers,” said Diggs. “We feel like football is one big brotherhood that respects everyone on campus for who they are and what they represent the same way that we respect each other. It’s an honor to be able to be a part of something as special as the Muhlenberg Football team and representing the program each and every time we suit up.”
The quarterback of the team, usually regarded as the go-to leader of a football program, nonetheless recognizes the importance of playing team football and embracing the team culture of the school’s football program. After all, when the games are done and the scoreboard is shut off, it’s ones teammates that will always be there for them no matter the results on the field.
“Being a football player at Muhlenberg College is truly special,” says Hnatkowsky, the Mules’ starting quarterback since 2017. “We are given great opportunities as students to receive a great education and then we follow that up by receiving great coaching and mentoring by our peers. We all learn from each other in every aspect of life. We learn how to do things the right way and the older guys throughout my time here so far have done a great job really emphasizing what is right and what is wrong. This team I feel has been so successful because of this and because we really treat each other like brothers. We demand a lot from each other and this is what I have noticed about this team. We get on each other about doing the right thing and we know when to get on somebody when they did wrong and know when to help someone up when they are down. Being part of this team is truly a special experience.”