Senior Joshua Barnett celebrating during last weekend's game. Photo courtesy of Muhlenberg Athletics

In a game with huge conference and playoff implications, the Muhlenberg football team showed up big and beat conference rivals, the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays, 21-6 on Friday night. The Mules (5-1, 4-1) came in ranked 21st in Division III, while Hopkins (5-1, 4-1) sat at 14th. The Blue Jays also entered as the top-scoring team in Division III, averaging 59.8 points per game. 

The Mules knew they had a tough game on their hands, but they practiced and knew what they were up against. “For the Hopkins game, we focused on a couple of things. The biggest was getting back to our fundamentals. We knew it would be a tough game and felt like the team that did the little things best would win,” said Head Coach Nathan Milne. “We discussed what the atmosphere would be like and prepared very hard in practice that week to make it as game-like as possible.” 

The team came in focused this week— especially the defense who held the high powered offense to six points. “The focus in practice this week was stopping the big play,” said linebacker Spencer Kirin ‘22, who recorded seven tackles. Kirin also created his own big play with a momentum-changing blocked punt that he returned himself for a touchdown. “We knew they were a good team that would move the ball and make plays. If we could stop them from making explosive plays, that would really help our team.” 

Defensive coordinator Kory David made sure his unit was ready for what was gonna be a determined offense. “Our focus was to challenge ourselves to be better on the field and off,” he said. “We wanted to stop the run and make them solely one dimensional. At that point, we wanted to match up our players versus their top guys and control their top ranked passing attack.” 

The defense was clicking all night, holding the Hopkins offense to 384 yards compared to their average of 590.8 and forcing two interceptions and a fumble to seal the game for the Mules. 

The Muhlenberg community also came out strong for the game, with students participating in a “blackout,” a planned theme where everyone must dress in all black, to energize the team and show their spirit. “The energy in the stands was electric. It perfectly displayed the ‘Berg school spirit for what it is: a welcoming, inclusive and engaged community,” said Kyle Ropski ‘22. “Although we may not be able to reach Penn State level with their ‘White Out,’ I believe the ‘Black Out’ was still a positive engaging element that contributed to bringing the community in the stands together better.” 

Teams always feed off the energy around them and this was no different for Friday Night Lights. “The crowd definitely added to the energy of the game. The team fed off their energy all game,” said Kirin. 

The crowd were a vital component in the result of the game, wanting to bring enthusiasm and excitement for such an important game. “The crowd absolutely feeds off of the energy of the players,” said Ropski. “At a small school like Muhlenberg, most of the students can really say they ‘know’ a player on the team. To see [and] hear a classmate on the field adds a personal connection to the game—much more so than at a larger school. These connections between the members in the Muhlenberg community works towards a synergy between all Mules, players and spectators.”    

Even with the win, the Mules are constantly looking to keep improving as a team. “We need to keep our focus on where we can improve as individuals, where we can improve as a group and where we can improve as a team,” said Coach Milne. “We have some older, experienced players, but overall as a team we are very new to college football and have so much room for improvement.” 

Kirin feels the same way. “This game was huge for us, but now it is important that we stay focused and continue working hard.”

David, too, wants the team to keep that same energy both on the field and off the field. “This team has to continue to focus on what has gotten us here and live by our team’s core values. We need to dig in and make decisions with the team and teammates first,” he said. “Over the next month of games, there will be sacrifices that will have to be made to continue this championship climb. We will need to find what we can do in the classroom, on the field, in the weightroom, training room and with whatever else is going in this busy world daily.”  

While obviously happy with the result, the team knows that the season is far from over. Every game left is equally important as the season progresses. “It means that this week’s game against Juniata is the biggest game of the year for our team,” said Milne. “Each game is extremely important and they get bigger and bigger each week.” David knows this team will need to use the momentum from Friday and put that into every game for the rest of the season. “The Hopkins game was exciting and we played well,” said David. “To us, it means we are still in the hunt for our conference and several goals that we have set for ourselves. To do that we have to go 1-0 this week.” 

The team knows that they can win the big games and that will become crucial down this stretch. “The biggest takeaway is the way we were able to win in such a hard fought game. We knew it would be a battle and we would have to play our best game yet in order to win, and we did,” said Kirin. “If we can play like that for the rest of the season, we will be very successful.”

The Mules look to bring their A-game against Juniata College at home on Oct. 23.


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