Throughout their long history in NCAA Division III football and their relatively close proximity, the football teams at Washington & Jefferson and Johns Hopkins have never met on the field.
That will change Saturday afternoon, when W&J (8-2) and Johns Hopkins (9-1) meet in a first-round playoff game on the artificial surface of Homewood Field. Kickoff is noon.
One of the more interesting observations about this game is that both head coaches – W&J’s Mike Sirianni and Johns Hopkins’ Jim Margraff – see many similarities with the two teams.
“We can run it and we can throw it,” Margraff said. “We have a lot of the same strengths as W&J.”
Both teams have diminutive quarterbacks – Matt Bliss, a 5-9, 180-pound junior for W&J, and Rob Matey, a 5-9, 185-pound junior for JH – effective wide receivers and a strong kicking game.
The two advantages the Blue Jays have against W&J are at running back and along the offensive line. Jonathan Rigaud, a 5-8, 195-pound senior, has rushed for 1,262 yards and scored 20 touchdowns. The Blue Jays average nearly 38 points per game and the running game has produced 41 touchdowns.
One reason why the Blue Jays running game is so good is that the offensive line averages 6-2 and 282 pounds.
“It’s their offensive line that we have to stop,” said Nathan Melhorn, a safety for W&J. “They get down the field.”
Rigaud, one of 11 players on Johns Hopkins’ roster who played high school football in Florida, was named the Centennial Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
“He’s broken some long runs for us,” said Margraff. “He’s a tough kid.”
Rigaud is one of the players Margraff has been able attract because of the academic excellence of the school. He regularly attends Ivy League camps, where he’s been able to attract athletes with the promise of a great education and playoff football.
“They are an all-round solid offense and a solid team,” said W&J safety B.J. Monacelli. “It’s not going to be easy. We have to stop the run first.”
Matey and Bliss have amazingly similar numbers this season. Matey has thrown for 1,999 yards, 37 more than Bliss, 10 touchdowns to Bliss’ 13 and 12 interceptions, the same as Bliss.
“Matey has been very consistent,” said Margraff, the winningest coach in Johns Hopkins history with a 156-80-3 in 24 seasons. “We’re just looking for more consistency from him. He’s played very well for us.”
W&J’s receivers have 205 receptions, one more than the Blue Jays receivers. Daniel Wodicka leads JH with 76 catches for 728 yards and two TDs. Alex Baroffio is W&J’s best with 74 grabs for 655 yards and five touchdowns.
All things being similar, the Presidents have to find a way to slow the Johns Hopkins line, which is led by two massive junior tackles in Armand Jenifer, a 6-4, 295-pound right tackle; and Vincenzo Bonaddio, a 6-5, 305-pound left tackle. Center Ben Cranston stands 6-0 but carries 255 pounds, and Kevin Quinn and Shawn Reeder, the guards, are 275 and 255, respectively.
One final similarity is the Blue Jays’ no-huddle offense, which mirrors that of W&J. The Presidents average 745 plays per game, the Blue Jays 71.
“Their tempo is something we haven’t seen before,” said Melhorn. “We’ve been trying to simulate it in practice, but it’s hard to do. Coach joked it might take seven hours to play this game.”