Mules Shut Down Jackets

The Muhlenberg defense limited Randolph-Macon to just 98 total yards.
The Muhlenberg defense limited Randolph-Macon to just 98 total yards.

Record-setting performances on both sides of the ball highlighted a historic day as the Muhlenberg football team defeated Randolph-Macon, 35-6, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The win sends the Mules – who tied a school record with their 11th win of the season – to the national quarterfinals for the first time ever. Muhlenberg (11-1) will travel to top-ranked Mount Union, the defending national champion, next Saturday in the Round of 8.

Muhlenberg needed only six plays after the opening kickoff to score its first points but gave the touchdown back after turning the ball over twice in its half of the field.

From there, the defense took over, holding the Yellow Jackets' running attack, which came in averaging 249.5 yards per game, to 21 yards on 29 attempts. The visiting team did not have a run of longer than 7 yards, and had only two plays of more than 10 yards.

After scoring its touchdown with 5:49 left in the first quarter, Randolph-Macon (9-3) did not take another snap in Mule territory until the fourth quarter and finished the game with just 98 yards of total offense.

Junior Frankie Feaster led the defense with a monster game, recording four sacks among his 7½ tackles for loss – the most by an NCAA football player at any level this season. Feaster's four sacks gave him a school-record 17½ on the season.

Sophomore Nick Sirico also made history, putting a stamp on the win by returning an interception 74 yards for a touchdown for the final points of the game. Though not nearly as dramatic as his last-minute game-winning pick-six at Delaware Valley last week, it made Sirico the first Muhlenberg player to return interceptions for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks since 1947*. It was also the school-record fifth pick-six of the season by the Mules.

Sophomore Michael Hnatkowsky threw for 153 yards and three touchdown passes, breaking two school records. The 153 yards gave him 3,012 for the season, making him the first Mule to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark (the previous record was 2,998), and the three TDs gave him 30 on the season, topping the old mark of 27 that he tied last week. Hnatkowsky also went over 5,000 yards for his career in just his second season.

Sophomore James Diggs rushed for 105 yards on 17 carries for the first postseason 100-yard game by a Mule since 2007.

Hnatkowsky was 4-for-4 on the opening drive, capping it off with an 11-yard touchdown pass to junior Ryan Curtiss just 2:23 into the game.

Feaster's first sack led to a punt on the Yellow Jackets' first drive, but Muhlenberg fumbled the punt near midfield. After the defense held and forced another punt, Randolph-Macon got the ball back on an interception two plays later.

A pass interference penalty in the end zone on third down put the ball on the 2, and the Yellow Jackets scored on the next play, although freshman John Washington blocked the extra point to keep the Mules in the lead.

Muhlenberg responded with a 12-play scoring drive that consisted of all runs – eight by junior Mark Riggio, three by Diggs and one by senior Josiah Lawrence-Wright, who reversed field for an 18-yard pickup to the 2-yard line. Diggs scored his 12th touchdown of the season on the next play.

Late in the second quarter, the snap on third-and-goal went high, but Hnatkowsky retreated and picked up the ball on one hop, then scrambled before finding sophomore Nick Ugarte for a 3-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-6.

Junior Max Kirin caught his 10th touchdown pass of the season to cap Muhlenberg's opening drive of the second half.

The win, combined with Johns Hopkins' 58-27 defeat of Frostburg State, gave the Centennial Conference two teams in the quarterfinals. Prior to 2018, the CC had only sent two teams to the quarters in its entire history.
Kyle Wilczynski scored touchdowns on interception returns in back-to-back games in 2015, but the Mules had their bye in between the two games so it was not in back-to-back weeks.