Big defensive stand carries Wesley by Hopkins 42-37

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Wesley receiver James Okike, who finished with nine catches for 249 yards and two TDs, pulls in a pass in Saturday’s win. (Johns Hopkins sports information photo)

BALTIMORE — By now, Johns Hopkins was ripping off big chunks of yardage seemingly on every other play.

Wesley College’s end zone was only 13 yards away and it was starting to look inevitable that Johns Hopkins would eventually reach it.

But, with the Blue Jays facing a fourth-and-one, the Wolverines’ defense had — perhaps — one last chance to win the game.

Wesley seized that opportunity.

Its defensive front swallowed up Hopkins’ running back Stuart Walters for no gain on the fourth-down run up the middle to preserve the No. 11 Wolverines’ hard-fought 42-37 victory over No. 8 Hopkins in the second round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs at Homewood Field on Saturday afternoon.

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QB Joe Callahan threw for 306 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions against Johns Hopkins. (Wesley College sports information photo)

On a day when Wesley’s offense put up 691 yards, it was the defensive stop with just 1:45 remaining that sent the Wolverines (11-1) to another quarterfinal date with Mount Union (12-0). The contest will be played on Saturday at 1 EDT in Alliance, Ohio.

It will be the Wolverines’ seventh straight appearance in the quarterfinals and their fifth meeting with the Purple Raiders since 2009. Wesley is 0-4 against Mount Union, including a lopsided 70-21 rout in the semifinals a year ago.

But all the Wolverines cared about on Saturday is that they are now 3-0 against the Blue Jays, all in the playoffs.

“We knew that we needed to get off the field, we needed to make a stop,” said defensive end Roderick Caine, who was one of the players credited with the tackle on the decisive stop. “We had an all-out effort and everyone did their job and filled the holes. We were right there to make that stop.”

“I was coming after them thinking they were going to throw the football, to be honest with you,” said coach Mike Drass. “But they (the Wolverines) did a great job getting leverage on that play. There was a minute, 30 left in the game right there and they (the Blue Jays) looked like they were going to milk that clock right out.

“It was just a great feeling,” he said about the stop. “We’re excited to be alive. We’re excited to breath.”

Hopkins still had three timeouts remaining after giving the ball over to Wesley. But, on a third-and-six, quarterback Joe Callahan was able to face a blitz and get off a 10-yard pass to running back Jamar Baynard for the clutch first down.

Wesley just had to take a knee to run out the clock from there.

Callahan shook off three first-quarter interceptions — he had only seven all season before Saturday — to complete 34-of-47 passes for 469 yards with four touchdowns. In the process, he also broke the Division III single-season passing yardage mark with 4,684 yards.

Junior receiver James Okike had a huge game, catching nine passes for 249 yards and two TDs.

The Wolverines, though, had tossed away perhaps 14 points on a pair of red-zone turnovers. The second one, a fumble by receiver Bryce Shade, came at the Hopkins’ five yard line with just 4:18 remaining.

That gave the ball back to a Blue Jay offense that had already scored 20 fourth-quarter points to all but erase a 42-24 Wesley lead with 13:40 on the clock.

Hopkins marched 64 yards on six straight running plays, a Wesley penalty and a short completion.

“To be honest with you, it’s been our offense all year,” said Drass, who is also the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator. “It was good to see the defense step up. That (stop) was huge because the momentum was not in our favor.”

Ironically, when Wesley pulled out a 29-24 playoff win over Hopkins on this field in 2013, it was Callahan and the offense that scored the game-winning touchdown with just 13 seconds remaining.

“I guess it was the defense’s turn to have that nail-biter finish under their belt.” said Callahan. “When DC (Caine) made that final tackle, it was just a sigh of relief. We knew we had to get the first down to seal the game but I’d rather have to go 10 yards than 80 any day.”

Callahan started the game with an interception on an ill-advised lob into the middle of the end zone after the Wolverines reached the Jays’ 14.

“That was an ugly start,” said Callahan, who was sporting several stitches in his forehead after an off-the-field mishap on Monday.

“It’s never good to throw interceptions but when it happens in the first quarter, you still have so much game ahead of you. You can’t sit there and think about it for the next three quarters so you’ve just got to put it behind you and move on. And the team did a great job picking me up.”

Okike, in particular, did a good job of getting Callahan on track.

The 6-foot-3 receiver outjumped a pair of Hopkins’ defenders for Wesley’s first TD on a nine-yard, first-quarter pass. He then pulled in a 60-yard bomb for Wesley’s final TD with 13:40 remaining.

Okike averaged 27.7 yards per catch in the contest.

“He was just making tough catches the whole game today,” said Callahan. “That was really huge for our offense.”

“At first we were playing pretty sloppy,” said Okike. “But at halftime we made a couple of adjustments. I told Joe, ‘If I see it, I’m going to let you know.’ I said, just throw the ball and I’ll go get it.”

Extra points

Baynard ran for 123 yards and a TD on 25 carries while also catching nine passes for 60 yards. … Caesar Rodney High grad Alex Kemp had six receptions for 68 yards, with a 40-yard scoring catch just before halftime. He also had a 56-yard punt. … Safety Andre Connally had a team-high 10 tackles with linebacker Samer Manna adding nine stops. … Cornerback DaJuan Lowery had three pass breakups while James Williamson had three tackles for loss. … The previous record for passing yards was set by Linfield’s Brett Elliott (4,595) in 2004.

 

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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