By Wayne Witkowski
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Senior quarterback Nick Palladino of Millstone has achieved many milestones with others ahead for him on Muhlenberg College’s football team.
But he fell short of one Sept. 24 when Johns Hopkins University, which won the game, 30-24, survived a long drive that came up shore for Muhlenberg, ignited by Palladino to Johns Hopkins’ 6-yard line.
“It’s extreme frustration going 0-4 against these guys,” Palladino said, as Muhlenberg lost a battle of NCAA Division III nationally ranked, unbeaten teams to Johns Hopkins for the sixth straight season. “It’s very disappointing.”
Johns Hopkins came in with a No. 9 national ranking. Muhlenberg, which won its first three games, was ranked 24th.
Palladino, a former star quarterback at Allentown High School, completed a flurry of passes in an 86-yard march from the Mules’ own 8-yard line to the Johns Hopkins 6-yard line with 42 seconds left before Palladino threw an incomplete pass into the end zone and then had his next pass into the end zone into double coverage tipped and intercepted.
Johns Hopkins stalled on its next possession and had to punt the ball away. Muhlenberg took possession at Johns Hopkins’ 45-yard line with 18 seconds left. Palladino’s pass into the end zone again was intercepted as the game ended.
Palladino completed 30 of 51 passes for 324 yards, setting a school record with his ninth career 300-yard game. He also had an uncharacteristically high three interceptions. He completed 10 passes apiece to seniors Ryan Delaney and Nick Lamb, who became the first pair of Muhlenberg teammates to reach double figures in receptions in the same game.
When Muhlenberg’s late-game threat ended with a first down series at Johns Hopkins’ 6-yard line, Palladino could not fault his team for throwing the ball rather than handing off to junior Nick Savant, who rushed 27 times for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns — his third consecutive 100-yard game.
“It’s 20/20 hindsight,” Palladino said. “I thought we had them. We’ll see what we could’ve done differently when we look at film.”
Palladino needs to complete two more touchdown passes to tie the Centennial Conference career record of 94 set by Western Maryland College’s (now called McDaniel College) Ron Serminari from 1996-99.
Palladino was denied on four passes that could have gone for Muhlenberg touchdowns when it was held scoreless in the second half against Johns Hopkins.
The most frustrating one of those might have been early in the third quarter when a 7-yard pass was dropped by an open receiver in the end zone and a subsequent 23-yard field-goal attempt went wide right. Palladino deflected any thought that Johns Hopkins seized momentum from there and could not fault his freshman kicker, who had made all three extra points and a field goal before that.
“I don’t think the momentum shifted. Our defense played outstanding in the second half,” Palladino said.
Earlier in the quarter, he had a 27-yard pass into the end zone go off the receiver’s hands, and it was intercepted by Johns Hopkins.
Later in the half, his deep pass to a receiver on a flag pattern was just off his fingertips.
“Win ’em all,” Palladino said to a few Johns Hopkins players as they congratulated him on a great game.
The game started out as an offensive shootout, with the first four possessions resulting in touchdowns and a 14-14, first-quarter standoff. After the Blue Jays took the opening kickoff and scored, Muhlenberg needed only six plays to answer, with Palladino throwing a perfect deep ball to Ryan Delaney to cover the final 37 yards.
After a Johns Hopkins fumble in the second quarter, Savant ran the ball in from 2 yards out to give the Mules their only lead at 21-14.
Freshman Todd Spirt kicked a 28-yard field goal with 1:59 left in the half, extending Muhlenberg’s lead to 24-17. But Johns Hopkins answered with a field goal on the final play of the half to pull to 24-20. Johns Hopkins scored 10 unanswered points in the second half on a 5-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter and a 34-yard field goal with 3:55 left.
Palladino, who has 1,278 career rushing yards, is 34 away from the career record for quarterbacks set by his predecessor, Dan Deighan.