Football Picks Off Diplomats in CC Opener

Saturday, September 10, 2011
 

Soccer, field hockey Volleyball

J.T. Merklinger
Merklinger’s two rushing touchdowns equaled his career total entering Saturday’s game.
They call themselves the “1-2 punch,” and on Saturday afternoon the running back tandem of Terrence Dandridge, who wears uniform No. 1, and J.T. Merklinger, who sports No. 2, was more than enough to help the Muhlenberg football team knock out Franklin & Marshall, 34-13, in the Centennial Conference opener for both squads.

The duo combined for 126 yards on the ground and four touchdowns, two for each, as the Mules scored their most points against the Diplomats since 2003.

“This was a total team effort,” Merklinger said. “The defense put us in good spots all game, and the offensive line did a great job for me and Terrence. This was a solid game all around, and it feels good to start the conference season off with a win.”

While the offense did its part, Muhlenberg’s defense continued to come up with big plays. The Mules picked off four passes and sacked F&M quarterbacks seven times, including three from senior Victor Taiwo, to give the offense good field position all game long.

After giving up a field goal on F&M’s opening drive, Muhlenberg’s defense forced a punt on the second drive that set the Mules up near midfield. Dandridge carried the ball four times for 29 yards, and then freshman Michael Long made a diving, one-handed catch to put the ball at the one.

Four plays later, Merklinger found paydirt to give the Mules a 7-3 lead with one tick left on the first quarter clock.

With a little more than five minutes to play in the second quarter, sophomore Richard Reid gave the Mules (1-1, 1-0) their first turnover of the game, returning an interception 54 yards to the F&M 26.

Two minutes later, Merklinger scored his second touchdown of the game from six yards out to stretch the advantage to 14-3.

Taking over at their own 27 with 3:27 to play in the half, F&M (0-2, 0-1) looked to cut into the lead before the break. But junior Tim Vogel grabbed his first career interception at the Muhlenberg 35 and returned it 19 yards to give the Mules a chance for more points before the half.

Tim Vogel
Vogel added a second interception early in the fourth quarter to go along with a career-high-tying four tackles.

Six plays later, Dandridge scampered four yards for a touchdown with 43 seconds remaining in the half to give Muhlenberg a 21-3 lead at the break.

“You always have to be ready for whenever coach is going to call your number,” said Vogel, who made the first start of his career against the Diplomats. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I’m just glad that I could make a couple plays to help the team.”

But the Mule defense was not satisfied with just two interceptions. With a little more than five minutes to play in the third quarter, senior Andy Curley stepped in front of an F&M pass and returned it 26 yards to the Diplomat 4. It was the first pick of his career and set up Dandridge's 3-yard touchdown run that pushed the advantage to 27-3.

That score awakened the Diplomat offense. F&M scored 10 answered points and appeared poised to get even closer after forcing the Mules into a third-and-11 situation from their own 5-yard line with 6:47 to play.

But junior Dan Deighan hit classmate Isaiah Vaughn near the 45-yard line. Vaughn shook off the defender and turned on the jets that have helped him win five CC track medals to complete the 95-yard touchdown catch.

That play, the longest reception in school history, pushed Vaughn past the century mark for the first time in his career and proved to be the deciding blow.

After coming up just short in last weekend’s opener, Merklinger said the Mules were even more fired up to face the Diplomats, who had won five of the previous seven meetings.

“The junior class had never beaten them,” Merklinger said of F&M. “So we really wanted to come out and take it to them today. As an offense, we felt like we let the team down last week, but this week we showed what we can really do.”

Making the first start of his career, sophomore Kory Crichton tied for the team lead with nine tackles, all solo. Senior Patrick McDonough also added nine stops and a career-high two sacks.
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