September 11, 2018
By: Sean Fritz
Muhlenberg football got off to delayed start to its season compared to just about every other team in college football. From Division I to Division III most programs kicked off their regular season over Labor Day Weekend if not before, but not the Mules. They were a week behind with their home opener taking place Saturday afternoon in Allentown, where they hosted Dickinson College (0-1).
There was some turnover in the program from a season ago, a new head coach in particular with former offensive coordinator Nate Milne being named head coach following the 2017 campaign. Of course Milne has a difficult job as is, but an even more important role in moving the program forward after the passing of his predecessor Mike Donnelly, who passed away in October of 2017 from cancer.
The Milne era got underway Saturday afternoon and things got off to a bit of a sloppy start for his offense. Starting quarterback Mike Hnatkowsky is back for the Mules but got off to a slow start, unable to connect with open receivers in the early going as well as an inability to establish the ground game put the Mules offense in a funk where they found themselves trailing 3-0 in the second quarter. After hitting a couple of quick passes you could see Hnatkowsky's confidence growing and his best pass of the afternoon resulted from it when he hit junior wideout Max Kirin on a 38-yarder to take the lead. The second half was all defense for the Mules, making stop after stop and taking advantage of the inexperience of Dickinson's backup freshman quarterback who had come in to replace their starter in the first half. The Mules added some insurance in the 4th quarter with a Mark Riggio touchdown run and that would be it for the afternoon was they won it 14-3.
A strong defensive effort and choppy play from the Dickinson offense proved to bail out the Mules offense who looked a bit rusty compared to what we saw from the unit last year when they averaged 32 points-per-game. I was able to see flashes of it from the offense though, it was just a bit more spotty than I'm sure the offensive minds of the coaching staff would have liked. Hnatkowsky has a big arm and they have some talent on the outside, I suspect the passing game will come as the season progresses. The running game is where they will have to continue to focus though, they struggled to run the ball effectively in the first half and you could tell it affected the passing attack. In the second half, especially late in the 4th quarter, I felt they were dominating the line of scrimmage which is something I feel can benefit them early on in games as far as opening up the passing game specifically with play action. The bottom line was just an overall rusty performance from the Mules offense and a stellar performance from the defense but if they can get both to click in the coming weeks, we'll be talking about another excellent year for Muhlenberg football coming off their 8-3 season last year.