The NCAA Football Division-III No. 1-ranked Mount Union Purple Raiders seek its unprecedented 12th national title on Friday when they travel to Salem, Virginia, to take on the No. 4-ranked St. Thomas (MN) Tommies in the Stagg Bowl. The game will be televised on ESPNU and ESPN3 (Spanish version) with kickoff set for 7 p.m. (ET).
Mount Union, which is located in Alliance, Ohio, has been the king of Division-III football for nearly a quarter century. The Purple Raiders have made 19 title game appearances since 1993, winning 11 of those appearances according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
This year’s championship game marks Mount Union’s 11 straight title game appearance though the Purple Raiders have only been crowned champions four times during the current span with the last time coming in 2012 when they defeated St. Thomas 28-10.
Mount Union (14-0) heads into the title game undefeated after beating arch-nemesis Wisconsin-Whitewater last week in the semifinals, 36-6. The Purple Raiders lost to Wisconsin-Whitewater in each of the past two championship games.
“I don’t think people know or understand how hard it is to make a national championship game, and what it takes,” said senior safety Ale Kocheff, the team’s leading tackler with 81, told the News-Herald. “Being at Mount, we always have a target on us, and people want to see us fail. But now we have a chance to redeem ourselves.”
Mount Union really hasn’t been tested all year. The Purple Raiders have the nation’s top offense and defense, averaging 53.6 points and 555.9 yards of total offense while surrendering 7.5 points and 188.3 yards a game.The closest game of the season for Mount Union was a 56-35 victory over Wesley (Del.) in an NCAA quarterfinal game.
Mount Union has trailed once all season, which was 6-0 to Wesley last week.
Senior quarterback Taurice Scott leads a balanced offense that has turned the ball over seven times all season. Scott has the ability to beat teams with his arm or legs, completing 65.7 percent of his passes for 3,192 yards along with 41 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 800 yards on 107 attempts along with 12 touchdowns.
Senior running back Logan Nemeth has topped the 100-yard plateau eight times, which includes 200-yard games the last two weeks. For the season, he has run for 1,737 yards and 27 touchdowns. Junior Tim Kennedy leads the team with 80 receptions while 19 of senior Roman Namdar’s 59 receptions have been for touchdowns.
Defensively, Mount Union is coming a sterling performance against Whitewater. The Purple Raiders’ defense did not allow Whitewater into the redzone and permitted only 48 total second half yards. They also did not allow Whitewater to convert any of their nine third down conversions.
Mount Union is solid up front defensively, led by seniors Tom Lally and Mike Furda. Lally has recorded 18 sacks and 23.5 tackles for losses while Furda has totaled 11.5 sacks along with 15.5 tackles for losses.
A win by Mount Union would give coach Vince Kehres, who replaced his father following Mount Union’s last championship, his first national title. Kehres is 42-2 over the last three season with the only losses coming in championship games.
St. Thomas (14-0) has been nearly as dominant, as the Tommies are ranked second in both offense and defense. Offensively, St. Thomas averages 52.5 points and 529.4 total yards a game. Defensively, the Tommies surrender 9.8 points along with 226.6 yards a game.
St. Thomas is led by senior quarterback John Gould, who has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 2,851 yards along with 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also has gained 256 yards on the ground as well as tallied another three scores.
Junior back Jordan Roberts, who transferred from Division I South Dakota, has run for 1,957 yards and 32 touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Nick Waldvogel has 64 receptions for 798 yards to lead the team.
Sophomore linebacker Steve Harrell leads the Tommies defense with 84 tackles and eight sacks. Senior linebacker Tim McClanahan is second with 73 tackles while senior defensive back Jordan Adams has four interceptions.
St. Thomas likes to get tricky at times, pulling off several fake kicks and punts — like the one below.
The Tommies are playing in the Stagg Bowl for the second time ever, and this marks their seventh playoff appearance (sixth in the past seven years). St. Thomas is 87-13 under the direction of eighth year head coach Glenn Caruso.
“We know that this is a different animal than all the others that we’ve seen,” Caruso told the Associated Press. “We’ve been well prepared by both our league and playoff run, but there’s going to be points in time when you’re not going to get everything you’re used to getting. That’s why you’re playing for a national championship.”
(Photo by Tony Dejak/AP Images)