Scaling Mount Union
St. Thomas (Minn.) faces tough task in national title game
Last Updated - December 13, 2012 11:53 GMT
For the past seven seasons, filling in the participants for the Division III football championship game ahead of time was easy.
Wisconsin-Whitewater vs. Mount Union
The Warhawks and Purple Raiders met in the Stagg Bowl every year, creating one of the more underrated rivalries in college athletics. Whitewater won four of the seven games, including the last three.
So here we are, on the eve of yet another Stagg Bowl, getting ready for an eighth national title tilt between these two Division III powers. Mount Union and Wisconsin-White … Wait, what? That’s right. It’s different this year.
Well, at least half of the equation is.
Wisconsin-Whitewater didn’t even make the Division III tournament field of 32, which means we were guaranteed some new blood in Salem, Va. for the first time since 2004.
In its place steps St. Thomas (Minn.), which will make its first national championship game appearance in place of the Warhawks. Its task? A tall one. Beat a Mount Union team that is making its 16th trip to the title game, and is the owner of 10 national titles.
But even if you take all of that history out of it, it won’t be easy for the Tommies. Mount Union has run roughshod through Division III en route to a 14-0 record in 2012. The Tommies own that same perfect record, just not the same gaudy statistics.
The Purple Raiders are No. 1 in the nation in scoring offense (54.6 ppg), rushing defense (46.1 ypg), total defense (179.6 ypg) and scoring defense (8.9 ppg).
You read that correctly. Mount Union is outscoring its opponents by an average score of 55-9. The Purple Raiders kept opponents scoreless for 377 consecutive minutes during a stretch of the season that included a Division III record streak of six consecutive shutouts.
While the defense has done its part for a majority of the season, the offense has turned up the dial to warp speed in the first four rounds of the postseason, scoring 72, 55, 72, and 48 points. All sorts of Division III tournament records have been broken along the way, including wide receiver Jasper Collins, who has 675 reception yards and caught nine touchdowns – both playoff records.
Not bad for an offense that is led by a sophomore quarterback, Kevin Burke – the nation’s No. 1 rated passer.
The scariest part of all – the numbers were even better before last week’s semifinal game against Mary Hardin-Baylor. A game in which the Purple Raiders allowed 35 points and trailed with under four minutes to play. Yes they won, but it gives St. Thomas (Minn.) some hope.
Tommies head coach Glenn Caruso had a simple way of describing Mount Union.
No one will tell you St. Thomas (Minn.) doesn’t belong in Salem to take on the Purple Raiders for the first time in school history. Only Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union have more wins since 2009 than the Tommies’ 50. The Tommies are ranked 16th in the nation in defense (278.3 ypg) and 23rd in the nation in offense (464.9 ypg).
The Tommies are led by a sophomore quarterback of their own, Matt O’Connell. He’s thrown for 2,655 yards with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and is also the team’s second-leading rusher with 795 yards and another five touchdowns.
There’s just one more piece of the history puzzle for Mount Union that will come into play Friday night. With 25 seniors on the roster, it’s this group’s last chance at a first national title. Something that was hard to envision when they arrived in Alliance, Ohio. This senior class would be the first in 20 years not to win a national championship at Mount Union.
“It shouldn’t be about winning a title to be considered a success,” Mount Union head coach Larry Kehres said. “How can you say that something is wrong if you win every game but the last one? But after all these years, it has become that for each class: To get a ring is the goal.”
Even though Kehres has been at Mount Union for 27 seasons, in some ways no matter who wins Friday night, the celebration will feel like the first time to almost anyone on the field.