/notables/2012/12/mount-union-wins-11th-national-title

Mount Union seniors get their championship

More news about: Mount Union | St. Thomas
Mount Union ended a three-year drought in Salem, defeating St. Thomas 28-10 for the national title.
Photo by Dan Poel, d3photography.com 

By Ryan Tipps
D3sports.com

SALEM -- This class of Mount Union seniors got themselves one kind of first and avoided another kind.

With the specter of being the only Purple Raiders football team in two decades to go four years without a national championship, the senior-laden squad battled its way to the Walnut and Bronze with a 28-10 win over St. Thomas.

Near the end of the fourth quarter, the mood of the stadium changed and the team knew – they knew they finally achieved that elusive goal. After St. Thomas’ final drive, All-American defensive back Nick Driskill stood on the 40-yard line, facing the Mount fans, and pointed to the sky.

Mount Union’s Stagg Bowl XL performance brought them all the way to the top.

“It’s very heartwarming” to be in this position, coach Larry Kehres said to a crowd of fans and players as the team accepted the championship trophy.

The national title was the 11th for the Purple Raiders in 16 trips to Salem.

It was also the first time in eight years that the Division III national championship didn’t feature Mount Union against UW-Whitewater. The Purple Raiders may not have had the chance to avenge their three straight losses against the Warhawks, but that in no way diminished the fulfillment that this team feels.

The spark was lit in the first drive, when Mount Union traveled 82 yards down the field, helped by a 41-yard reception by All-America wideout Junior Collins and capped by a 1-yard run by Jake Simon. But the Purple Raiders’ offensive momentum stalled for a large chunk of the game – though the scoreboard wasn't stagnant.

Late in the first quarter, defensive lineman-turned-linebacker Charles Dieuseul blocked a punt, picked up the loose ball and found the end zone, lifting Mount Union to a 14-0 lead from which it would never need to look back.  It marked the third playoff game in a row in which a blocked punt led to a Mount Union touchdown.

“I was going to score regardless, if I had to drag 20 people in there, I was going to get into the end zone,” Dieuseul said.

He said that practicing punt blocking was part of the team’s routine, and Kehres noted that he’s never hesitated from using his best players on the field in that aspect of the game.

“We practice special teams daily, more minutes probably than a lot of other teams. And we get the dividend of that,” Kehres said. “We’re not afraid to take risks.”

Though Mount Union owned the first quarter, in many ways, St. Thomas commanded the second and third quarters, but often couldn’t convert their spurts of momentum into points. A pivotal point in the game was in the middle of the third, when a flubbed Mount Union punt was recovered by the Tommies. But the Purple Raiders held the Tommies and forced them into kicking a 38-yard field goal. That closed the gap on the scoreboard to four points, injecting new drama into Salem Stadium.

Mount Union responded in the way that Mount Union often does, with forceful conviction. Twice then, the team strung together drives of more than 80 yards and further solidified their lead and the security of a victory.

“We had some flashes of excellence that showed up at times and that pulled us through,” Kehres said. “Our defense was consistent throughout.” (continues below)

“When they got us on our heels,” Tommies coach Glenn Caruso said, “they were able to bring pressure and get home. There were times when we had a decent answer to it, and we moved the ball a little bit. But there were more times that we did not have a good enough answer to it.”

Kehres lauded St. Thomas’ defense and special teams, along with some of the twists they threw in.

“It was a tough game,” Kehres said. “We had our up moments and our down moments. The pressure defense from St. Thomas does that.”

Before Friday night, Mount averaged 62 points a game over the first four playoff tilts. Instead on Friday, they were held to less than half that. The Purple Raiders, which throughout the season averaged 557.71 yards per game, was held to 344 yards.

In their toughest moments, sophomore quarterback Kevin Burke said he and his teammates “kind of buckled down, looked at where they were, and kind of realized this is it.”

“That hits you hard, and you have to step up at that point,” said Burke, who with 222 passing yards was named the Stagg Bowl’s Most Outstanding Player. “We’re not a perfect team by any means, but we got the job done.”

Chris Denton, an All-America wide receiver for Mount, said he and his teammates went in with the intent of always setting its own pace.  Opponents “like to change the game on us,” he said. Mount’s reply is not letting them do so.

Denton hauled in his team’s third-quarter touchdown, a 17-yard strike that might very well have swung the momentum back to Mount after several minutes of pressure from the Tommies. It was fourth down and five yards to go, and Mount could have settled for a field goal. Instead, the Purple Raiders showed what being a championship team is all about.

Experience has helped make this team so good. Only one starter on the offense isn’t a senior, and seven starting defenders are seniors. Collins had some of the game’s biggest receptions and notched his sixth-straight 100-yard game. Running back Jake Simon had 87 yards and two touchdowns. The front five opened some big holes. Strong safety Nick Driskill and cornerback Isaiah Scott made plays.  

Because of what these players meant to him, the effort to bring home a title for the first time since 2008 had a renewed sense of urgency for Kehres.  

He said while it would have been easy for this senior class to get down on itself or angry, this team showed great resolve amid its past three season-ending losses.

“It was a difficult three years, to see the seniors experience loss in the final game I felt for them,” Kehres said. But “this group inspired me. … They were such a dedicated group.”

What do the seniors have to say about it?

Dieuseul answered: “It’s the greatest feeling in the world. We worked all summer long … and all the work we did in offseason ball at 5 o’clock in the morning, 6 a.m. lifting, practices in the snow, it paid off tonight.”

Burke, the only non-senior among the offensive starters, will help carry the momentum and drive into next year. The quarterback who is as dangerous on his feet as he is with his arm offered his secret:

“We just played Mount Union football.”

Sep. 23: All times Eastern
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at Framingham State 50, Massachusetts Maritime 7
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Muhlenberg 56, at Juniata 40
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at Dean 25, Becker 10
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Salisbury 27, at TCNJ 7
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MIT 38, at Catholic 21
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Merchant Marine 56, at Maine Maritime 31
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at Morrisville State 44, Nichols 22
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at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
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at Albright 9, Widener 7
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Christopher Newport 16, at Montclair State 8
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at Westminster (Pa.) 41, Bethany 14
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Middlebury 41, at Bowdoin 14
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Williams 24, at Colby 7
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Amherst 36, at Hamilton 6
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Ursinus 35, at Moravian 17
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Trinity (Conn.) 51, at Bates 0
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Geneva 33, at Thiel 24
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Kean 28, at Southern Virginia 14
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Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
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Union 17, at Curry 14
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Lycoming 44, at King's 41
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Huntingdon 31, at Ferrum 28
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Franklin and Marshall 27, at Susquehanna 24
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 10, Westminster (Mo.) 7
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at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
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at Ohio Northern 35, Otterbein 7
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at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
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Franklin 59, at Bluffton 30
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at Hanover 64, Anderson 21
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Mount St. Joseph 31, at Manchester 14
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Worcester State 34, at Westfield State 10
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Coast Guard 13, at Norwich 9
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Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
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North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
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at Rhodes 35, Birmingham-Southern 9
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at Martin Luther 34, Greenville 20
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at Trinity (Texas) 41, Chapman 35
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at Loras 73, Buena Vista 34
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at Gustavus Adolphus 51, Hamline 7
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Augsburg 48, at Carleton 28
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at Bethel 64, St. Olaf 7
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at Luther 21, Dubuque 17
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at Central 52, Nebraska Wesleyan 27
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Simpson 38, at Coe 33
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Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
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St. Norbert 66, at Grinnell 13
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at Knox 13, Ripon 6
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at MacMurray 32, Iowa Wesleyan 14
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Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
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Southwestern 37, at Louisiana College 34
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Monmouth 26, at Macalester 0
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at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
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at Springfield 42, WPI 10
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at Cornell 55, Beloit 36
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at Brockport 28, Utica 14
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at Hartwick 24, St. John Fisher 21
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at UW-La Crosse 41, Carroll 6
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at St. Scholastica 37, Minnesota-Morris 3
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at George Fox 44, UW-Eau Claire 0
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at Western Connecticut 37, Salve Regina 23
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at UW-Stevens Point 41, Adrian 28
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at Wesleyan 24, Tufts 17
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at Berry 28, Centre 14
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at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
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at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
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at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
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Carthage 55, at Augustana 14
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Chicago 28, at Illinois College 7
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Lake Forest 42, at Lawrence 26
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Arizona Christian 56, at Whittier 38
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6:30 PM
Shenandoah at Randolph-Macon
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at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
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Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
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at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
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Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
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Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
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at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
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at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
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Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
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at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
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Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
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North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
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Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
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at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
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at Brockport 28, Utica 14
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at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
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at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
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at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
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