/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. 16: All times Eastern
Final
at Worcester State 42, Fitchburg State 26
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at Ursinus 35, Juniata 28
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Salve Regina 27, at Dean 0
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at Johns Hopkins 37, Moravian 7
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Massachusetts Maritime 34, at Maine Maritime 25
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Wesley 33, at TCNJ 0
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at RPI 31, Western New England 14
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Buffalo State 53, at Morrisville State 48
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at Rochester 14, Alfred State 7
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Stevenson 52, at FDU-Florham 14
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Union 31, at Gallaudet 21
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at Williams 28, Bowdoin 14
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Sewanee 29, at Austin 17
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at Middlebury 30, Wesleyan 27
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at Tufts 35, Hamilton 28
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Salisbury 21, at Kean 13
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at Olivet 37, Aurora 21
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at Amherst 41, Bates 17
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at Trinity (Conn.) 35, Colby 0
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at Franklin and Marshall 43, McDaniel 41
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Montclair State 24, at Southern Virginia 0
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Rowan 41, at William Paterson 14
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Springfield 66, at Mount Ida 20
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UW-Platteville 38, at Hampden-Sydney 29
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DePauw 55, at Hiram 28
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at Alma 45, Benedictine 40
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at Trine 55, Wisconsin Lutheran 7
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at Albion 79, Concordia (Wis.) 7
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Dickinson 24, at Gettysburg 21
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at Wooster 38, Ohio Wesleyan 20
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Thiel 28, at Bethany 13
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LaGrange 39, at Methodist 30
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at Wabash 62, Kenyon 7
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King's 44, at Lebanon Valley 39
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at Martin Luther 42, Iowa Wesleyan 20
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at MIT 31, Endicott 26
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at Alfred 24, Utica 17
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Maryville (Tenn.) 56, at Emory and Henry 46
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Averett 19, at Ferrum 7
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at Catholic 25, Randolph-Macon 20
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Susquehanna 14, at Muhlenberg 11
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at Cortland 31, Hartwick 30
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Brevard 63, at Greensboro 7
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Ithaca 24, at St. Lawrence 13
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at St. Scholastica 48, Westminster (Mo.) 18
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MacMurray 48, at Crown 34
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at Greenville 21, Northwestern (Minn.) 15
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Eureka 48, at Minnesota-Morris 20
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UW-Whitewater 40, at Washington U. 21
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at Widener 34, Misericordia 21
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at Coast Guard 13, Nichols 0
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at Hope 37, Lakeland 35
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Heidelberg 40, at Ohio Northern 21
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Carnegie Mellon 30, at Waynesburg 20
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Mount Union 69, at Marietta 3
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at Centre 52, Hendrix 42
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Albright 21, at Lycoming 17
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Bluffton 32, at Mount St. Joseph 31
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at Franklin 42, Defiance 12
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at Anderson 27, Earlham 16
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SUNY-Maritime 38, at Merchant Marine 31
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Concordia-Chicago 41, at Kalamazoo 29
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at Rose-Hulman 38, Hanover 28
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John Carroll 24, at Baldwin Wallace 21
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at Otterbein 56, Wilmington 28
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Trinity (Texas) 28, at Millsaps 26
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at Buena Vista 39, Central 38
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at Concordia-Moorhead 31, Bethel 7
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St. John's 56, at St. Olaf 7
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Gustavus Adolphus 42, at Augsburg 37
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Coe 35, at Nebraska Wesleyan 25
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Wartburg 40, at Simpson 31
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Elmhurst 23, at North Park 20
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at Huntingdon 41, N.C. Wesleyan 30
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at Hardin-Simmons 55, Louisiana College 10
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UW-River Falls 30, at Missouri Baptist 3
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at Whitworth 53, La Verne 0
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St. Thomas 63, at Carleton 0
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Denison 62, at Allegheny 26
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Lewis and Clark 40, at Pomona-Pitzer 29
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at Wittenberg 34, Oberlin 0
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at Western Connecticut 37, Plymouth State 29
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Washington and Lee 24, at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 14
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Warner at Pacific Lutheran
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Cal Lutheran 28, at Willamette 13
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Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, at Linfield 3
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at George Fox 13, Redlands 10
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at Mass-Dartmouth 51, Westfield State 26
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at Castleton 28, Norwich 14
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at Berry 34, Rhodes 13
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Brockport 38, at St. John Fisher 7
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at WPI 38, Becker 0
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at Adrian 62, Rockford 7
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Frostburg State 33, at Christopher Newport 30
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at Hobart 56, Shenandoah 30
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at Case Western Reserve 42, Grove City 10
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at Davidson 42, Guilford 21
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at Bridgewater 52, The Apprentice School 0
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at Capital 39, Muskingum 28
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at Washington and Jefferson 37, Thomas More 29
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at North Central (Ill.) 26, Illinois Wesleyan 13
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at McMurry 33, Howard Payne 21
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at Dubuque 27, Loras 24
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at Wheaton (Ill.) 37, Carthage 14
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at Texas Lutheran 37, Belhaven 0
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at Carroll 28, Augustana 25
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St. Vincent 31, at Geneva 27
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East Texas Baptist 28, at Southwestern 10
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Pacific at Occidental
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Sep. 16: All times Eastern
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Wesley 33, at TCNJ 0
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at Johns Hopkins 37, Moravian 7
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at Alfred 24, Utica 17
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UW-Platteville 38, at Hampden-Sydney 29
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Mount Union 69, at Marietta 3
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John Carroll 24, at Baldwin Wallace 21
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at Hardin-Simmons 55, Louisiana College 10
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St. John's 56, at St. Olaf 7
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at Concordia-Moorhead 31, Bethel 7
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at Whitworth 53, La Verne 0
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St. Thomas 63, at Carleton 0
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at Wittenberg 34, Oberlin 0
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Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, at Linfield 3
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at George Fox 13, Redlands 10
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Brockport 38, at St. John Fisher 7
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Frostburg State 33, at Christopher Newport 30
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at Case Western Reserve 42, Grove City 10
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at Washington and Jefferson 37, Thomas More 29
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at Wheaton (Ill.) 37, Carthage 14
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at North Central (Ill.) 26, Illinois Wesleyan 13
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