|Kevin Burke dives for the
two-point conversion, one the Purple Raiders sorely needed on a day
in which kicking was an adventure.
Photo by Dan Poel, d3photography.com
Logan Nemeth came off the bench for a key fourth-quarter touchdown and Mount Union blocked two North Central extra points as the Purple Raiders overcame a special teams miscue and came back to defeat the Cardinals in a snowy mess in Alliance, Ohio, 41-40.
The Purple Raiders returned to the Stagg Bowl for the 17th time, the ninth in a row.
UW-Whitewater joined them with a bruising 16-15 win vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Cru chose to kick a 21-yard field goal to cut the lead to one point with 3:29 to go, rather than go for it on fourth down and try to win it. UMHB didn't get the ball back until the final second of the game.
Mount Union and UW-Whitewater will meet for the championship for the eighth time in nine seasons.
With the Texas wind at their back in the fourth quarter, UMHB was making some headway on field position and started their final drive at the UW-Whitewater 20 with 6:19 left.
On third-and-goal from the 3, Zach Anderson hit Kolby Kelley out of the backfield in the hands in the end zone, but he dropped the ball, bringing up fourth down. After a timeout, UMHB elected to kick the 21-yard field goal, cutting the UWW lead to 16-15.
The Cru (13-1) had led 12-0. UW-W limited UMHB to 59 yards in the second half. Full story.
In Alliance, the Cardinals took a 28-27 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter as Matt Randolph powered into the end zone from 1 yard out. Later in the quarter, Mount Union punter Ed Ruhnke couldn't come up with a high snap and Kuczynski recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. But the Cardinals failed to convert on either kick and led just 34-27.
Mount Union (14-0) brought Logan Nemeth off the bench for a little more power at running back in deteriorating conditions, and he ran 25 yards on four consecutive carries, including a 15-yard touchdown. Kevin Burke dove for the pilon for the two-point conversion and a 35-34 lead.
North Central answered, as Spencer Stanek found Peter Sorenson for two big catches, including a highlight-reel grab at the 1-yard line with 1:38 to go. Randolph punched it in one play later for a 40-35 lead. But Burke led the Purple Raiders back down the field with three quick passes, needing just 31 seconds to find Nemeth, Luc Meacham and Mike Collichio, the last for the touchdown and a 41-40 lead.
With a minute left and two timeouts, Stanek hit Sorenson twice for a total of 29 yards to get the Cardinals to the Purple Raider 30. But the Cardinals could get no further, and with a 47-yard field goal out of the question, Stanek's pass for Sorenson over the middle on fourth down was knocked down, sealing the Purple Raiders' return trip to Salem.
Burke ran for 131 yards and two TDs on 28 carries, as well as the two-point conversion, while also throwing for 163 yards and a score on 12-for-19 passing. B.J. Mitchell added 19 carries for 124 yards and a score for the Purple Raiders.
Sorenson caught 10 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinals. Stanek was just 19-for-37 passing in the snow, for 198 yards and two scores. Randolph got the bulk of the carries, going for 68 yards on 20 tries after Ryan Kent left the game in the second quarter and finished the day on crutches.
North Central ran for 193 yards on Mount Union, 4.7 yards per carry.