Offensive line paves Mount's road to Salem

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Matt Mattox has been a key cog on the Mount Union offensive line for more than one Stagg Bowl run.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com 

By Brian Lester

Offensive lineman Matt Mattox wasn't about to quit playing hard, even with Mount Union on the losing end of the scoreboard in a riveting national semifinal against Mary Hardin-Baylor Saturday afternoon at Mount Union Stadium.

The top-ranked and unbeaten Purple Raiders trailed 28-14 entering the fourth quarter, a stunning score for a team accustomed to cranking out more than 500 yards a game and hanging 50-plus points on an opponent each week.

Yet, even in the most pressure-filled moment of a spectacular season, the senior left guard wasn't thinking about giving up. He and his fellow linemen were thinking about pushing forward and playing hard just as the formidable line has done all season.

"In our hearts, we knew we weren't going to lose that football game," Mattox said. "We weren't thinking about the end of the game. We were thinking about what we could do on the next play. Mary-Hardin Baylor is a very good football team, but we weren't going to give up."

Mount Union did not. And behind a veteran offensive line, the Purple Raiders scored 34 points in the fourth quarter to secure a 48-35 victory and a return trip to the Stagg Bowl.

It's easy to overlook the line on a team stacked with star power. Quarterback Kevin Burke has thrown for 3,550 yards and 37 touchdowns. T.J. Lattimore has rushed for 1,018 yards and 14 scores.

Jasper Collins and Chris Denton have racked up 84 and 62 catches, respectively, while combining for 27 touchdowns, including 22 by Collins. Four other receivers have made at least 11 catches.

The numbers are impressive, but without the effort of an all-senior starting five, which includes left tackle Antonio Tate, center Mac Knisely, right guard Chris Favazzo and right tackle Jared Modrak, the Purple Raiders would not be the well-oiled offensive machine that they have become.

Mount Union is averaging 558.1 yards per game and Burke has only been sacked 17 times, with four of those coming against Mary Hardin-Baylor.

"Our line has meant a great deal to our success," Mount Union coach Larry Kehres said. "They have been stellar and have really jelled as a unit."

Mattox agrees that the line's unity has been crucial. He also said the willingness of the linemen to give it everything they have on every play has also been huge.

"We have worked really well together and have done a good job of playing as a unit," Mattox said. "The thing about us is that we block hard and play hard until the whistle blows."

Senior backup Cody Forbus, Chris Favazzo and Mac Knisely line up for a play in Saturday's fourth quarter.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com 

Mattox is a two-time All-Ohio Athletic Conference selection and is in his third year as a starter.

Tate was a D3football.com second-team All-American last year and is a two-time All-OAC pick as well. The senior has also been named the league's top offensive lineman for the second consecutive year.

Knisely was an honorable mention All-OAC pick last year while Modrak and Favazzo are former defensive players who have made a smooth transition to the offensive line.

Mattox isn't surprised everything has come together for the line as the Purple Raiders have marched through another unbeaten regular season and will take aim at capping a perfect playoff run this week when they battle St. Thomas in the national championship game on Friday night in Salem, Va.

"We worked very hard in the offseason," Mattox said. "We worked a lot on our blocking techniques and focused on getting in the best shape possible. It's great to see all of our hard work pay off."

Kehres said the approach offensive line coach Geoff Dartt has taken in preparing the line each week has been one of the key improvements from a year ago.

"He has simplified everything and it has helped in making the line play more consistent," Kehres said. "I think we are playing a lot more consistent up front this year and we don't make a lot of mistakes. We have been beaten on plays but it hasn't happened often. And when we do make mistakes, we have found a way to correct them quickly."

The line is tested every day in practice as the Purple Raiders feature one of the top defenses in the country. That should bode well for Mount Union this week as Kehres said St. Thomas looks a lot like his team from a defensive standpoint.

"They are a lot like us," Kehres said. "Their defense is very quick and physical and they do a good job of pursuing the football. We are definitely going to be challenged."

Mattox is ready for it. He has waited all season for the opportunity to play for a national championship game, and after coming up short the last three years, he is determined to go out on top.

It's why he continued to make blocks and do everything he could to put Mount Union in a position to rally for a win over the Crusaders in an exhausting game on Saturday.

"We've been working for this all year," Mattox said. "Winning a national championship is very important and we want to finish the job this time."

Maintenance in progress.
Dec. 9: All times Eastern
Mount Union 43, at UW-Oshkosh 40
Box Score Recap Recap Photos
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, Brockport 0
Box Score Recap Photos
Dec. 15: All times Eastern
Mount Union 12, at Mary Hardin-Baylor 0
@ Salem, Va.
Video Box Score Recap Photos