|Mitch Doraty (52) and Brooks Jenkins (56) earned first-team All-Region honors while leading Mount Union's offense to over 500 yards per game.
Mike Dear for d3photography.com
By Brian Lester
Mount Union's offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage in Saturday's 70-45 win over Alfred in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA playoffs, a stark contrast to the performance a week earlier against Johns Hopkins.
|Senior Mitch Doraty is a three-year starter and two-time All-Region selection at center.
By Dan Poel, d3photography.com
The Purple Raiders rolled up nearly 200 more yards of offense (573 compared to 381) – and that total included 100 more rushing yards (322) than it compiled the previous week.
So what was different about this past week?
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"I thought we came out aggressive right off the bat, and we just seem to continue to get better," left tackle Brooks Jenkins said. "We also seemed to be a lot more comfortable and I don't feel as if we got off to a slow start this week."
Mitch Doraty, the starting center and a team captain, said consistency helped Mount Union's cause as the Purple Raiders punched a ticket to the semifinal round for the 22nd consecutive year.
"We took Alfred very seriously and I thought we were consistent in our effort," Doraty said. "Plus, I think the further you go in the playoffs, the more you realize how important it is to be prepared. It's one-and-done in the playoffs and we didn't want our season to end."
Perhaps just as important as motivation and the eagerness to come out more aggressive is the fact that the offensive line of the Purple Raiders continues to grow more accustomed to having freshman quarterback Dom Davis under center.
Davis didn't become the go-to guy at quarterback until the sixth week of the season as Luke Poorman and D'Angelo Fulford handled the majority of the snaps during the first five weeks. Poorman and Fulford both suffered injuries, which opened the door for Davis.
Davis has started every game of the playoffs and managed to throw for 251 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 108 and one score in the victory over Alfred.
"He has really embraced that role and if you watched him on the field, you'd never be able to tell he was a freshman," Doraty said.
Jenkins is equally impressed with the play of Davis and said the biggest adjustment he and his fellow linemen have had to make with Davis in the backfield is being prepared to protect a quarterback who loves to extend plays with his ability to run.
"Compared to our other quarterbacks, Dom runs the ball a lot more and so we have to be able to stick to our blocks," Jenkins said. "We can't be lazy with our blocking. Our coach always tells us to block until the whistle blows."
Doraty and Jenkins have been the cornerstones of an offensive line that has helped the Purple Raiders crank out more than 500 yards per game, including an average of 265.7 yards per game on the ground. Running back B.J. Mitchell was recently named the North Region Offensive Player of the Year, in no small part thanks to the veteran linemen paving the way.
"Our coaches always say the success of the offense starts up front," Doraty said. "We want to be the guys that get the momentum rolling and be the part of the team that can be relied on no matter what."
Mount Union has certainly been able to count on the offensive line so far and part of that success is a credit to the depth at the position.
"As a unit, we are one of the deeper positions on the team," Jenkins said. "Our starting five is solid but the next five guys behind our starters are just as good. We rotate a lot of players in during practices and games and we feel comfortable with any of the players we have out there."
The leadership Doraty and Jenkins provides is instrumental to the success of the line as well. Their experience counts a great deal, too, and it's part of the reason the Purple Raiders enjoyed success in their win over Alfred.
"We have a younger team but we have some guys who have been here before," Doraty said. "With the experience Brooks and I have, we can help keep everyone level-headed when something doesn't go right because we've been in those situations. We also know what to expect when it comes to preparation for a playoff game."
Jenkins said the experience factor aids him in the way he plays the game each week.
"I feel like I go out there and play a lot more aggressive," he said. "I also do a better job of reading defenses and seeing how defensive linemen move their feet and what their tendencies are."
That experience will mean everything this week as the Purple Raiders take aim at a second consecutive national championship. Standing in the way of Mount Union is No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor, the favorite to win it all.
"Mary Hardin-Baylor has a great defense, so we know it's going to be a challenge for us, but we're ready for it," Doraty said. "We'll pick up as much as we can about their tendencies and stuff on film and try to be a step ahead of them. We know we're going to have to run the football well to be successful."
Jenkins said the Purple Raiders will stick to the same practice routine they have all season and said matching the aggressiveness of the defensive line of the Crusaders is vital to their success.
"They are a very talented and very physical team. We have to be just as aggressive. We can't play soft," Jenkins said. "We have to play our best game if we're going to move on."