December 20, 2003

Johnnies hand Mount Union its first-ever Stagg Bowl loss

More news about: Mount Union | St. John-s

Photo by Todd Allred for D3football.com
Mike Zauhar steps in front of Randell Knapp and doesn't stop until he reaches the other end zone.

By Keith McMillan
D3football.com

SALEM — Mount Union can be beaten after all. It just took college football's all-time winningest coach to do it.

St. John's coach John Gagliardi's 414th victory may have been his most satisfying, and it had to be the most improbable in his Division III coaching career. The Purple Raiders had won the past three national championships and a college football-record 55 consecutive games. But the Johnnies scored on a 51-yard run and a 100-yard interception return in the fourth quarter to win the 31st Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, 24-6 in front of 5,073 fans at Salem Stadium.

"A lot of people outside the program had their doubts about us competing," said Gagliardi Trophy winner and Stagg Bowl Most Outstanding Player Blake Elliott. "Mount Union has been the king of the hill for a long time. They've been pushing off whoever tries to climb it, a lot of times throwing teams off."

"Today we proved Mount Union was not invincible," said linebacker Cam McCambridge, who had seven tackles, three pass breakups and a blocked extra point.

The No. 1-ranked Purple Raiders, now 7-1 in Stagg Bowls, scored first but trailed at the half for the first time since Sept. 22, 2001 against John Carroll. Jake Theis capped a 14-play, 73-yard with a 14-yard touchdown run on the final play of the second quarter. The Johnnies converted a fourth-and-1 on the 26 with 17seconds left, then eschewed a 31-yard field goal attempt into the brutal Salem wind with three seconds to go. Theis took a toss from quarterback Ryan Keating, went down the left sideline behind guard Justin Cass and bowled over Matt Caponi near the goal line. Brandon Keller's point after gave the Johnnies a 7-6 lead at the break.

Keller added a late-third quarter field goal, and the Purple Raiders followed with a three-and-out behind Zac Bruney, one of two quarterbacks who rotated series for Mount Union this season.

Keating connected with Elliott, who touched the ball on just three first-half offensive plays, for a key third-and-10 conversion on St. John's following drive. Elliott, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior wide receiver, then lined up as a tailback and ran for 5 yards to the Johnnies 49. Elliott took his next carry, spun off 6-5, 265-pound Purple Raider defensive tackle Antoine Dillard in the backfield, took off up the middle and was gone. Elliott, who was playing with a pulled hamstring, rambled 51 yards for a score that he capped by diving into the end zone.

"I don't really know what happened," said Elliott of the run. "I think Dillard, No. 91 came and hit me. "He's a big dude. I kind of closed my eyes and spun away. Then I'm 20 yards downfield and trying to run with one leg."

Elliott's run put St. John's up 17-6, but Mount Union had no trouble getting back in the red zone behind quarterback Jesse Burghardt, who started and later returned to the game after leaving with a foot injury.

Mike Miller returned a squib kick 35 yards to start the drive, and Burghardt completed passes of 15 yards to Nick Sirianni, 16 yards to John Healy and 4 yards to Brian Miller on fourth-and-3 from the 5. Burghardt was stuffed by Jeremy Goltz and McCambridge on first-and-goal, and Jeff Strauch was stopped by Cole Deibele and Paul Gans (team-high nine tackles) on second down.

On third-and-goal, the Purple Raiders sent receiver Randell Knapp wide right, lined up against Johnnies corner Mike Zauhar. Knapp, a 1,400-yard receiver who was held to one catch for 8 yards, ran a quick out. Zauhar stepped in front of Burghardt's pass at the goal line and raced a Stagg Bowl-record 100 yards for a score and 24-6 lead with 9:02 left.

"That was just a bad call on my part," said Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, 205-18-3 all-time. "I put Jesse in an impossible position."

Zauhar's touchdown put the Purple Raiders in an unfamiliar position, trailing by two touchdowns or more in the fourth quarter for the first time since 1989.

Bruney and Burghardt each got another shot with Mount Union's offense, but both drives ended with interceptions. Each member of the Johnnies starting secondary recorded a pick as Bruney and Burghardt threw two each.

St. John's outgained Mount Union 338-286. The Purple Raiders came in averaging 50.3 points per game and 541.7 yards.

"The play of their defense really was the key today," said Kehres. "They really had control of us most of the time. You could say a lot of things that happened was poor play on our part, but the more honest answer is it was excellent play on their part."

"The biggest problem we had on offense today was great play by the St. John's defense," Burghardt said.

Burghardt is a member of one of the most successful senior classes in college football history. Mount Union's seniors went 55-1, losing their final game, finishing their careers much like another Mount Union senior class. The seniors on the team which lost 24-17 to Rowan in the 1999 semifinals, the Purple Raiders' last loss, also had a chance to graduate with four championships and no losses.

"Nothing we did today diminishes what Mount Union has done," said Gagliardi. "They've put together an unbelievable streak that's hard to comprehend."

"Mount Union is a classic program," said Elliott. "To beat a team like that? All it takes is 52 guys to believe. The longer we stayed in a game like that, the better it was for us."

The Purple Raiders were gracious in defeat.

"We got outplayed today," said Kehres. "We lost to a team that played an exceptional game. It was a great end to a great season for St. John's."

Indeed it was. Four years ago the Johnnies took the Purple Raiders to the wire, losing the 2000 Stagg Bowl 10-7 on a last-second field goal. This season was already special for the Johnnies, as Gagliardi passed longtime Grambling State head coach Eddie Robinson on the all-time victories list. But Gagliardi was his usual one-liner spewing self when asked if he planned to ride off into the sunset after winning his fourth championship, his second in Division III.

"I don't even know where the hell the sunset is," Gagliardi joked.

Later in the postgame news conference, Gagliardi returned to the same subject.

"I'm not going to go into the sunset because I'll miss all these guys," he said, referring to his players. "What am I going to do? Sit on a park bench and play checkers with some guy who can't hear me?"

"He's peaking," said Elliott. "He's as sharp as he's ever been."

With a stream of well-wishers, autograph seekers and reporters approaching him behind Salem's locker room building after the game, Elliott stood in disbelief.

"Sitting there back in two-a-days in August, you couldn't have drew it up, you couldn't have talked about the way this has all gone down this year."

Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Bridgewater State 34, Fitchburg State 25
Box Score
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Massachusetts Maritime 32, Worcester State 14
Box Score Recap
Final
at Endicott 37, Nichols 0
Box Score
Final
MIT 30, at Maine Maritime 13
Box Score
Final
at Buffalo State 40, Morrisville State 24
Box Score Recap
Final
at Salve Regina 48, Coast Guard 10
Box Score
Final
St. Lawrence 20, at RPI 14
Box Score Recap
Final
at Framingham State 23, Western Connecticut 17
Box Score
Final
at Montclair State 21, Rowan 14
Box Score Recap
Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
Box Score Recap
Final
at Trinity (Conn.) 38, Bates 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Western New England 59, Curry 28
Box Score
Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Colby 9, at Williams 7
Box Score Photos
Final
at Middlebury 40, Bowdoin 3
Box Score
Final
at Amherst 34, Hamilton 0
Box Score
Final
Kean 24, at William Paterson 13
Box Score Recap
Final
at DePauw 66, Hiram 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Franklin and Marshall 45, at Juniata 22
Box Score
Final
at Kenyon 31, Allegheny 7
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
Box Score
Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Lycoming 28, at Misericordia 24
Box Score
Final
at Plymouth State 30, Mass-Dartmouth 14
Box Score
Final
at Husson 35, Alfred State 0
Box Score
Final
at Springfield 28, WPI 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Moravian 24, Dickinson 10
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Denison 45, Wooster 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
Box Score
Final
at St. Vincent 57, Grove City 32
Box Score Recap
Final
at Susquehanna 55, Gettysburg 40
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at King's 21, Lebanon Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Alfred 20, Ithaca 6
Box Score Recap
Final
at Widener 25, Wilkes 23
Final
at McDaniel 30, Ursinus 27
Box Score Recap
Final
at Muskingum 28, Marietta 10
Box Score Photos
Final
at Minnesota-Morris 28, Iowa Wesleyan 27
Final
at John Carroll 42, Heidelberg 14
Box Score
Final
Ohio Northern 16, at Otterbein 10
Box Score Photos
Final
Case Western Reserve 35, at Waynesburg 7
Box Score
Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Rose-Hulman 23, at Defiance 15
Box Score
Final
at Centre 49, Chicago 27
Box Score
Final
at Mount St. Joseph 38, Manchester 19
Box Score Recap
Final
Hanover 49, at Anderson 25
Box Score
Final
at Merchant Marine 55, Rochester 7
Box Score
Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score Recap
Final
Concordia-Chicago 42, at Maranatha Baptist 10
Box Score Photos
Final
Washington U. 36, at Birmingham-Southern 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
Box Score
Final
at Northwestern (Minn.) 38, Martin Luther 20
Box Score
Final
at Eureka 28, MacMurray 13
Box Score
Final
at Westminster (Mo.) 35, Greenville 14
Box Score
Final
Dubuque 30, at Luther 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Monmouth 52, at Lake Forest 6
Box Score Photos
Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Augsburg 49, Carleton 17
Box Score Photos
Final
Bethel 44, at St. Olaf 7
Box Score
Final
at Hamline 42, Gustavus Adolphus 40
Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
Box Score Photos
Final
at UW-River Falls 42, Southwestern 22
Box Score
Final
Simpson 17, at Buena Vista 9
Box Score
Final
at St. Scholastica 49, Crown 13
Box Score Recap
Final
Cornell 46, at Beloit 41
Box Score
Final
at Carthage 27, Augustana 24
Final
Coe 48, at Nebraska Wesleyan 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Wartburg 56, Finlandia 0
Box Score
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
Final
Hendrix 42, at Millsaps 14
Box Score
Final
Illinois Wesleyan 45, at North Park 10
Final
at Macalester 34, Grinnell 0
Box Score
Final
at Ripon 33, Knox 19
Final
Illinois College 40, at Lawrence 15
Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
Box Score
Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
at Geneva 35, Thiel 27
Final
UW-Eau Claire 40, at Wisconsin Lutheran 14
Box Score
Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
Box Score Recap
Final
UW-Stevens Point 44, at Adrian 19
Box Score
Final
UW-La Crosse 41, at Carroll 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Berry 41, Sewanee 3
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Westminster (Pa.) 38, at Bethany 9
Final
Ohio Wesleyan 29, at Oberlin 16
Box Score
Final
at Tufts 17, Wesleyan 14
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Capital 35, Wilmington 21
Box Score
Final
at Southwestern Assemblies 23, Austin 17
Photos
Cancelled
Langston at McMurry
Video Live Stats
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Chapman 19, Trinity (Texas) 17
Box Score Recap
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
Box Score
Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
Box Score Recap
Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score Recap
Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
Box Score Photos
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
Box Score
Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
Box Score
Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap