Murray and Defense Move #2 Mount Union Past #9 Wabash in NCAA Playoffs; Raiders in Semifinals for 17th Straight Year
ALLIANCE, Ohio — Junior running back Jeremy Murray (Martins Ferry/Martins Ferry) rushed for 152 yards and two touchdowns, and the Mount Union defense held Wabash to 194 total yards, as the No. 2-ranked Purple Raiders defeated the No. 9 Little Giants, 20-8, in a NCAA Division III football national quarterfinal game at Mount Union Stadium on Saturday.
The Purple Raiders (13-0) advanced to the national semifinals of the NCAA tournament for the 17th consecutive season. Mount Union will play host to No. 7-ranked Wesley (Del.) (12-1) at a time to be determined on Dec. 10.
Wabash, champions of the North Coast Athletic Conference, finishes with a 12-1 record.
The Little Giants were averaging 171.8 yards per game rushing, but Mount Union allowed just 31 yards on the ground on Saturday.
"I would say this was our best game of the year, defensively," said Mount Union coach Larry Kehres. "This late in the season you're facing some outstanding teams, and I thought we played exceptional on defense."
The defense was led by junior defensive back Nick Driskill (Wabash, Ind./Southwood), who blocked a punt, recovered a fumble, had a quarterback sack and forced a fumble.
"We're definitely happy to get to [the national semifinals]," said Driskill, "but our ultimate goal is the final game [the Stagg Bowl on Dec. 16]."
Murray's biggest play of the game was a 46-yard run that got the Purple Raiders out from the shadow of their own goal line, and set up his 17-yard touchdown run a few plays later that put Mount Union ahead 7-0.
"The linemen all blocked well, and the hole just opened up," said Murray of his big run.
The Purple Raiders broke a scoreless tie on their third possession of the game, driving 82 yards in nine plays. Murray, whose 46-yard run got Mount Union out to its own 48, rushed five times for 75 yards on the drive, including the final 17 to the end zone, with 1:13 remaining in the opening period. Senior kicker Tyler Almeida (Elyria/Elyria) added the extra point to give the Purple Raiders a 7-0 lead.
Wabash was forced to punt, and Driskill blocked the kick, setting up Mount Union at the Little Giants' 11. The Purple Raiders couldn't get a first down, however, and Almeida booted a 22-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 10:59 remaining in the first half.
Mount Union extended its lead to 17-0 on a five-play, 47-yard drive late in the second quarter. Murray, again, was the key man on the possession, carrying the ball four times for 30 yards, including a scoring run of 1 yard with 1:11 left in the half. Almeida added the extra point.
The Purple Raiders extended their lead to 20-0 on a 33-yard field goal by Almeida with 13:18 remaining in the third quarter.
Wabash scored its points in the fourth quarter when the Purple Raiders took an intentional safety with 6:59 remaining, and when quarterback Chase Belton ran into the end zone from 4 yards out with 4:31 to go. The two-point conversion failed. Mount Union recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
"We played poorly in the first half," said Wabash head coach Erik Raeburn, a 1991 Mount Union and nephew of Larry Kehres, "and just dug ourselves too deep of a hole."
The Purple Raiders finished with 236 total yards, including 136 on the ground. Junior quarterback Matt Piloto (Rotonda West, Fla./Lemon Bay) was 6-of-8 for 40 yards on the Purple Raiders' first series before leaving the game. Junior Neal Seaman (Louisville/Louisville) was 6-of-10 for 36 yards, and freshman Kevin Burke (Westlake/St. Edward) was 2-of-4 for 24 yards.
Junior wide receiver Jasper Collins (Geneva, N.Y./Geneva) caught eight passes for 61 yards.