Dec. 12, 2009

By Marty Gitlin
Special to NCAA.com

ALLIANCE, Ohio –
It’s cliché to say that every football game has a turning point.

After all, most contests involving Mount Union don’t. The turning point is generally when its opponent shows up.

But its 24-7 defeat of plucky Wesley Saturday in the NCAA Division III semifinals had a distinct turning point. It occurred with 7 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the Purple Raiders hanging precariously to a 10-7 lead. Wolverines quarterback Shane McSweeny dropped back to pass, but was sacked and stripped by defensive end James Herbert. Linemate Matt Williamson fell on the ball at the Wesley 8-yard-line.

Mount Union soon scored a touchdown for a 10-point lead and breathing room. And Herbert, who finished with seven tackles, including two for losses, explained his heroism following the game.

“I wanted to get off the ball,” he said. “I tried to jump the snap because I knew the cadence and I knew we needed a turnover. I ran to the quarterback’s blind side. I made a mental note that if I came in from the blind side, that I should try to knock the ball away and that’s what I did.”

The play seemed to inspire the entire Raiders defense. It had performed well up to that point, but turned ferocious down the stretch. Particularly disruptive was defensive tackle Lambert Budzinski, who followed up his four-sack game a week ago by recording two-and-a-half more Saturday. Oddly, those were his first sacks of the year.

“I’m getting an opportunity to stay on the field and play for the best defense in the nation,” Budzinski said. “I’d like to say it’s because I’m an exceptionally gifted athlete, but that’s not the case. I’m just taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.”

Sam Kershaw (eight tackles, two interceptions) also played well for the Raider defense.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD: Mount Union and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater will compete in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on Saturday for the fifth consecutive time. The Purple Raiders won in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

That marks the first time any team has made five straight appearances since Augustana achieved the distinction in the 1980s.

STILL DARN PROUD: Wesley was on the short end of two far more lopsided semifinal defeats to UW-Whitewater in the last five years, but coach Mike Drass took an interesting view when asked to compare his feelings after those games and today’s loss.

“It’s a worse feeling now because the Whitewater games were over in the first seven minutes,” he said. “This one, we had a shot and we didn’t take advantage of it.”

CLOSE TO THE VEST: Mount Union coach Larry Kehres admitted that he played not to lose offensively in the second quarter after starting quarterback Kurt Rocco was knocked out of the game.

“We played the second quarter conservatively,” he said. “We wanted to get out of that half. We had a 10-point lead and that’s a good lead when you have the defense that we have.”

The strategy didn’t work out quite as well as Kehres would have liked, however. The Purple Raiders didn’t move the ball well on the ground against Wesley, which boasts the third-ranked Division III defense in the country. But his shift of wideout Cecil Shorts to Wildcat quarterback played out ideally.

LONG TIME COMING: When placekicker Herm Timmersjo booted a 28-yarder through the uprights to give the Purple Raiders a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, it marked the first time they had kicked a field goal since a victory over Otterbein in the ninth game of the regular season five weeks ago.

Timmersjo took over for Jay Carpenter in that spot today, though the latter did serve as the punter and performed well.