Burke helps Mount Union end Stagg Bowl skid as Purple Raiders win national title
SALEM, Va. -- Kevin Burke's two second-half touchdown drives helped Mount Union end a three-year losing streak in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl with a 28-10 victory against St. Thomas (Minn.) on Friday.
The victory gave Mount Union coach Larry Kehres his 11th national title in 16 appearances in the Stagg Bowl, all in the past 20 years. His record improved to a staggering 332-24-3 in 27 seasons.
Burke threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Chris Denton on fourth down late in the third quarter to give the Purple Raiders (15-0) a 21-10 lead. He then directed a 14-play, 87-yard drive for the clinching score with 4:28 to play. Burke completed three third-down passes to keep the drive alive.
The Tommies (14-1), making their first appearance in the championship game, managed only 15 yards of offense in the third quarter against Mount Union's top-rated defense, and couldn't stop the Purple Raiders' top-ranked offense after pulling within four on a field goal in the third quarter.
The Purple Raiders had lost three consecutive Stagg Bowls, and four of the last five, all against Wisconsin-Whitewater as the teams met at Salem Stadium in the season finale for seven consecutive seasons.
The losing streak also left the Purple Raiders' 25 seniors in danger of becoming the first class at Mount Union in 20 years to fail to win a national championship.
Burke, the game's most outstanding player, didn't let it happen. He finished 21 for 28 passing for 222 yards with a touchdown, ran 13 times for 28 yards and avoided turnovers.
The Tommies seemed poised to make it a game down to the wire until the Purple Raiders took command.
Mount Union's offense, stymied for several series, came alive after St. Thomas closed to 14-10 on Paul Graupner's 38-yard field goal midway through the third quarter. The scoring play was set up by the game's first turnover, a fumble by punt returner Denton recovered by Zach Novaczyk at the 27.
The Purple Raiders took over at their 19 and went 81 yards in 12 plays. Burke completed a pass to Julius Moore for 12 yards on a third-and-four and Jasper Collins for eight yards on a third-and-12 from the St. Thomas 25.
Kehres opted to go for it on fourth-and-four as Burke found Denton in the left corner for a TD.
A leaping, fingertip interception by Isaiah Scott at the Purple Raiders' 13 ended the Tommies' attempt to answer, and Burke completed three passes on third down to keep the ensuing drive alive.
On third-and-6 from the St. Thomas 43, Burke passed to Collins, who juked Sean Hamlin after a short catch, turning it into a 38-yard gain. Two plays later, Simon's second 1-yard TD made it 28-10.
The Tommies struggled early, but used a trick play to get on the scoreboard.
Facing fourth-and-10 from the Purple Raiders' 10, they lined up for a 27-yard field goal. The snap came to holder Dan Ferrazzo, who jumped up and ran for the right pilon, diving for a touchdown to make it 14-7 just 1:29 into the second quarter.
The Tommies came close to tying the game when O'Connell found Matt Misiewicz a few steps from the end zone, but the ball glanced off his hands as the drive stalled.
The Purple Raiders took the opening kickoff and moved like a team intent on reclaiming its perch atop Division III football. From its own 18, Mount Union needed just seven plays, the biggest a 41-yard pass from Burke to Jasper Collins, to go ahead 7-0. Simon finished the drive with a short run into the endzone.
Mount Union made it 14-0 after an exchange of punts. The Purple Raiders held again, and when Tommies' punter Garrett Maloney had to jump to catch a high snap, he was swarmed as he tried to punt. Charles Dieuseul blocked it, scooped it up at the 13 and rumbled into the end zone.
It was Mount Union's fourth punt block, and third return for a TD, in the past three games.