Graduating class leads the way
Seniors lift Purple Raiders in final collegiate game
SALEM, Va. – Leaving Mount Union after four years without a national championship is something that isn’t fathomable for any player that has played for head coach Larry Kehres.
It’s been automatic. Anyone that has played four years at Mount Union in the last 20 seasons has won at least one national title during their stay in Alliance, Ohio.
The 2012 senior class was 0-for-3, but it’s not as if they hadn’t come close. All three years had ended painfully in Salem, Va. with losses to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Stagg Bowl.
Friday, Wisconsin-Whitewater wasn’t on the opposing sideline. And finally, the 25 Mount Union seniors earned what they had all waited so long for.
Mount Union pulled away from St. Thomas (Minn.) in the second half, en route to a 28-10 victory in the 40th Stagg Bowl. It’s the program’s 11th national championship in 16 appearances, and it’s first since 2008.
It wouldn’t be right if the seniors didn’t contribute on this night. They were almost the only ones on the field for the Purple Raiders. And then some. But that’s what you get when 10 of your 11 starters on offense are seniors. If you win, they are the ones that are going to get it done.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” senior linebacker Chris Diuseul said. “We worked 364 days to get back to this point – waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning, the 6 a.m. lifting, practicing in the snow – it paid off [Friday].”
Senior running back Jake Simon scored two touchdowns – each on 1-yard runs. Senior wide receiver Chris Denton hauled in a 17-yard touchdown catch on a fourth-down play that put the game out of reach. Senior wide receiver Jasper Collins set the Division III tournament record for catches with 43 – including eight for 120 yards against St. Thomas (Minn.).
Those were just the big performers on offense.
Then there was Dieuseul. He blocked a first quarter punt and returned it 13 yards for a score to give Mount Union a 14-0 lead. Incredibly, it was Mount Union’s fourth blocked punt and third returned for a score in the last two weeks. Senior defensive back Isaiah Scott – all 5-foot-8 of him – had a championship-clinching interception. And of course, the team’s leading tackler senior defensive back Nick Driskill did just that with 11.
It’s that word “senior” that helped get sophomore quarterback Kevin Burke through the offseason workouts and the grueling early-morning practices. He had a lot to carry on his shoulders being the only non-senior starter on offense. Looking up at the scoreboard and having seen their 14-0 lead cut to 14-10 in the third quarter was a bit of a wake-up call.
After opening the game with an 82-yard scoring drive, Mount Union’s potent offensive attack was stuffed by a fast Tommies’ defense. An offense that had twice scored 72 points in the postseason was limited to only 82 more yards for more than two quarters of play after its second touchdown of the game.
Most teams might get nervous on a national stage, in a national championship game. But not these guys. Burke wasn’t going to let that happen to his seniors.
“These guys kind of buckled down,” Burke said. “I think those guys looked around and thought ‘this is our last second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter.’ It hits you hard and you have to step up at that point.”
The Purple Raiders weren’t the only ones to realize this senior phenomena. St. Thomas (Minn.) head coach Glenn Caruso credited what Mount Union has accomplished over the years. It’s what he wants his Tommies to become.
“It’s not just that they have great athletes,” Caruso said. “They are able to grow within that program and it shows. A heartfelt congratulations goes to Mount Union and everything that they’ve done. That senior class fought very hard for a long time, and although it hurts us, from our program to theirs, congratulations on all of their achievements.”
And Mount Union should be congratulated. A team that knew it couldn’t go 0-for-4 in Salem. There was no way they were going to be the ones labeled as the first failures in two decades.
That doesn’t happen at Mount Union. Never has, and by the looks of it, probably won't.