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Mt. Union wins Stagg Bowl over UW-Whitewater, 35-16;
Ninth D-III Championship since 1993
Salem, VA - For the ninth time since 1993, the Purple Raiders of Mt. Union College won the Division III National Collegiate Football championship at the Stagg Bowl in Salem, VA, by defeating the Warhawks of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 35-16, in a rematch of last year's finale. Both teams entered the championship game undefeated at 14-0. Unlike last year's game, however, where the Warhawks challenged the Raiders in the fourth quarter nearly overcoming a 28-7 deficit only to lose, 35-28, they challenged the Purple Raiders (15-0) throughout the first half, but eventually could not overcome a big day by Raider QB Greg Micheli, nor a big, scoring play by the Raiders special teams late in the third period. For CFF.com, it was our first NCAA championship game which closed a loop of sorts for us, as we had attended the first-ever Amos Alonzo Stagg playoff game back in 1973 when we saw our future alma mater, Juniata College, defeat Bridgeport U., 34-14, in the four-team play-off system. We enjoyed the experience of championship football on a comfortable, Saturday, December evening in Salem. Once again, it is great to see a college football championship decided where it's supposed to be - on the playing field!
Both teams came in with high-powered offenses and stars. The Mt. Union offense averaging 41.6 points per game was led by RB Nate Kmic's 28 TDs during the season. Whitewater, averaging 35.1, was led by through the air by QB Justin Jacob's 36 TD passes, 17 thrown to WR Derek Stanley. Neither Kmic nor the Warhawks prolific passing combination would figure into the scoring column on this day. It was QB Greg Micheli, who replaced starter Mike Jorris (season 1,783 yards and 22 TD passes) after a 3-0 deficit, who lit up the scoreboard with Three TD passes and a TD run. His stats and leadership earned him game MVP honors.
The start of the game was indicative that it would not be a usual performance for either teams' offensive leaders as UWW's DB Ben Farley stripped and recovered a fumble from Kmic on the game's opening series after a 19-yard run. On the Warhawks very next play, Jacobs was sacked for seven yards. Both defenses were in control until Whitewater drove 56 yards to the Raider seven from where PK Jeff Schebler put up a 24-yard FG for a 3-0 Warhawk lead. The subsequent return by Mt. Union's Justin Wray to the 38 gave MU good field position. Enter Greg Micheli.
On the drive continuing into the second period, Micheli connected with WR Pierre Garcia for a 28 yard pass to the UWW six. On the next play, Micheli started right and reversed pivot to roll left and complete a TD pass to open TE Anthony Antonucci. PK Mike Zimmerman converted for the 7-3 Purple Raider lead. On their next possession, the Purple Raiders converted a first down on a fourth and one at the Whitewater 34. which prompted Guest Game Analyst Eric Koreivo to blurt, "This is a pretty good game." The eleven-year old Pee Wee tackle was seeing some good hitting, exciting plays, and a game being played pretty much on equal terms to this point. At the Warhawks' twelve, Micheli faked an inside hand-off to Kmic before bolting over left tackle, side-stepping a would-be tackler and taking it in for the Raiders' second TD of the period and a 14-3 lead. Whitewater had an immediate answer, however, as returner Jordan Wells got some good blocking before breaking away up the middle for 81yards before being horse-collared by PK Zimmerman at the MU nine. Half the distance was tack on for the face-mask violation. Two plays later, Jacobs took it in from one on a keeper, and within 32 seconds, the Warhawks were back within four, 14-10. Next, Whitewater forced Mt. Union to punt on fourth and 28, and took back over on their own 40. The Warhawks seemed to have momentum building now until Jacobs recovered his own fumble on a third and two at MU's four. They settled for Schebler's 24-yard FG to get within one, 14-13, and that's the way the half would end.
Collegefootballfan.com wishes that the 1-A's would learn more from the lower divisions and keep it simple. Not only are play-offs the only way to truly crown a deserving champion, but we'd also like to see them simplify post-season halftime shows! In twenty minutes, we saw each school's dance team, a very good Salem HS marching band, and a few awards given out. Though we know they're more in the hands of the TV networks and not totally determined by the schools, we dread the half-hour half-time "extravaganzas" at the big bowls with celebrities and casts of thousands! Keep it simple like they did here, especially when, there's no other game on to flip channels to during half-time festivities! We noted two other adjustments for the teams and officials playing in the d-III championship in what we presume is their only televised appearance of the season - TV time-outs and reviews. The refs seemed to forget sometimes that there was a guy in red standing on the field, and neither players, coaches, or officials ever had to wait for a review all season until now. Regarding the first adjustment, as far as we're concerned, there's always too many TV time-outs. Regarding the second, it's good to get it right, but let's be a little more quick (like no one has ever said that before).
Zimmerman squibbed the opening kickoff to avoid Wells. Turnovers and punts by both teams kept the score intact until Micheli fired a short pass over the middle to Garcon on a crossing pattern. The speedster from Florida turned it up along the left sideline and sped 46 yards for a TD to extend the Purple Raider lead, 21-13. UWW seemed ready to respond when Jacobs finally connected with his favorite target, Derek Stanley. The drive stalled, however, at the forty-five, and the Warhawks went into punt formation. It was here that the Raiders demoralized the Hawks a as DB Matt Kostelnik penetrated to block Nick Croak's punt attempt directly into the hands of LB Matt Rees who raced with it 42 yards to the end zone for a more dominant Mt. Union lead of 28-13.
UWW showed a little spark as they responded on the subsequent series with Schebler's 36-yard FG early in the final period. Down 28-16, the Warhawks had a glimmer of hope if the defense could hold and if Jacobs could get his passing game going as he had done in the fourth quarter of last year's championship, Micheli had other plans. He moved his team 63 yards in less than four minutes, capping the drive with an 11-yard out pass to Garcon who leaped high into the air as he crossed the goal line near the right pylon with his arm extended inbounds. Mt. Union led, 35-16. The Warhawks final drive stalled at MU's 33, where the reigning champions took over and consumed the last 7:33 of the game. Fireworks burst from over the scoreboard, the Mt. Union fans celebrated in Salem Stadium for the ninth time, and the Purple Raider players held up nine fingers, indicating that only one more championship would complete full sets for both hands. With Head Coach Larry Kehres, who has been at the helm for all nine, don't doubt that a tenth is far off. Micheli, Kmic, Garcon, Kostelnik, Rees, and Zimmerman, among others, will all be back next year! Let's see if any team can challenge the Purple Raiders in what seems like the annual Mt. Union Invitational! It is truly a great football dynasty.
With a playoff system, Mt. Union is the only D-III school to finish this season with an unblemished record. For CFF.com, like 2004, it's another year where we've witnessed the extremes. Back then, we saw Auburn and Harvard finish undefeated while Central Florida finished winless. This year, Mt. Union was on the undefeated end while Florida International finished 0-12. No matter what division, both indicate extreme feats of greatness and ineptitude. A Mt. Union game has long been something CFF has wanted to do, and we're glad we had the opportunity to see it in a championship setting such as this one. Despite the final score, it was game generally well played by the Raiders and Warhawks. It was a game of champions.
Extra points: Several generations of Amos Alonzo Stagg descendants attended the Stagg Bowl in Virginia for the first time. The family presented $1500 check to both schools scholarship funds.
Despite noting that fireworks were being set up on top of the building where the locker rooms and scoreboard is located. GGA Eric Koreivo jumped out of his skin when a burst took place during the national anthem! Eric grasped the concept of the Raiders' parrot mascot rather quickly. With some Raider fans dressed as pirates, it was appropriate to note that "Mucaw" is the bird that would be on a Pirate's shoulder.
On the hill overlooking the south end of the stadium, ESPN brought in a portable replay screen on back of a truck to allow fans to watch replays and highlights.
Salem Stadium is part of Salem's Civic Center complex which includes a basketball arena and baseball stadium. The arena will how the D-III basketball championship, and the baseball stadium is a minor league venue. Parking here was free, and with the purchase of a game program, a fan son a raffle ticket to win one of eight game balls. CFF didn't win.
Wisconsin-Whitewater brought their band which was pretty entertaining. They did more singing than playing and sang songs other than "Hey, baby!" They were the first we ever heard play "Time Warp" from the "Rocky Horror Picture Show". We're disappointed though that the dance team didn't do the dance to it!
Congratulations to UWW Head Coach Bob Berezowitz for a job well done as he retired after this game. Though he came up short in the championship game in his last two seasons, he finished 158-73 over 22 seasons at the school.
The Raiders have won 15 consecutive Ohio Athletic conference championships and are 214-10-1 since 1990. A look at the team photo in the Game Program indicates there's a system in place that Mt. Union has that allows the to keep reloading. Despite about 60 names on the roster, the photo indicates that the program carries about 240 players! They must have one heck of an intramural program there.
Shirts in the parking lot were ubiquitous before the game claiming "Kmic for the Heisman!" The soph average 7.2 yards per carry with 2,254 yards and 26 TDs. He is quick and tough to bring down.