In case you didn’t realize, we’ve got a big game coming at us, people. On Friday, Mount Union will square off against St. Thomas to decide the NCAA D3 Football Championship — the Stagg Bowl. I’ve already posted my prediction, which you can read here, but we want to keep the fun going.
Let’s delve a little deeper into each team, shall we? Starting with Mount Union. (Look for St. Thomas team profile tomorrow!)
First, a brief history lesson.
The Purple Raiders were established way back in 1893. To put that in perspective, here are a few notable occurrences from that year: Thomas Edison finished construction of the first motion picture studio in West Orange, New Jersey; the first recorded college basketball game took place in Beaver Falls, PA between Geneva College and New Brighton YMCA; Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes; and Grover Cleveland was President of the United States.
Yeah, that was a long time ago. One hundred and twenty three years ago, to be exact. In any case, according to Wikipedia (which is never wrong), the first football game played by the Raiders was on the school’s baseball field in 1893 against Kenyon College.
The team apparently didn’t do much until 1993 (or the year of the original Jurassic Park, kids) when it suddenly turned into a championship-hogging juggernaut. The Raiders have captured 11 national titles since that time: 93, 96, 97, 98, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008 and, most recently, in 2012 — and a bevy of talented athletes including Jim Ballard, Kevin Burke, Dom Capers, Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts III, among others.
The Raiders have made it to the Stagg Bowl a staggering (*snickers*) 18 times, not including this season.
What changed in 1993? Apparently, the NCAA issued a rule change requiring D1 schools to conduct all sports at the D1 level. That meant schools like Butler, Dayton, Drake, San Diego, etc. moved to the Division 1 level, thus allowing larger D3 schools like Mount Union to take control.
Not coincidentally, the Raiders won their first championship immediately following the rule change. Quarterback Jim Ballard led his team to the OAC title, then breezed past Allegheny, Albion and Saint John’s to set up a meeting with Rowan in the title game. The Raiders won 34-24 and haven’t looked back since.
This season is no different, though it began with a little more uncertainty than usual after star QB Kevin Burke graduated in the offseason, leaving the team searching for its next signal caller. Ultimately, head coach Vince Kehres went with Taurice Scott.
Here’s where things get interesting. While Scott served as backup for Burke over the years, he actually found more success as a wide receiver. To quote myself, from an earlier piece I did on Scott, “Last season, this versatile athlete put up over 1,000 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He posted four 100-plus yard games, accumulated over 400 return yards and 54 rushing yards. All told, he had more receiving yards than passing yards at the college level entering his first start under center.”
Scott played QB in high school, so the position switch wasn’t too complicated. Indeed, in his first collegiate start against Bethany, Scott completed 13-of-21 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns while adding 85 rushing yards and another score on the ground. His versatility on the field transformed Mount Union’s already deadly offense into an unstoppable force.
All told, in his first season as a starting college QB, Scott finished with 2,309 passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns and 534 rushing yards and nine rushing TDs.
Surrounding Scott on offense are a plethora of top-tier weapons including running back Logan Nemeth, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior who seems to get better with each game, ultimately logging an impressive 1,737 yards and 27 touchdowns so far (including playoffs); and receivers Tim Kennedy and Roman Namdar, who have nearly 1,000 yards piece (with Namdar hauling in a whopping 19 teeders).
The offense averaged 53.8 points per contest during the regular season and scored less than 40 points just once all year (against John Carroll on Nov. 14 they scored 36). In the playoffs the Raiders are putting up a similar amount — 53.25 ppg — while holding opponents to 17.75 (including 35 garbage points surrendered to Wesley in the quarterfinals).
Segway into the Raiders defense in three, two, one …
Which leads me to the Raiders astounding defense, a truly remarkable force that dominated opponents all season long. The squad didn’t allow a touchdown until week three, and had two three-game shutout streaks — holding Bethany, Muskingham, Marietta, Wilmington, Otterbein and Baldwin Wallace scoreless in that time.
Including the postseason, the Raiders have given up just 2,636 total yards, which ranks near the top in yards allowed despite the team having played almost four more games than its opponents. The purple and black allow 188.3 yards per game, 3.04 yards per play and surrendered just 13 touchdowns in 14 games.
Headed by safety Alex Kocheff (a Gagliardi Trophy semifinalist), this defense continues to surprise. Last week they held defending champions UW-Whitewater to six points — six! — in a stunning victory that served as ample revenge after back-to-back years of losing to the Warhawks in the Stagg Bowl.
Naturally, all teams must adjust in the offseason. Mount Union has 24 seniors on its roster, including Scott, Namdar, Nemeth and Kocheff. Obviously, this is a last opportunity for these players to snag a championship before moving on to the next stage of their lives.
In any event, you can expect Mount Union to step up one way or another as it has since 1893 (or 1993, depending on your point of view).