Purple Raiders back on top of D-III mountain

SALEM, Va. -- Mount Union is back on top in Division III football -- and more than happy to say so.

"We had a lot of doubters," defensive end Greg Brauer said after the Purple Raiders beat Wisconsin-Whitewater 35-28 on Saturday in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl for their eighth Division III title in 13 years but first since 2002.

"I was here for both losses and it hurt more than anything. We just got after it in the weight room, studied film and studied hard. People were saying Mount Union's not good anymore, they're washed up. There's no more dynasty. Well, we're back," he said.

Nate Kmic ran for three touchdowns, including a 95-yarder, Mike Jorris threw for two scores and the Purple Raiders (14-1) turned Wisconsin-Whitewater away with nothing several times after being backed up near it own goal line. Mount Union had an interception at its own 1, batted down a sure TD pass and had a goal-line stand.

"That was really a pivotal point there," Mount Union coach Larry Kehres said of the stand, which came when his team stopped the Warhawks twice from the 1, preserving a 14-7 lead that quickly became much larger once Mount Union got the ball.

Two plays later, Kmic took a handoff through the left side of the line, broke into the open field and outran several defenders down the left sideline to make it 21-7.

"We were just trying to get a first down, give us a little breathing room," Kmic said. "I just cut it back and the defense overflowed and I took it down the sideline."

The 95-yard run matched the Stagg Bowl record set by Mount Union's Chuck Moore in 2001 and helped Kmic finish with 1,040 rushing yards in five playoff games.

"These past couple of weeks have been just amazing," he said after finishing with 185 yards on 28 carries and additional touchdowns of 2 and 15 yards. "I really don't think it's really hit me yet. It's just an unbelievable feeling right now."

Wisconsin-Whitewater (14-1), making its first championship game appearance in 39 years, drove for a touchdown on its opening possession to lead 7-0 but came away empty on five other possessions after driving into Purple Raiders territory.

The inability to punch it in was especially hard to figure since tailback Justin Beaver gained 125 yards on 30 carries to go over 2,400 yards on the season.

"I just think it wasn't our day. It wasn't our time," Beaver said.

The goal-line stand was the turning point, coach Bob Berezowitz said, even though his team came back with a 21-point fourth quarter to give itself a chance.

He also lamented a near touchdown late in the first half, when defensive back Nick Barren tipped the ball and the Warhawks' Pete Schmitt couldn't hold on in the end zone.

"It was uncharacteristic of us," Berezowitz said of the missed opportunities. "We have not been turning the ball over and not making those kind of plays. In a big ballgame, you have to make those kinds of plays to be successful. Today, we didn't."

Jorris did much of his damage in the first half, hitting Pierre Garcon for scoring plays of 63 and 12 yards as the Purple Raiders took a 14-7 lead into halftime.

Jorris finished 20-for-28 for 246 yards.

He made some big throws late, too, after the Warhawks closed to 28-21. On the ensuing drive, Jorris was 5-for-5 for 37 yards, including a 9-yard completion to Kmic on third-and-6 from the Wisconsin-Whitewater 32 with 3:32 remaining.

Two plays later, Kmic's 15-yard run made it 34-21 and ensured the victory in the same season that Mount Union's 110-game regular-season winning streak ended. That came against Ohio Northern on Oct. 22, the Raiders' first regular-season loss since 1994.

The loss also prompted the naysaying in Alliance, Ohio.

"These guys heard a lot about losing a game," Kehres said.

The Warhawks -- making their first appearance in a championship game since 1966, when Berezowitz was their quarterback and they were in the NAIA -- drove to the Mount Union 1 in the final minute and needed three chances before Justin Jacobs dove in.

Jacobs was 22-for-47 for 310 yards and threw two touchdown passes.

"They had some good pressure on us all day long. It kind of kept me off-balance," Jacobs said. "But as the game progressed, the offensive line picked it up big-time and I was able to sit back there. But it just came too late in the game."

Trailing 28-7, the Warhawks got back on the scoreboard with 12:22 left when Jacobs hit Jim Leszcynski in the right corner of the end zone from 23 yards out.

After holding Mount Union, Whitewater drove 61 yards in just 2½ minutes, Jacobs hitting Schmitt, the tight end, over the middle from 15 yards out with 8:37 left.

But then came Mount Union's answer and, later, its eighth championship.