The Mount Union Purple Raiders played in their 11th straight Stagg Bowl, the Division III National Championship Friday night against the St. Thomas Tommies. It was a back and forth shootout for three quarters, but the Purple Raiders pulled away late in the third quarter and never looked back, winning 49-35.
Running back Logan Nemeth rushed for a career-high 220 yards on 30 carries en route to completing the perfect 15-0 season.
Both teams came into play undefeated with 14-0 records and both defenses started out strong, but the Tommies from Minnesota struck first ten minutes into the first quarter, as St. Thomas scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass from John Gould to tight end Charlie Dowdle.
On first glance, it appeared Dowdle was juggling the ball as he ran out of the end zone, but upon replay review it was clear that the tight end pinned the ball to his shoulder and had control with a foot in bounds, as the call was overturned after initially being ruled incomplete.
Mount Union could not get going offensively in the first quarter and on a controversial decision to attempt a fake punt from their own 41-yard-line, the Purple Raiders were stopped on the final play of the quarter, giving St. Thomas the ball at the Mount Union 36-yard-line.
St. Thomas would get out to a 14-0 lead with 10:59 to play in the second quarter on a one-yard touchdown run on fourth and goal by Jordan Roberts.
Mount Union rallied back, though, as Taurice Scott connected with Lane Clark on a seven-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-7 with 7:28 left in the first half.
The Purple Raiders would tie the game two minutes later, on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Scott to Roman Namdar.
After halftime, the Tommies got the ball with the wind at their back, which was a significant factor all throughout the game, and St. Thomas regained the lead 21-14 on a 58-yard touchdown pass from Gould to Nick Waldvogel, as the play came on fourth and two from their own territory.
Mount Union wasted no time responding, as Scott found Clark in the end zone, bobbling the catch, but still hanging on to tie the game at 21 with 11:07 remaining in the third quarter.
The first turnover of the game came on the next drive by St. Thomas, as Waldvogel coughed it up, giving the Purple Raiders the ball at midfield.
Mount Union took advantage of the turnover, with a drive that took just over a minute, resulting in a six-yard touchdown run from Bradley Mitchell with 9:47 to play in the third quarter, putting the Purple Raiders ahead 28-21.
Scott would take it himself with an 18-yard run just two minutes later to make it a 14-point game.
St. Thomas caught a lucky break on the next drive, as Waldvogel fumbled on a reverse handoff, but the ball bounced right into the quarterback, Gould’s hands, as he had a running start, and was able to go the distance for a 55-yard touchdown run to make it 35-28 with 4:13 to play in the third quarter.
The Tommies attempted a fake field goal on fourth and short before the end of the third quarter, but were stopped, as their aggressive play calling in fourth down situations had its ups and downs throughout the night, and Mount Union took over possession ahead by seven heading into the fourth quarter.
Purple Raiders’ running back Nemeth capped off an eight-play, 71-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run, his first of the night to make it 42-28 with 11:52 to play. All eight plays on the drive came on the ground.
Nemeth would bulldoze his way for his second rushing touchdown of the night with 8:40 to play, going 36 yards to make it 49-28.
St. Thomas would not go down without a fight, though, as Roberts ran it in for a four-yard score, his second touchdown of the night, to make it 49-35 with 6:23 remaining.
The Tommies would come up with an onside kick recovery following that touchdown, but it was to no avail, as Gould threw his first interception of the night on the first play of the drive.
That interception would just about seal the deal, as Mount Union picked up a few clutch first downs and ran the clock out. It was head coach Vince Kehres’ first national championship, since following in the footsteps of his father, Larry, who won 11 championships.
This is only the second time in NCAA history that a father-son duo have won national championships, as Lee and Jim Tressell were the only father-son pair to do so up until Mount Union’s 2015 Stagg Bowl victory.