Unaccustomed to losing, Mount Union does so with class
When the Purple Raiders fell to UW-Whitewater, 31-21, in the NCAA Division III football championship game here Saturday, it ended their 37-game winning streak.
It was only the second time in 11 tries that the Alliance, Ohio, school has come up short in the title game played in Salem for the past 15 years.
Mount Union has lost only 11 total games (against 230 wins) since 1990. During the last 16 regular seasons, the Raiders are 162-2, an incredibly gaudy winning percentage of .988.
Given the circumstances, it might be understandable if the Raiders were poor losers. After all, they haven’t had much practice.
But in post-game interviews, the Raiders to a man exhibited nothing but class.
“I want to congratulate Whitewater,” said 22nd-year Mount Union coach Larry Kehres. “They played the best, and they deserve to be champions. Their coaches did a great job going through a coaching change.”
Kehres had bested longtime Warhawk coach Bob Berezowitz in the past two Stagg Bowls. However, Kehres said that having Berezowitz still involved with the program as a special assistant to the athletic director may have made the Whitewater coaching transition easier.
Kehres figuratively doffed his cap and bowed to the Warhawks’ performance with graciousness.
Meanwhile, Kehres was not particularly disappointed with his team’s effort.
“I thought we played very well in spots, except for a few too many mistakes,” he said.
Referring to his team’s six fumbles (three of which were turnovers), he said, “The bounces got away from us a few times—and cost us in the end.”
Raider running back Nate Kmic finished with 121 yards on 30 carries, but he lost a fumble with 1:14 left in the second quarter, killing a sustained Raider drive and leading to a Whitewater field goal two seconds before halftime.
He acknowledged that wet conditions contributed to the fumble, but the Warhawks’ swarming defense also was a factor.
“They were really tried to strip it,” he said.
Reporters in the press box were scrambling for media guides at halftime, learning that Mount Union had not trailed at the half since 2005, and had not been shut out for a complete game since 1981.
But even when the Warhawks went up 17-0 in the third quarter, there was a feeling the Raiders weren’t done—and they weren’t.
Twice, they cut the lead to three points, 17-14 and 24-21.
“Our seniors did a good job of keeping everybody poised at halftime,” said Raider quarterback Greg Micheli, who also lost a fumble and threw an interception in desperation in the final moments.
“We didn’t dwell on our mistakes. When we closed to within three, we knew we were in a good position, but not in a sure position.”
Mount Union strong safety Matt Kostelnik seemed almost shell-shocked after the game. He had just seen his defense that had allowed an average of 5.2 points per game—a defense that scored more points than it gave up this season—allow Whitewater to score 31.
“It’s going to be a long bus ride home,” Kostelnik said. “That’s all I can say.”