December 8, 2007

Mount Union Rolls into Stagg Bowl

The steamroller that is the Mount Union College Purple Raiders will be playing for the Division III national championship again next Saturday in Salem, VA. They crushed Bethel today 62-14 in the semi-finals, and will be the prohibitive favorite when they face Wisconsin-Whitewater for the third straight year in the Stagg Bowl.

I mention annually when the finals roll around that I'm an an MUC alum, and this year I have a nephew playing for the Purple as a freshman at wide receiver, so I'm more tuned in to the playoffs than in other years... (You know how monotonous it gets when you just have championship after championship...on and on...)

As downright dynastic as Coach Larry Kehres' teams have been for at least the last 15 years, a couple of my friends who are close to the program think this year's version might be the best Mount Union team ever. I went to the quarterfinal game against Ithaca last week, and saw for myself. The game was 59-3 when Ithaca finally scored a TD with less than a minute to play in the game, as a long desperation heave deflected from a Raider defender, and fell into the chest of the receiver as he was lying on his back in the endzone. It was fitting. A lovely parting gift for the Bombers, one of four straight playoff opponents who had to play Mount on their home turf.

The Raiders are a treat to watch on both sides of the ball. ( I see so much bad football being played elsewhere that the good stuff really jumps out at me.) On offense, all you can say is that their plays work. It looks like they're doing pretty much what they want to all the time. And they are relentless. For the season, the Raiders have outscored their opponents 284-6 in the first quarter, a statistic almost as jaw-dropping as Kehres' career record of 260-20 at Mount Union.

With a legitimate NFL prospect at receiver and a punishing running game, QB Greg Micheli executes the Kehres system with the traditional precision. And the defense pitches shutouts...six straight to end the regular season. The defense scored more points than they allowed (24) in the regular season. I have it on no less an authority than my sister, who has attended all 14 games, that the Raiders have thoroughly dominated every opponent.

And as lopsided as the scores have been, the truth is most of them could have been much more so. Coach Kehres has been known to kick field goals on first or second down, or even take a knee four times deep in opponents' territory rather than run up the score with touchdowns in games long decided. (I remain unconvinced that taking a knee four times is any less humiliating to an outclassed opponent than running it in for a touchdown would be.)

With nine national championships in the last 14 years (’93, ’96, ’97, ’98, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’05, ’06) and a tenth one within reach, it's fair to say that no coach at any level of college football has ever dominated the sport over such a long period of time. Among the major college sports, you probably have to go back to John Wooden's UCLA to find a comparable dynasty.

I know I'm a week ahead of myself with this year's version of the dynasty talk. Go Raiders! Bring it home again.

UPDATE 12/15: Terry Pluto writes about Coach Kehres and MUC in today's PD.

Posted by dan at December 8, 2007 6:25 PM