#2 Raider Football Headed to Sixth Straight Stagg Bowl

Matt Piloto (Photo by J.T. Higgins)
Matt Piloto (Photo by J.T. Higgins)

ALLIANCE, Ohio -- Sophomore quarterback Matt Piloto (Rotonda West, Fla./Lemon Bay) completed 17 of 32 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns, leading the No. 2 Mount Union football team to the Stagg Bowl with its 34-14 win over 14th-ranked Bethel (Minn.) in an NCAA semifinal on Saturday at Mount Union Stadium.

The Purple Raiders will compete in the national championship game for the sixth consecutive year and 14th time in their history. They will take on top-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater, 27-7 winners over No. 3 Wesley (Del.), next Saturday at Salem Stadium in Salem, Va.

Senior wide receiver Cecil Shorts III (Cleveland/Collinwood) and sophomore wide receiver Jasper Collins (Geneva, N.Y./Geneva) were a key target for Piloto, who entered the game in relief of fellow sophomore quarterback Neal Seaman (Louisville/Louisville).

Shorts had four catches for 165 yards and one touchdown, including the go-ahead 80-yard score. Collins finished with seven grabs for 82 yards and two touchdowns, which were the first two of his collegiate career.

Bethel (12-2) struck first on the scoreboard by turning a Purple Raider turnover into seven point

Royal defensive back Ethan Anderson intercepted a Seaman pass on the Raiders' first possession and carried the ball to Mount Union's 2-yard line. Seaman never returned.

Two plays later, Bethel quarterback Josh Aakre scored on a 1-yard run, giving the visitors their only lead.

The Raiders were unable to come up with an immediate answer, suffering three consecutive three-and-outs, before tying the score at 7-7 early in the second quarter. Piloto capped a seven-play, 68-yard drive, with a 25-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Kyle Miller (Elida/Elida).

Mount Union took the lead on a one-play, 80-yard burst, which consisted of a Piloto-to-Shorts hookup.

Sophomore kicker Tyler Almeida (Elyria/Elyria) connected for a 24-yard field goal and Piloto found sophomore Collins with a 25-yard touchdown pass, helping the hosts to a 24-7 halftime lead.

The Raiders tacked on 10 insurance points in the third quarter, courtesy of a 23-yard boot by Almeida and a 7-yard touchdown pass from Piloto to Collins.

Not only did Piloto excel with his arm, he added 49 yards on the ground -- highlighted by a 52-yard scamper. Sophomore running back Jeremy Murray (Martins Ferry/Martins Ferry) contributed 19 rushes for 66 yards.

Defensively, sophomore defensive back Nick Driskill (Wabash, Ind./Southwood) made 13 tackles, including three for a loss. Senior linebacker Sam Kershaw (West Jefferson/West Jefferson) added 12 stops.

Also for the Raider defense, senior defensive lineman Lambert Budzinski (Canton/Massillon Jackson) and sophomore defensive lineman Frank Orteca (Twinsburg/Twinsburg) combined for a sack. Kershaw forced a fumble while junior linebackers Arthur Smith (Miami, Fla./Killian) and Jorge Carbonell (Miami, Fla./Bishop Carroll) recovered fumbles.

For Bethel, Logan Flannery had 25 carries and one touchdown, which came from five yards out with 1:37 left in the game.

Aakre completed 10 of 19 passes for 107 yards. His top receiver was Mitch Hallstrom, who made four catches for 71 yards.