Stagg Bowl Preview: #1 Raiders Return to Stagg Bowl; Nation's Top Two Offenses & Defenses Square Off

Photo by Todd Thoenen
Photo by Todd Thoenen

What: #1 Mount Union (14-0) vs. #3 St. Thomas (Minn.) (14-0)  - Stagg Bowl

When: Friday, Dec. 18, 7 p.m.

Where: Salem Stadium -- Salem, Va.

TV: ESPNU / WatchESPN.com - Jason Benetti (p-b-p); Rene Ingoglia (color), Kayce Smith (sideline)

Radio: 1310 AM WDPN (Alliance) - Sam Bourquin (p-b-p); T.J. Downing (color) / 91.1 FM WRMU (Alliance) - Mount Union student radio - Noah Hiles (p-b-p), Aj Gioglio (color), Joe Mertens (sideline)

Online Coverage: LIVE WDPN Audio | LIVE WRMU Audio

The matchup: The University of Mount Union plays The University of St. Thomas (Minn.) in the NCAA Division III National Championship Game -- the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl -- Friday, Dec. 18 at 7 pm at Salem Stadium in Salem, Va.

The Purple Raiders are in the Stagg Bowl for an 11th straight year, 19th time overall since 1993 and have won a record 11 National Championships.

The teams have met one other time and it was in the Stagg Bowl in 2012 where Mount Union won 28-10.  This is the second-ever Stagg Bowl trip for St. Thomas.

The teams are also the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 ranked scoring offenses and defenses in NCAA Division III.  Mount Union leads both catagories scoring 53.6 point per game and holding opponents to 7.5 points per game while St. Thomas is right behind averaging 52.5 points per game and allowing 9.9 points per game.

Mount Union is 14-0 overall and one of 25 conference champions to claim an automatic bid as the Raiders won their 24th straight and 27th overall Ohio Athletic Conference title.  Mount Union is ranked No. 1 in both the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) and D3Football.com Top 25 polls and have defeated St. Lawrence (N.Y.) 55-23 in the first round, No. 18 Albright (Pa.) 66-7 in the second round, No. 11 Wesley (Del.) 56-35 in the quarterfinals and No. 5 ranked Wis.-Whitewater 36-6 in the semifinals.

The Raiders have an 90-15 record in NCAA Playoff games in an all-division record 27 appearances.

St. Thomas is 14-0 overall, won the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and ranked No. 3 in the AFCA coaches poll and No. 4 in the D3football.com poll. The Tommies beat LaVerne (Calif.) 57-14 in the first round, No. 10 St. John's (Minn.) 38-19 in the second round, No. 7 Wabash (Ind.) 38-7 in the quarterfinals and No. 2 ranked Linfield (Ore.) 38-17 in the semifinals.

St. Thomas is in the NCAA Playoffs for a seventh time in school history with a record of 16-6 in post-season games.

Bracketology: For the 11th year, the NCAA Division III Football Championship consists of a 32-team field. For perspective, in Mount Union's first appearance in the playoffs in 1985, the field was 16 teams. This year's field breaks down like this: Automatic bids were given to 25 conference champions, one spot was for a team that was an independent or in conferences not granted automatic bids and the final six spots are national at-large bids.

Each team is allowed to only dress a total of 58 players for a playoff game.

Raiders in National Rankings: Mount Union's defense has posted six shutouts this season.Here are some highlights in the NCAA rankings in a variety of catagories.

    No. 1 in total defense (188.3 yds/gm)
    No. 1 in scoring defense (7.5 ppg)
    No. 1 in scoring offense (53.6 ppg)
    No. 1 in passing yds allowed (143.8 yds/gm)
    No. 1 in first downs (396)
    No. 1 in 3rd down defense (21.0%)
    No. 1 in rushing defense (44.5 yds/gm)
    No. 1 in sacks (64)
    No. 2 in turnovers lost (7)
    No. 2 in fumbles lost (2)
    No. 3 in total offense (555.9 yds/gm)
    No. 3 in rushing offense (317.6 yds/gm)
    No. 5 in passing yards allowed (143.8)
    No. 5 in pass efficiency (173.8)
    
Iron-Men: Three Raiders -- defensive lineman Tom Lally (Fairview Park/Lakewood St. Edward), defensive back Alex Kocheff (Chagrin Falls/Kenston) and linebacker Jonathan Gonell (Pembroke Pines, Fla./University School) -- have played in every Mount Union game since 2012 meaning that this week will be game No. 60 for each.

Scouting the Tommies: St. Thomas is No. 2 in the nation in scoring offense (52.5 ppg) and scoring defense (9.9 ppg) -- both behind Mount Union (53.6/7.5).

The offense runs through junior running back Jordan Roberts.  Roberts, who spent two years at NCAA D-I South Dakota, has run for almost 2000 yards this year on 325 carries with 10 games over 100 yards rushing with 32 TDs.  Senior quarterback John Gould offers balance to the attack as he completes 60-percent of his passes for 2,851 yards with 25 TDs and 11 interceptions. Nick Waldvogel is the top receiver with 64 receptions for 798 yards and three TDs.  There have been 11 different Tommies that have caught a TD.
    
The defense is physcial up front with 115 tackles for loss and 51 sacks while the secondary has 12 picks. Sophomore linebacker Steve Harrell has 84 stops with 8.0 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.  Junior lineman Anthony King-Foreman has 7.5 sacks while senior defensive back Jordan Young has four interceptions.
 
Leader of the sack: Mount Union has 28 sacks in the playoffs and now leads the country with 63 sacks on the season.  All-American defensive tackle Tom Lally (Fairview Park/Lakewood St. Edward) has school records for  sacks in a season (18.0) and sacks in a career (40.0).  He was named to the AFCA All-America team this past week and had a sack against St. Thomas in the 2012 Stagg Bowl.
 
Air Force: Senior wide receiver Roman Namdar (Southlake, Texas/Carroll) and junior Tim Kennedy (Hudson/Hudson) lead a talented group of receivers.  Kennedy has 80 catches for 978 yards with five TDs while Namdar has 976 yards and is second in the nation with 19 TDs. 

Captains: Alex Kocheff, Tom Lally, Taurice Scott and Hank Spencer are Mount Union's 2015 captains.

Logan's Run: Senior Logan Nemeth (McBain, Mich./McBain) has had five straight and eight overall 100 yard-plus rushing performances including back-to-back 200 yard games the last two weeks. He had 214 yards on a career-best 32 carries last week. His 1,737 rushing yards this season is the 5th highest single season total in school history.  His 27 rushing TDs is second best and he is fourth in yards per carry 7.62 in NCAA Division III this season. Mount Union has set a school record for rushing yards this season with 4,446 yards on the ground.
 
Great Scott: Senior Taurice Scott (Alliance/Alliance) threw two TDs last week and is now one of only eight in school history with at least 40 passing touchdwons in a season. Scott has completed 66-percent of his passes (222-of-338) for 3,139 yards with 41 TD passes and five interceptions.  He also had a rushing TD last week and is the team's second leading rusher with 800 yards on 107 carries with 12 scores on the ground.   He is currently second in the nation in passing TDs (41) and fourth in passing efficiency (180.8).

Double-Trouble: Seniors in defensive back Alex Kocheff (Chagrin Falls/Kenston) and Jonathan Gonell (Pembroke Pines, Fla./University School) each had 10 tackles last week versus Whitewater. Kocheff leads the team in tackles with 81 while Gonell is third with 68.  Kocheff and had eight tackles and a sack and Gonell had a tackle against St. Thomas in the 2012 Stagg Bowl

Elite: Senior Hank Spencer (Greencastle, Ind./North Putnam) has won the Elite 90 award the last two years as highest GPA at national title game.  He is up for award again with 3.99 GPA in Computer Science