Football: #2 Mount Union Takes on #1 Mary Hardin-Baylor in Raiders 20th Stagg Bowl Trip

D'Angelo Fulford (photo by Larry Radloff, d3football.com)
D'Angelo Fulford (photo by Larry Radloff, d3football.com)

#2 Mount Union Purple Raiders vs #1 Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders

Thank You Salem: Out of the 25 Stagg Bowl games played in Salem, Va., Mount Union has played in 20 of them.

The football championship this year marks the 86th overall and 70th NCAA Division III championship trophy handed out in Salem.

Everyone at Mount Union appreciates all the work and hospitality that the folks in Roanoke and Salem have showed the Raiders and their fans over the years.

The Matchup: The Matchup: No. 2 ranked University of Mount Union plays No. 1 ranked University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in the national championship game of the 2017 NCAA Division III Football Playoffs -- The Stagg Bowl -- Friday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. at Salem Stadium in Salem, Virginia.

The Purple Raiders are 14-0 overall, and won its 28th Ohio Athletic Conference title to claim one of 25 automatic bids to the tournament. Mount Union shutout Washington & Lee 21-0 in the first round, defeated No. 16 Case Western Reserve 45-16 in the second round, beat No. 17 Frostburg State (Md.) 70-37 in the quarterfinals and defeated No. 3 UW-Oshkosh 43-40 in the semifinals.

Mount Union has an 98-16 record in NCAA Playoff games and the Raiders have advanced to the Stagg Bowl 20 times since 1993 with a record 12 National Championships. Mount Union is in the tournament for a record 29th time and for the 26th straight year.

Mary Hardin-Baylor is 14-0 and won the American Southwest Conference title to get in the tournament. The Crusaders beat Chapman (Calif.) 50-6 in the first round, No. 8 Linfield 24-0 in the second round, No. 4 St. Thomas 24-10 and shutout No. 11 Brockport State (N.Y.) 24-0 in the semifinals.

In just its 20th season of football, Mary Hardin-Baylor is in the tournament for a 16th time with a record of 36-14. The Crusaders are the defending national champions and making their third Stagg Bowl appearance.

The Series: This will be the fourth all-time meeting between the teams after a three memorable NCAA semifinal playoff meetings.

In 2004, Mary Hardin-Baylor rallied from a 35-21 deficit in the fourth quarter to win 38-35 at Mount Union Stadium.

In 2012, Mount Union scored 34 points in the fourth quarter to rally from being down 28-14 and won 48-35 at Mount Union Stadium.

In 2016, Mary Hardin-Baylor survived a fourth quarter rally from the Raiders to win 14-12 at Crusader Stadium in Texas.

Both teams are the only two Division III programs in the country to win at least one playoff game in each of the last 13 seasons.

Bracketology: For the 13th year, the NCAA Division III Football Championship consists of a 32-team field. In Mount Union's first playoff appearance in 1985, the field was 16 teams. In this year's field automatic bids were given to 25 conference champions, two spots for teams that are an independent or in conferences not granted automatic bids while the final five spots are national at-large bids. Each team is allowed to only dress a total of 58 players for a playoff game.

The Party is Over: This will be 25th straight and final Stagg Bowl (for the time being) in Salem, Va. The 2018 and 2019 games will be at Woodforest Bank Stadium in Shennandoah, Texas and the 2020 and 2021 games will be at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

No. 2 for QB1: Sophomore quarterback D'Angelo Fulford (Miramar, Fla.) had his 2nd 300 yard passing performance of the season with 330 yards on 28-of-42 passing in the semifinals against UW-Oshkosh. Fulford, the OAC Offensive Back of the Year, also leads all levels of college football in passer rating and with 49 passing touchdowns -- the 5th most in a single season at Mount Union.

Air Raid: Two Mount Union receivers had big days in the semifinal win at UW-Oshkosh. Senior Jared Ruth (Indianapolis, Ind. / Pike) had a career-high 11 catches along with 130 yards receiving while sophomore Justin Hill (Circleville) had six catches for 102 yards. Hill was named OAC Receiver of the Year with 19 TDs on the season which is second-best in the nation.

Line Items: Mount Union's offensive line has allowed just four sacks over four playoff games Senior Cole Parrish (Creedmoor, N.C. / South Granvile), the OAC Offensive Lineman of the Year has also been named an AFCA All-America First Team selection. The rest of the line includes two other seniors in right tackle Matt Fitchet (Conneaut / Edgewood)  and left guard Mike Irizarry (Pembroke Pines, Fla. / University School) along with sophomores at left tackle Sean Sherman (Springboro / Middletown Fenwick) and right guard Brandon Klaus (Brighton, Mich.).

Berry Good: Mount Union grabbed three turnovers in the the semifinal win at UW-Oshkosh and now has a +17 turnover margin on the season.  Junior Louis Berry (Pittsburgh, Pa. / Shady Side Academy) got an interception last week and has a season-high six on the season. The Raiders have taken seven interceptions back for a score.

Thunder and Thunder: Mount Union has a 1-2 punch in its backfield with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Jawanza Evans-Morris (Coral Springs, Fla. / Taravella) and Josh Petruccelli (Perry). They are the first two Mount Union running backs to go over 1,000 yards in a season since 2005 (Nate Kmic and Aaron Robinson). Both scored two touchdowns in the semifinals last week. Petruccelli had a career-best 132 yards on 27 carries while Evans-Morris punched in the eventual game-winner with just under six minutes to play.

Danny Boy: Junior linebacker Danny Robinson (Massillon) had a game-high 12.0 tackles at UW-Oshkosh and leads the Raiders with 92 tackles on the season.

Academic All-District: Seniors in offensive lineman Matt Fitchet and wide receiver Jared Ruth along with junior linebacker Danny Robinson and sophomore offensive lineman Frazier Daniel were all named Academic All-District by the College Sports Information Directors of America and each advance to the Academic All-America ballot.
Team Captains: Mount Union has five senior team captains in 2017 --  linebacker Charlie Dear, wide receiver Braeden Friss, safety Brian Groves, offensive lineman Cole Parrish and defensive lineman Michael Vidal.

Headed to the Hall: Former head coach and current athletic director Larry Kehres was be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility this last week in New York. Kehres posted a record of 332-24-3 with 23 OAC titles and 11 national titles coaching the Raiders from 1986-2012. His .929 winning percentage is the best among coaches at all levels of college football.

At the Helm: Vince Kehres is 69-4 since taking over as head coach at Mount Union in 2013 and led the Raiders to the national title game four times in his five seasons. No college football coach has won more games since 2013 than the 69 by Kehres. Vince has been part of 11 of Mount Union's 12 national titles as either a player, assistant coach or head coach.

On the Air: All Mount Union football games are on the radio on WDPN 1310 AM and WRMU 91.1 FM and simulcast online along with a LIVE STATS game tracker. You can also hear the WRMU 91.1 FM feed on any phone by calling (563) 999-3112.