Football: #1 Mount Union Takes On #22 Muhlenberg in NCAA Quarterfinal

Photo by Steven Kachilla
Photo by Steven Kachilla

NCAA Quarterfinals
#1 Mount Union Purple Raiders (12-0) 
vs. #22 Muhlenberg Mules (11-1)

The Matchup: No. 1 ranked University of Mount Union hosts No. 22 ranked Mulhenberg College in the national quarterfinals of the 2018 NCAA Division III Football Playoffs Saturday, Dec. 1 at 12 pm at Mount Union Stadium.
 
The Purple Raiders are 12-0 overall, defeated Denison 60-0 in the first round, Centre (Ky.) 51-35 in the second round and have college football's longest win streak at 27 games.
 
Mount Union won its 29th Ohio Athletic Conference title to claim one of 26 automatic bids to the tournament. Mount Union is in its 30th tournament appearance, has a 101-16 record in NCAA Playoff games and the Raiders have advanced to the Stagg Bowl 20 times since 1993 with a record 13 National Championships. 
 
Muhlenberg, located in Allentown, Pa., is 11-1 overall and won a first round game at Delaware Valley (Pa.) 20-13 then defeated Randolph-Macon (Va.) 35-6 at home in round two. 
 
The Mules are making their eighth-ever playoff appearance, first since 2014, and have a 4-7 record in playoff games. 
 
Muhlenberg is one of five national at-large selections to this year's tournament after placing second in the Centennial Conference. 
 
It is Muhlenberg's first appearance in the round of eight and its only loss this season is to Johns Hopkins -- also in the quarterfinals.
 
This will be the first-ever meeting between between the schools.
 
Bracketology: For the 14th 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 26 conference champions, one spot was for a team from a conference not granted an automatic bid and 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.
 
Team Captains: Mount Union has five team captains in wide receivers Luke Herrington (Wintersville/Steubenville) and Jared Ruth (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike), safety Nick Brish (Milford, Mich./Brighton), linebacker Danny Robinson (Massillon/Massillon Washington) and defensive back Louis Berry (Pittsburgh, Pa./Shady Side Academy).
 
Up Next: The winner of this game advances to the national semfinals against either Johns Hopkins or R.P.I. next Saturday. The location and time of the semifinals will be announced Sunday by the NCAA Football Committee. The semifinal kickoff times will be staggered to accomodate broadcasts of the games online by  ESPN.
 
On the Air: All Mount Union football games will be broadcast 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.
 
Scouting the Mules: After serving as an assistant coach the last three years, Nate Milne took over this season as head coach and Muhlenberg is in the quarterfinals for the first time in school history with its only loss coming 27-16 to a nationally ranked Johns Hopkins team that is also in the quarterfinals.
 
The defense has allowed opponents just 15.1 points and 275.4 yards per game. Junior defensive end Frankie Feaster is the Centennial Conference Defensive Player of the Year who is third in the nation with 17.5 sacks and fifth nationally in tackles for loss with 28. Junior Mickey Kober leads the Mules in tackles with 78 while Nick Sirico has six interceptions for a unit that has 23 picks on the season.
 
The offense averages 36.5 points and 434.1 yards per game. Sophomore quarterback Michael Hnatkowsky has thrown for over 3,000 yards with 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Junior Max Kirin has caught 10 of those touchdowns as he has 59 catches for 890 yards. Sophomore running back James Diggs has 978 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
 
Turning Over: Both teams are among the leaders nationally in turnover margin as Mount Union is plus-17 which is seventh best in NCAA Division III and Muhlenberg is plus-11 which is ranked 20th.
 
Lucky Seven: Sophomore running back Josh Petruccelli (Perry) had a career-best 162 yards and four touchdowns on the ground last week. 
 
He has now ran for over 100 yards in six of the last seven games and has a total seven 100-yard rushing games on the season.
 
On the season, he has 1,145 yards rushing on 167 carries.
 
QB1 No. 1: Junior D'Angelo Fulford threw two touchdowns last week to now have 34 on the season. He has completed 68-percent of his passes for 2,372 yards with one interception.  
 
Fulford leads Division III and is second in all of college football in passer rating at 207.4. Only two other players in college football have ratings above 200.0 - Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa at 212.5 and Oklahoma's Kyler Murray 206.8.
 
Danny Boy: Senior linebacker Danny Robinson (Massillon / Washington) was named a semifinalist for the Gagliardi Trophy given to the top all-around football player in NCAA Division III last Monday then on Saturday against Centre he had an interception and blocked a punt.
 
Robinson, a team captain, is tied for the team lead in tackles on one of the nation's top rated defenses. He has 65 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, an inteception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble this season. 
 
He is a three-time All-OAC selection that has been named the 2018 Gene Slaughter OAC Linebacker of the Year Award.
 
Off the field, the Mechanical Engineering major with a 3.72 grade point average, is a three-time Academic All-OAC and two-time Google Cloud Academic All-District pick. He has been involved in a variety of service projects on campus most notably joining a group of fellow Mount Union engineering students on a trip to Belize to construct a water line to a village. He has also been involved on campus with the Relay for Life, Be The Match bone marrow drive, Trick or Treat with the Raiders, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes fundraiser and Alliance Parks Community Clean-Up Day. In his hometown of Massillon, Ohio, he has been a youth baseball and football camp volunteer while aiding Special Olympic events in Stark County.
 
A record six Purple Raiders have won the Gagliardi Trophy seven times. Quarterback Jim Ballard won the inaugural award in 1993, fellow quarterback Bill Borchert in 1997, running backs Chuck Moore and Dan Pugh won the award in 2001 and 2002, quarterback Greg Micheli won the award in 2008 then Kevin Burke in 2013 and 2014.