Around the Region
Purple Raiders hot after last year's burn
|Center Cole Parrish, center, talks with his fellow offensive linemen during an early-season game.
Mount Union athletics photo
By Joe Sager
Many programs aspire to win a conference championship, finish the regular season undefeated and play in the Stagg Bowl.
For Mount Union, that’s the expectation – every year.
Last fall, though, the Purple Raiders did not check off any of those boxes. A loss to John Carroll in the regular season’s final week was the program’s first regular season setback since 2005 and denied them the OAC title for the first time since 1991.
Mount Union rebounded in the playoffs and reached the semifinals for the 22nd year in a row. However, a 14-12 loss to Mary Hardin-Baylor prevented a 12th consecutive Stagg Bowl appearance.
While that was a solid run for most programs – it wasn’t so much for the Purple Raiders.
“It definitely lit a fire for us,” Mount Union senior center Cole Parrish said. “We definitely have a bad taste in our mouth from last year. We want to get back to the top and put Mount Union where it should be.”
So far, so good for Mount Union. Once again, the squad is unbeaten (6-0) and putting up video game-like numbers. On offense, the Purple Raiders average 541.7 yards and 60 points per game.
“I think we’re really jelling as a whole. I think everything is clicking. I think it’s all starting to come together for us,” Parrish said. “We actually have a lot to improve on, though. We have a really explosive offense, but we have a ways to go, in my mind.”
That thought has to be frightening for any opponent.
Sophomore quarterback D’Angelo Fulford has passed for 1,486 yards and 23 touchdowns. He had six passing TDs in Saturday’s 72-14 triumph over Capital. Sophomore Justin Hill (21 catches, 497 yards), senior Jared Ruth (20, 458), senior Braeden Friss (18, 279) and junior Luke Herrington (9, 159) have been his top targets. Junior Jawanza Evans-Morris (476 yards), freshman Josh Petruccelli (400) and sophomore Gerrett Choat (227) have been effective running the ball, too.
“Early, we kind of had a little rut trying to jell together,” Parrish said. “I think we’ve come together as a team and more like a family to provide an explosive offense.”
Defensively, the Purple Raiders are getting it done, too. They yield 236.3 yards and 7.5 points per game.
“They are rolling. They are probably the key to our team. They have come together and provided a strong base,” Parrish said. “If we have a three-and-out, we can depend on them to get the ball back and get things going for us.”
Mount Union has one shutout and not allowed more than 14 points in any game, so far.
“I think every week, we go into game day with the expectation of domination and we’re not going to let a team put points on board. If we do, we face that challenge of not letting them score anymore after that,” Mount Union senior linebacker Charlie Dear said. “I really think it all started with Week (15) last year. Defensively, we played one of our best games against Mary Hardin-Baylor. That has kind of set the tone for this year. We’ve grown a ton as a unit and really gained that camaraderie and unity between all positions.”
Teams haven’t had much success rushing against the Purple Raiders. It gets dangerous when foes try to pass as Mount Union leads the nation with five interceptions returned for a touchdown.
“One of our goals every week is to stop the run. If we’re able to make a team one dimensional and only pass the ball, we’ll have a good shot at winning,” Dear said. “Once we stop the run, our coverage guys can do their jobs and we’re able to get pressure on the quarterback. Our defensive line is really experienced. That’s helped a lot against defending the pass, too.
“We expect that, if our defense doesn’t let teams score, they can’t win. We know our offense is going to score points.”
The squad remains focused on winning a national championship, but won’t overlook any opponent.
“I think that (loss to John Carroll) taught our team a lot about facing adversity. Up until that point, we hadn’t really faced any adversity. It kind of put everything into perspective for us,” Dear said. “We know we won’t win every game based on talent. We have to prepare for every game like it’s the national championship game.”
Wabash dropped from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 16-13 setback to Ohio Wesleyan in an NCAC clash.
The Little Giants’ offense was contained in the defeat. The team’s only touchdown came in unusual fashion. Kicker Schuyler Nehrig recovered his own blocked field goal and raced 24 yards for a score.
A pair of OAC games went overtime on Saturday. Heidelberg saw a 21-7 lead disappear in the first half, but held on to post a 48-45 win over Otterbein, while Ohio Northern earned a 27-20 victory over John Carroll in extra time.
In the polls
No. 2 Mount Union (6-0) raced past Capital, 72-14. The Purple Raiders visit Wilmington in OAC action.
No. 13 Wittenberg (6-0) defeated Allegheny, 49-15. The Tigers travel to DePauw in an NCAC showdown.
No. 15 Washington & Jefferson (6-0) dispatched Bethany, 49-14. The Presidents welcome Westminster in a key PAC battle.
No. 17 Case Western Reserve (6-0) had little trouble with Thiel, 63-28. The Spartans visit Geneva in a PAC clash.
No. 24 Heidelberg (5-1) returned to the Top 25 with a 48-45 win over Otterbein. The Student Princes head to Marietta in OAC play.
No. 25 DePauw (6-0) broke into the Top 25 with a 26-17 win at Denison. The Tigers welcome Wittenberg in a key NCAC battle.
Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.
2012-14 columnist: Brian Lester
2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic