December 16, 2000

Salem weekend made for great memories

More news about: Mount Union | St. John-s

SALEM, Va. – When kicker Rodney Chenos sealed Mount Union's 10-7 win over St. John's on Saturday, he probably knew he'd always remember the moment. 

Much like Magic Johnson's game-winning hook shot versus the Celtics or Joe Montana to Dwight Clark against the Cowboys, Chenos' kick was as classic as they come in Division III football.

Plenty of athletes dream of making the game-winning play and few actually get the chance. Chenos hoped he'd have the ball in his hands in crunch time. Or rather, on his foot.

Chenos told the Alliance Review in the week leading up to the championship that he was pulling for a close game.

"Of course, as a kicker, you like close games because it makes you feel like your role is a little more important," he said.

With 0:04 remaining Saturday, Chenos got his shot and nailed it, propelling Mount Union to its fourth national title in the past five years.

On the night before the game, the junior kicker, who also punts for the Purple Raiders, told his senior teammates that if it came down to him, they could count on him.

How Chenos had the foresight to know an extra-point length field goal could clinch the Purple Raiders' fifth national title since 1993 we'll never know. Everyone else in Salem not donning a St. John's helmet and uniform thought Mount Union would overrun the Johnnies like they had every other opponent this season. After all, the Purple Raiders' average margin of victory in their first 13 wins was more than 33 points and they'd never scored fewer than 32 themselves.

But the Johnnies turned in an epic performance for John Gagliardi, their legendary coach. A 52-year college coaching veteran who led St. John's to three national championships prior to 1976, some considered Saturday's loss to the heavily favored Raiders to be his greatest victory.

One wonders how 52 years of coaching don't blend together, but this group of overachievers, blessed with 17 seniors starting on offense and defense, must stand out. The Johnnies were the West's seventh seed and were among the last of the 28 teams to be selected for the postseason.

Rainy conditions in Salem aided two excellent defensive performances Saturday, and with the score tied 7-7 when the Purple Raiders began their final 11-play, 65-yard drive with 4:03 remaining, head coach Larry Kehres played for the kick.

"We were trying to run the clock down and keep the ball in the middle of the field," said the 51-year-old coach. "If one of those runs had reached the end zone, I would have taken it. But yes, we wanted to run as much time off of the clock as possible."

After his perfect kick, it was Chenos doing the running, this time around the field with the championship trophy held high in one hand.

The entire weekend was almost as flawless — and memorable — as the final kick.

From the moment both teams arrived (hours apart due to icy conditions that diverted St. John's plane to Raleigh, N.C., and placed them at their hotel at 6:45 a.m.), many found the weekend to be a lesson in how the game should be played.

Without knocking previous Stagg Bowl participants, and at the risk of sounding contrived, corny and clichéd — and certainly repetitive — I happen to agree.

Adam Marino, the Purple Raiders star wideout and three-time national champion, a guy who lost one game in his college career, said something that stood out among the postgame comments.

"It"s not about the ring, it's about the memories," Marino told reporters assembled for the customary news conference.

As a former player, I look back on my own career not so much for the wins and losses, but for the times I spent on the field, in the locker room and on the road with guys I am honored to call my teammates. And the feeling is the same across the board.

Van Everette, a Hampden-Sydney lineman who last year had just completed an 0-10 senior season and a 4-26 run in three seasons as a starter, said he wouldn't trade his experience for the world.

"Looking back, I see a lot of great, great relationships," Everette said. "I see great bonds formed. This was one of the tightest teams I've ever been a part of."

Chad Johnson, who quarterbacked Pacific Lutheran to the 1999 Stagg Bowl championship, said winning wasn't nearly as special as the journey the Lutes went on.

"We really just focused on being together," said Johnson, who called the entire playoff experience "a blessing."

One can only imagine that the Purple Raiders and Johnnies felt the same way.

This weekend"s memorable journey extended beyond the players. Few attendees at Friday's Spotlight on Champions luncheon could forget the engaging personality of the 74-year-old Gagliardi, whose humorous outlook clued us all in to how he"s made it so far.

He joked about how Saturday's starters were called to stand up in front of the table of honored guests. Mount Union"s biggest players, its offensive line, he said, were conveniently placed in front of him.

Johnnies quarterback Tom Linnemann joked about being a fifth-year senior and later chatted with ESPN's Don McPherson about the 4-inch plate in his leg that set off a metal detector at the airport. Linnemann broke the leg in the third game of last season and had the plate and 8 screws put in to help it heal.

The memories extended to fans, trainers, media, friends and family who made the trip to Salem and braved the cold and rain to see the game. Every experience must have been memorable, whether it involved a marriage proposal planned for after the Purple Raiders' second touchdown (which was never scored, by the way) or blue tights, red and white pom-poms for hair and a skirt, and a Johnnies T-shirt.

Players in close games never forget the little things they could have done to turn the tide. No matter how often St. John"s players are told their effort was valiant, they most likely will never be able to shake the tackle they didn"t make, the pass they didn"t complete or the block they missed. They"ll get over it, but they"ll always wonder if it would have changed the outcome.

Memories.

The best belonged Saturday to Chenos, who by simply playing kicker, placed himself in danger of being the goat and being though of as not a "real" football player.

But Chenos wanted the pressure on him Saturday. He got it, and delivered, like a true champion.

But even a national championship couldn"t soothe the ultimate pain for Mount Union"s seniors. For them, like the vast majority of Division III athletes, their athletic careers ended Saturday.

Ryan Belaney walked from the Purple Raider locker room and stood on the field after the fans had gone and the field had been cleared. Belaney stared at Salem Stadium.

He stood for a few seconds, turned and walked away.

From the press box, I felt his pain. The day, the journey, the career… is now a memory.

Football is a special game. To Mount Union and St. John"s, thanks for sharing your memories with us.

Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Coast Guard at Anna Maria
7:00 PM
Defiance at Baldwin Wallace
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
7:30 PM
Trine at Manchester
8:00 PM
Millsaps at Belhaven
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
TBA
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
6:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
7:00 PM
N.C. Wesleyan at Stevenson
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
7:00 PM
WPI at MIT
7:00 PM
Salve Regina at Worcester State
7:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Curry
7:00 PM
Morrisville State at St. Lawrence
10:00 PM
Adrian at Pacific
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
TBA
Endicott at Framingham State
TBA
Kean at Christopher Newport
TBA
King's at Moravian
Live Stats
TBA
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
TBA
Marietta at Denison
TBA
McDaniel at Catholic
TBA
Wisconsin Lutheran at Trinity Int'l
TBA
Sewanee at Kenyon
TBA
UW-Platteville at George Fox
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Washington U. at Carnegie Mellon
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Chicago at Case Western Reserve
12:00 PM
Husson at Alfred
12:00 PM
SUNY-Maritime at Maine Maritime
Video
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
12:00 PM
Otterbein at Buffalo State
12:00 PM
Ursinus at Bethany
1:00 PM
Plymouth State at Castleton
Live Stats
1:00 PM
RPI at Norwich
1:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Dickinson
1:00 PM
Oberlin at Kalamazoo
1:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
1:00 PM
Wooster at Washington and Jefferson
1:00 PM
Alfred State at William Paterson
1:00 PM
St. Vincent at Alma
1:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at Finlandia
1:00 PM
Olivet at St. John Fisher
1:00 PM
Rowan at Widener
1:00 PM
Hobart at Brockport
1:00 PM
Union at Ithaca
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Lycoming
1:00 PM
Utica at Misericordia
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
1:30 PM
Wilmington at Bluffton
1:30 PM
Monmouth at Hope
1:30 PM
Bridgewater at Gettysburg
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Waynesburg
1:30 PM
Juniata at Grove City
2:00 PM
Lakeland at Carroll
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at St. Norbert
2:00 PM
Austin at Hendrix
2:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Martin Luther
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Millikin at Greenville
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Eureka at Knox
Live Stats
2:00 PM
MacMurray at Rockford
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Westminster (Mo.)
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at Luther
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lake Forest
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Jamestown
2:00 PM
Crown at Hamline
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Carleton at Macalester
2:00 PM
Bethel at Dubuque
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
Live Stats
2:00 PM
St. Olaf at Grinnell
2:00 PM
Buena Vista at Mayville St.
2:00 PM
Simpson at UW-Stout
2:00 PM
Aurora at Carthage
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at Coe
2:00 PM
Ripon at Concordia-Chicago
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Loras
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
2:30 PM
Southern Virginia at Earlham
Live Stats
4:00 PM
La Verne at Puget Sound
Live Stats
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
6:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Berry
6:00 PM
Augustana at Mount St. Joseph
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
Live Stats
6:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Averett
6:00 PM
Redlands at Trinity (Texas)
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
7:00 PM
Capital at Wittenberg
7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Illinois College at Rose-Hulman
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Hanover at Centre
7:00 PM
Geneva at Frostburg State
7:00 PM
Nichols at Westfield State
7:00 PM
Greensboro at Guilford
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
7:00 PM
Anderson at North Park
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
Video Live Stats
8:00 PM
Willamette at Rhodes
8:00 PM
Cornell at Iowa Wesleyan
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Augsburg at Northwestern (Minn.)
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Southwestern Assemblies at Howard Payne
8:00 PM
Sul Ross State at UT-Permian Basin
Dec. 18: All times Eastern
Final
Mount Union 49, at St. Thomas 35
@ Salem, Va.
Box Score Recap Recap Photos