By Keith McMillan
|Chuck Moore and the Purple
Raiders hold aloft a sixth national championship trophy.
By Pat Cummings, D3football.com
SALEM — Chuck Moore made his last day as a Purple Raider
The fifth-year senior and Gagliardi Trophy winner set a Stagg Bowl record by rushing for 273 yards and three touchdowns to lead Mount Union to its sixth national championship 30-27 against Bridgewater (Va.).
"You never expect to put numbers together like that," said Moore, who won his second consecutive Stagg Bowl Most Outstanding Player award. "This is what dreams are made of."
The Raiders' unprecedented fifth national championship in six years and 82nd victory in 83 games certainly seemed delivered by the Sandman.
"I would have never expected half of what we've done," Moore said, admitting that he might start missing football as early as Sunday morning.
While Moore, who has completed course work and is set to begin work as a stockbroker in January, is going to miss football, the Purple Raiders will miss him.
"I hesitate to say I might never have an opportunity to coach another young man of his caliber," said Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, holding back tears. "Because I hope I do."
Moore's third touchdown, a 95-yard burst with 5:50 left in the third period, gave the Purple Raiders a 30-13 lead and seemingly sealed the outcome.
But Bridgewater, a team that had made a habit out of rallying from deficits in improving from 0-10 in 1998 to 12-1 this season, would not go away. Quarterback Jason Lutz found junior Brian Ratliff, who finished with a game-high seven receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns, for a 59-yard score that cut the lead to 30-20 with 13:09 remaining.
Bridgewater had three possessions after that, but Lutz threw an interception, was sacked on a key third down and later scored on a 3-yard run.
Mount Union had taken possession ahead by 10 with 5:58 left, and an acrobatic catch on third-and-9 by Jason Candle (five catches for 120 yards) extended the Purple Raiders' drive and allowed them to kill three minutes of fourth-quarter clock. Rob Adamson lofted a pass down the middle that looked like it was intercepted by Bridgewater's Brad McCrady. Candle went up with McCrady, and as the two came down, Candle somersaulted and stood up with the ball in his hands.
"Maybe it was a lucky catch, maybe it was me making a play on the ball, maybe it was him not making a play on the ball," Candle said. "That's for you to debate. I've always prided myself on thinking I could step up in those situations."
After Lutz's touchdown narrowed the Mount Union advantage to three with 1:55 left, Bridgewater attempted but did not recover an onside kick. Moore rushed for 9, 6 and then 8 yards to seal the win, and the third title of his career.
"This is an unbelievable feeling to walk out of here as a senior and as a champion," said Moore.
A game that some assumed might be a Purple Raider cakewalk started on high note for the Eagles. On the first play from scrimmage, Jason Lutz found Marcus Richardson on a seam route, a 67-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Mount Union responded with Moore's first touchdown to cap a six-play, 49-yard drive. The Eagles missed an opportunity to go ahead 10-7 later in the opening period when a Sean Rowe 42-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright.
Mount Union's Rodney Chenos made it 10-7 with a field goal early in the second period. Chenos also missed a 33-yard attempt with just more than nine minutes left in the game.
When the teams traded blows early on, a momentum-changing 44-yard interception return by Jason Perkins gave Mount Union a 23-13 advantage 3:39 from the half.
"Even though it occurred early, it might have been a game-winning play," Kehres said.
Of course, the game's best play came from the Mount Union defensive line and secondary. They forced the Eagles, who outgained Mount Union 516-454, into four turnovers, all interceptions thrown by Lutz (14 of 34, 374 yards, 3 touchdowns). Mount Union threw one interception and lost a fumble.
Bridgewater All-American tailback Davon Cruz finished with 71 yards on 18 carries, but was slowed by a rib injury early in the game. Cruz aggravated the injury later and was disappointed at not being full strength.
His counterpart, fellow All-American Moore had no such problems. His story went perfectly according to the script.
"I have been lucky enough to play in three national championship games," Moore said. "I can honestly say it gets better and better every time. You never want to take winning for granted."