By Keith McMillan
SALEM — Mount Union head coach Larry Kehres doesn’t want to call it a dynasty. After watching them earn their seventh championship in 10 seasons, one could describe the Purple Raiders with other “d” words.
Mount Union was determined, dominant and got a record-smashing
day from Dan Pugh, who carried 49 times for 253 yards and four
touchdowns as the Purple Raiders blazed past Trinity (Texas) 48-7
on a windy day at Salem Stadium.
Pugh, the Gagliardi Trophy winner and D3football.com first-team all-American, scored a touchdown in each quarter and became Division III’s single-season all-purpose yardage leader with 3,192 and passed Barry Sanders for the single-season, all-divisions touchdown record, with 41.
“That’s pretty slick,” said a smiling Pugh post-game. “Growing up watching Barry, you never think your name would be in the same sentence as his, or any record book really.”
For the past two seasons, Pugh played second fiddle to Chuck Moore, a two-time Stagg Bowl MVP and the 2001 Gagliardi trophy winner. But Saturday was all his.
Pugh, who said he was not tired after the game, got the Purple Raiders going early on sweeps and draws. Running up the middle was tough, but Pugh punished Trinity’s would-be tacklers.
“He is not your typical Division III running back, I’ll tell you that,” said Trinity coach Steve Mohr. “He made people miss in the open field, he’s got power. He’s the whole package. You can see why he’s the nation’s best football player.”
The Tigers, who came into the game 14-0 but were missing suspended starting quarterback Roy Hampton, stopped the Purple Raiders on its opening drive. But Dan DesPlaines, starting for the first time, was intercepted by Justin Burton, setting the Purple Raiders up on the Trinty 24-yard line.
On third-and-5, Pugh swept around right end and scored from 19 yards out.
Combined, the Tigers and Purple Raiders attempted six passes in the brief first quarter, but as soon as Mount Union had the 30- to 40-mph winds at their back, quarterback Rob Adamson started gunning.
Adamson completed 9 of 14 passes for 124 yards and two scores as the Purple Raiders scored on all three second half possessions for a 28-0 halftime lead. Adamson connected with Randell Knapp (4 catches, 58 yards) for 16 yards on fourth-and-13. Three plays later, Adamson found Knapp from nine yards out and a 13-0 lead.
DesPlaines appeared to complete a 30-yard pass to Jason Hunt to get the Tigers to the Purple Raider 22, but officials ruled that Hunt pushed off on Mount Union’s All-American cornerback Chris Kern, and Trinity failed on third-and-20.
Adamson completed a 20-yard pass to Knapp and followed with a 19-yard touchdown strike to Derrick Leach. Pugh dove inside the pylon for a two-point conversion and a 21-0 lead.
Trinity went three-and-out and Jason Cavell returned Greg Genung’s punt seven yards to the Trinity 35-yard line with 2:31 left in the half.
Mount Union managed the clock and Pugh gave the Purple Raiders a 28-0 halftime lead with a 2-yard run with 24 seconds left.
DesPlaines connected with B.J. Smith for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 7:59 left in the third to get Trinity on the board.
Pugh rushed seven consecutive times for 42 yards, then Adamson hit Nick Sirrianni for a 31-yard gain on fourth-and-8 to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Pugh.
Down 35-7, Trinity mishandled the kick and Mount Union recovered. Pugh later scored on a 2-yard run and Mount Union went up 41-7.
“They’ve got a great football team, but we’re disappointed that we didn’t play better,” said Mohr. “But that had a lot to do with Mount Union. Our only momentum was on that third quarter scoring drive, but they killed that.”
Kehres recalled a bad third period in last year’s Stagg Bowl and some similar post-halftime performances in this year’s regular season, so he pushed the Purple Raiders to come out crisp. Their third period was impressive, and it included a long punt return touchdown by Kern that was called back.
Adamson closed the scoring with a 55-yard touchdown pass to Leach.
The game was a swan song for Kern and defensive end Matt Campbell, who each have NFL prospects. It was also for Adamson, who missed a few games early in the season and had recently come around.
“He has played his best football over the past four weeks,” said Kehres. “He’s been throwing the ball well. He led this team through the playoffs.”
Adamson was 12 of 22 for 222 yards, but recalled wobbly passes in warm-ups that made him think throwing in the wind would make for a much tougher day.
“In a wind like that, you had to throw tight spirals,” he said.
DesPlaines had a tough time getting acclimated, he admitted, to both the speed of the game and the wind. But nobody from Trinity thought having Hampton would have made any difference.
“We thought to ourselves,” said Mohr. “It was a tough day to be a quarterback. I felt for the QBs today.”
“I thought he played well,” said Kern of DesPlaines.
Mohr said there was no way he could have changed the game plan to compensate for the wind just a few hours before the game. But receiver Jehreme Urban was limited to three catches for 19 yards and Jason Hunt had only two for 35.
The day, and ultimately the weekend, belonged to Pugh. Running behind George Momirovic, Brent Miller, Justin Coston, Bob Bradley and Larry Kinnard, Pugh had 28 of his carries and 148 of his yards in the first half.
After the game, just like the man he had waited behind, he had a Stagg Bowl MVP award.
“I knew coming into the program that Chuck was the man,” Pugh said. “It was difficult coming in, having to be patient.”
Prior to the season, some thought he might not be able to fill Moore’s shoes.
“You get a lot of people coming up to you saying ‘Chuck did this, Chuck did that.’ [Looking back at what I’ve done], it feels great.”
With a third consecutive national championship for Pugh’s senior class, it should feel great.