Freshman leads Mount Union to eighth national title
|Nate Kmic scampers down the
field on his record-tying touchdown run.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3football.com
By Gordon Mann
SALEM — Nate Kmic ran for 185 yards and three touchdowns
as the Mount Union Purple Raiders (14-1) defeated the UW-Whitewater
Warhawks (14-1) 35-28 to capture their eighth Division III football
Kmic was named the Most Outstanding Player of Stagg Bowl XXXIII and finished the postseason with 1,041 yards and 13 touchdowns in five games – quite a run for a freshman thrust into a starting role after Aaron Robinson was injured in the first round of the playoffs.
The Warhawks showed no signs of early jitters in their first Stagg Bowl appearance. Cornerback Victor Wipperfurth ended Mount Union’s first drive by intercepting Mike Jorris and returning the ball to the Purple Raiders’ 42-yard line. Running back Justin Beaver capped Whitewater’s first drive with a 2-yard touchdown rush.
The Purple Raiders answered two drives later when Mike Jorris found wide receiver Pierre Garcon who bolted 63 yards to the end zone to tie the game with 6:32 left in the first quarter.
Jorris hit Garcon again for a 12-yard touchdown strike with 5:03 to play in the first half to give Mount Union a 13-7 lead. That drive featured instant replay’s debut at the Division III level as the officials twice reviewed potential end zone grabs by Garcon. In both cases the ruling on the field stood including Garcon’s second touchdown.
Whitewater had an opportunity to tie the game before halftime, but free safety Nick Barren jarred the ball loose from tight end Pete Schmitt’s hands as he crashed across the goal line. The officials reviewed the play and the call stood as incomplete call. The drive ended when Chaulk’s 41-yard field goal attempt fell short.
The Warhawks had another chance to tie the game in their first drive of the second half, reaching the Purple Raiders’ 1-yard line on ten plays. But on fourth and goal, line backer Matt Rees and Barren stuffed Beaver for no gain.
Three plays later Kmic carried the ball around the left side of the line and shot down the field for a 95-yard touchdown, tying a Stagg Bowl record set by former Purple Raider Chuck Moore in 2001.
Less than seven minutes later, Kmic scored again, this time on a 2-yard carry to push Mount Union’s lead to 28-7.
Facing their largest deficit of the season, the Warhawks’ offense awoke as Justin Jacobs hit wide receiver Jim Leszczynski for a 23-yard touchdown pass. Whitewater needed a quick defensive stop with just 12:22 remaining in the game and got it when defensive lineman Eric Kosterman stopped Kmic on one third-and-1. Whitewater cut the Mount Union lead to 28-21 with 8:37 left as Jacobs hit Schmitt for his second touchdown pass of the game.
But the Warhawks could not get another sorely needed stop on the ensuing drive. The Purple Raiders mounted a 12 play drive that consumed more than five minutes and ended in Kmic’s third rushing touchdown of the day.
Whitewater mounted a final rally, pushing down to the Mount Union 1-yard line with under a minute to play. But they needed three tries to score before Jacobs pushed across the goal line to narrow the Purple Raiders’ lead to 35-28.
With just two seconds left and the inability to advance an onside kick in college football, Whitewater needed a minor miracle to tie the game. Instead Mount Union recovered the onside kick and took a final snap to wrap up the national championship with a 35-28 victory.