Mount Union outscored UW-Whitewater 21-3 in the second half of
play, en route to winning an unprecedented ninth Division III
national championship by a score of 35-16 in front of 6,051 fans at
Salem Stadium in Salem, Va., on Saturday, Dec. 16.
Whitewater (14-1) opened the scoring late in the first quarter when Jeff Schebler connected on a 25 yard field goal giving the Warhawks' a 3-0 lead with 2:14 remaining in the period. The drive covered 56 yards on 10 plays. This was the first time the Raiders trailed in 2006 — as span of 59 quarters dating back to an early first quarter 7-0 deficit to the Warhawks in the 2005 Stagg Bowl.
Mount Union (15-0) responded when quarterback Greg Micheli found
tight end Anthony Antonucci with a 2-yard touchdown at the 13:50
mark of the second quarter. That drive took eight plays and covered
62 yards. Mike Zimmerman's PAT made it 7-3 Mount Union.
Following a Whitewater three and out, the Raiders marched 72 yards on 10 plays culminating in Micheli's 12 yard touchdown scamper on second and two. The score was set up by a fourth and one conversion when Micheli found fullback Terrance Morring with a 13 yard completion to the Whitewater 20. Zimmerman's PAT gave the Purple & White a 14-3 lead with 6:52 remaining before halftime.
Whitewater's special then came up big when wide receiver Jordan Wells returned the ensuing kickoff 81 yards to the Raider 9-yard line. Two plays later, running back Justin Jacobs took it in from the 1-yard line. Schebler connected on the PAT making it 14-10 Mount Union.
The Warhawks closed out first half scoring with a seven-play, 54-yard drive, ending with a Schebler 24-yard field goal.
Mount Union led 14-13 at halftime. The Raiders had 258 yards of offense compared to 214 for the Warhawks.
The Raiders took a 21-13 advantage when on a third and seven play from the Warhawk 46, Micheli connected with wide receiver Pierre Garcon on a short crossing route, turned into a 46-yard touchdown. Zimmerman added his third PAT as the Raiders led 21-13 with 5:30 in the third stanza.
“Pierre (Garcon) basically took a 5-yard route and used his explosion through the opening by virtue of his great speed to cover the distance,” said Raider coach Larry Kehres, who has been at the helm for all nine championships.
Mount Union's special teams came up big once again when safety Matt Kostelnik blocked a punt that was scooped up by linebacker Matt Rees and returned 34 yards for a touchdown at 2:35 of the third quarter. It was the Raiders' fifth special teams' touchdown of the season and eighth non-offensive score for Mount Union in 2006. The PAT gave Mount Union a 28-13 lead.
“We had a stunt on and I just found a seam and got to the punter,” said Kostelnik in the postgame news conference. “Matt (Rees) is one of my best friends and it was great to see him recover the ball and head for the end zone.”
With their next possession, the Warhawks reached the Raider 19-yard line before settling for Schebler's Stagg Bowl record third field goal of the game — a 36 yarder with 14:43 left in the contest. The Raiders led 28-16.
Mount Union then responded with a seven-play, 63-yard drive ending in a Micheli-to-Garcon 10-yard touchdown connection. Zimmerman's PAT at 10:59 of the final quarter made the eventual final 35-16 Raiders.
The Raiders outscored the Warhawks 21-3 in the second half in posting their 23rd consecutive win and 52nd playoff victory (52-9 overall in postseason).
“This was the best game we've played all season long,” noted Kehres. "A great Wisconsin-Whitewater team brought the best out of us. Even at halftime, when we were only up one point, I felt we were playing very hard. Our assistant coaches making the calls kept us aggressive, on both sides of the ball, throughout the second half and the players seemed to feed off of that aggressiveness.”
“We played a good first half of football, but things seemed to fall apart in the second half today,” said Whitewater coach Bob Berezowitz, who is retiring after 22 years at the helm of the Warhawk program. “We did a good job against the run, as we have pretty much all season long, but we had no answer for No. 1 (Garcon). He took those underneath routes and used his athleticism to make plays.”
The Raiders finished the contest with 363 yards of offense compared to 235 for the Warhawks. Mount Union averaged 5.5 yards per play while Whitewater was at 3.7 yards per attempt. The Raiders turned it over twice compared to one Warhawk turnover.
Individually for Mount Union, Micheli, the game's Most Outstanding Player, finished 18-of-22 for 202 yards and three touchdown passes. He also ran for one score. The completions, yards passing and three touchdowns in one game are all personal single-game bests. His .818 completion rate set a Stagg Bowl record, breaking hold mark of .714 set by teammate Mike Jorris in 2005.
Garcon finished with a game-high eight grabs for a game-best 116 yards receiving and two scores — matching his two touchdown reception effort in the 2005 Stagg Bowl. Running back Nate Kmic had a game-high 111 yards on 25 carries — setting a new Raider single-season mark with 2,365 yards rushing, surpassing the old mark of 2,303 yards set by 2002 Stagg Bowl MVP Dan Pugh of Mount Union.
Whitewater was led by running back Justin Beaver's 87 yards on 23 carries. Jacobs finished 12-of-27 for 148 yards passing with one rushing. Wide receiver Derek Stanley had a team-best six receptions for 82 yards.
Defensively, the Raider were paced by end Sam Vucelich with seven tackles and Rees' four-tackle and one sack effort. Warhawk linebacker A.J. Raebel had a game-high 13 tackles and one sack.
“We got beat by a better team today,” said Berezowitz. “They made the plays and we didn't. That defense doesn't get the credit their offense does, but they are quick, tackle well and really get to the ball quickly. They don't get enough credit for how well they play.”
The Raider defense did not allow more than 17 points in a game all season long.
The Raiders set a collegiate record in winning 15 games in a season — tying 2006 Division II national champion Grand Valley State with that mark.