December 15, 2011

Looking to get back on top

More news about: Mount Union | UW-Whitewater
Jasper Collins announced his return to form last week with three touchdowns and a two-point conversion catch against Wesley.
Photo by Dan Poel for d3photography.com

By Andrew Lovell
D3sports.com

Jasper Collins has heard the comments over the years. When you play for Mount Union or UW-Whitewater, you can't help it.

Collins, a dynamic junior wide receiver for the Purple Raiders will line up for his third Stagg Bowl in as many seasons Friday night. Like the past two years, the Warhawks will be the opponent. But the Mount Union-Whitewater Stagg Bowl streak predates Collins -- the two teams have played every year in the championship game since 2005.

People across the D-III football spectrum -- from coaches and fans to writers and SIDs -- have wondered if that's fair, boring or, most commonly, simply whether or not it's "good" for Division III.

Collins' response to those comments? Easy. Mount Union and UW-Whitewater will meet for the seventh straight year in the Stagg Bowl because the two teams have earned it -- all seven times.

"In Division III, they have a playoff system, so I think that's the right way to do it," Collins said. "You put the teams in and you let them battle it out. Obviously us and them have been there the last seven years ... it's a test of the teams. If you're the best, you have to prove it."

There's no debating whether Mount Union and Whitewater are the two best teams in the country. They are. And they have been for the better part of the last decade. Few could or would argue that.

What is up for debate, however, is whether Whitewater has bypassed Mount Union as the preeminent Division III football program. A closer examination is certainly warranted.

If Whitewater defeats Mount Union Friday night, it will become just the third team ever to win at least three consecutive Stagg Bowls, joining Augustana (four straight from 1983-86) and Mount Union (twice -- 1996-98 and 2000-02).

Whitewater would also become just the second school to win as many as four Stagg Bowls within a five-year period, again joining Mount Union, which won six over a seven-year stretch from 1996-2002.

Whitewater enters Friday night on a 44-game winning streak that spans three full seasons. Of course, Mount Union boasts a remarkable streak of its own, as the Purple Raiders haven't lost to a team other than Whitewater since a 2005 loss to Ohio Northern.

Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, who is about to close out his 26th season at the helm of the Purple Raiders, has helped build one of the most consistently dominant collegiate programs in any sport in any NCAA division. But even as he gears up for his 15th Stagg Bowl appearance since 1993, Kehres insists the excitement has yet to wear off.

"It doesn't get old at all. I enjoy this," Kehres said. "... I think if you're a fan of one of these two teams, you appreciate that your team is back, regardless of which side you're cheering for."

What he didn't say -- and really, didn't have to say -- is that he enjoys the experience more when Mount Union comes out the victor. In the last two seasons, that hasn't been the case.

"Whitewater's the team that Mount Union fans talk about," Kehres said. "The Mount Union fans, the best team they've seen is Whitewater. So Whitewater's moved into the position of being the team that is the -- what do I want to say? -- standard bearer. What's the best team like? Well, it's like Whitewater's team."

So if Whitewater's the "standard bearer," what does that make Mount Union? The term "trail blazer" seems appropriate. But if the Purple Raiders hope to take back the throne as Division III's top team, they will have to do something they've been unable to the past two seasons -- slow down Levell Coppage.

Coppage rushed for 111 yards and three touchdowns in Whitewater's 38-28 win in 2009, and topped it with a Stagg Bowl-record 299 yards and three touchdowns in last season's 31-21 win.

Coppage needs 371 yards to become the all-time leading rusher among all NCAA divisions. That's not likely to happen, but, after watching Coppage gash them for nearly 300 yards last season, the Purple Raiders aren't putting anything past him.

Kehres said Whitewater quarterback Matt Blanchard, the brother of former Mount Union offensive lineman Derek Blanchard, is just as dangerous, and can pick the Purple Raiders' defense apart, particularly with play action.

"He's just really, really good," Kehres said. "He's so efficient. ... He really plays within the offense, protects the football, keeps it away from the defense. He's a really good quarterback."

Blanchard and Mount Union counterpart Matt Piloto will both start this year's Stagg Bowl with full seasons under their belts, a stark contrast to last season in which Piloto made his first career start for an injured Neal Seaman and Lee Brekke started for an injured Blanchard.

Collins, who leads Mount Union with 58 receptions for 776 yards and 13 touchdowns despite missing four games due to an injury, said Mount Union is pleased to return to the Stagg Bowl, but won't be satisfied with another second-place finish.

"It's always going to be in your head," Collins said. "As freshmen and sophomores, we lost the national championship. ... A lot of players that have been here have won national championships, so I'm one that hasn't had one yet. It's definitely motivation for all of us. We want to get a ring, that's the ultimate goal."

Collins, who torched Wesley's secondary for 139 yards and three touchdowns on nine catches last weekend, will be a key factor for the Mount Union offense. Collins (6-foot, 185 pounds) is in the same play-making mold as former Purple Raiders and current NFL wide receivers Cecil Shorts (6-2, 210) and Pierre Garcon (6-1, 205).

But unlike Shorts and Garcon, who each won Stagg Bowls, Collins is still searching for his first title.

"We're not content with just getting there," Collins said. "We want to win, obviously. The last two years we haven't been able to do that. We're happy to get back, but we're not satisfied yet. It's only the beginning."

It's impossible to forecast a winner in this year's tilt, but the smart money says the game will at least be close. The previous six meetings have been decided by an average of 10.1 points per game, with only Mount Union's 35-16 win in 2006 coming by more than 10 points.

The two teams would rather not debate which one is premier program in Division III. Both would rather win Friday night, and let the rest of us argue about it.

"I think both teams have shown, once again," said Whitewater coach Lance Leipold, "that they've been battle-tested and gone through the regular season and the playoffs to get to this point."

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
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Millsaps at Belhaven
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
6:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
7:00 PM
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
7:00 PM
N.C. Wesleyan at Stevenson
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
7:00 PM
WPI at MIT
Live Stats
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
12:00 PM
Endicott at Framingham State
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
12:00 PM
Sewanee at Kenyon
1:00 PM
King's at Moravian
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Kean at Christopher Newport
1:00 PM
McDaniel at Catholic
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
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
Live Stats
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
The Apprentice School at Methodist
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
Wisconsin Lutheran at Trinity Int'l
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
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
Video Live Stats
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
2:30 PM
Lawrence at Presentation
4:00 PM
UW-Platteville at George Fox
4:00 PM
La Verne at Puget Sound
Video Live Stats
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
Live Stats
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
7:00 PM
Denison at Marietta
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
7:00 PM
Capital at Wittenberg
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Illinois College at Rose-Hulman
Video Live Stats
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
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
Live Stats
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
7:30 PM
Hanover at Centre
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
8:30 PM
Redlands at Trinity (Texas)
Dec. 18: All times Eastern
Final
Mount Union 49, at St. Thomas 35
@ Salem, Va.
Box Score Recap Recap Photos