/playoffs/2012/drama-is-back-in-salem

In Salem, the drama is back

More news about: Mount Union | St. Thomas
Chris Denton got past St. Thomas' Chinni Oji to pull in the touchdown that put the game away for the Purple Raiders.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com 

By Keith McMillan
D3sports.com

SALEM -- What a way we’ve come, Division III.

Look at the landscape post-Stagg Bowl XL. Mount Union, following its first championship since 2008 but 11th overall, may be starting another purple reign that lasts several seasons. But they are not without a handful of legitimate challengers, as D-III over the past few go-rounds has restored the drama without sacrificing the level of play.

Put another way, it hasn’t taken the retirement of Larry Kehres or an unexpected Mount Union dropoff to bring drama back along the Road to Salem. A handful of teams are able to go toe-to-toe with the purple power, so D-III can have it both ways. To be the best, teams still need to scale the Mount or get past UW-Whitewater – absent from Salem after seven consecutive Stagg Bowls following a 7-3 season – but they’re not so far ahead of the pack that nobody can play with them.

Mary Hardin-Baylor led 28-14 and 35-28 in the fourth quarter at Alliance, Ohio, in the semifinals. Mount Union needed to play its best quarter of the season to pull out the victory. The storming of the field, an uncommon occurrence for a program that rarely plays a close game, was both a sign of respect for UMHB and the chance for Mount Union fans to experience the late-game tension that most of the rest of us grow to love during the course of a normal season.

During portions of the Stagg Bowl, though St. Thomas lost 28-10, the Tommies were in total control of the action on the field. They didn’t turn it into enough points to win, but they shut out the No. 1 offense in the country from the 12:50 mark of the first quarter to the 1:04 mark of the third.

Larry Kehres was asked after the Stagg Bowl whether he saw shades of his program in St. Thomas.

“Certainly,” said the coach who’s brought his team to Salem 16 of the past 20 seasons. “They tackle well, they rally to the ball, and they have a very well prepared coach.”

Glenn Caruso came to Salem last season after St. Thomas lost, 20-0, to UW-Whitewater in the semifinals. He said he felt like a failure then, and he used the word again after Stagg Bowl XL.

“I’m not afraid to say it,” he said.

“We’re pretty crushed right now. I’d be lying if I said anything else. … For us to excuse [losing the Stagg Bowl] would not allow us to utilize that same pain to get back here.”

It might be some time before Caruso fully appreciates what his team’s time in the spotlight has done for St. Thomas. He’s a coach who’s not afraid to be emotional – be it crying or cutting off a reporter’s line of questioning – postgame. He tells his players he loves them, and the players tell each other they love each other. A late-game timeout by Caruso brought the whole St. Thomas team together on the sidelines.

With the emergence of St. Thomas and the continued presence of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Salem has some drama outside of Mount Union.
Photo by Ryan Coleman, d3photography.com

That doesn’t appeal to everyone, but Caruso has enormous appeal. And now, by extension, so does St. Thomas.

The chance to showcase their facility and brand of football on ESPN gave St. Thomas a few legs up on its D-III counterparts when it comes to pointing toward Stagg Bowl XLI. Playing a 15th week is something only they and Mount Union got to do this season. It’s one more week of coaching and practice getting young players to improve. The Tommies also played a spring game in Canada this year, meaning they’ve taken full advantage of every opportunity to improve players in their program.

One might not appreciate what the Tommies had to do to get to Salem, since Mary Hardin-Baylor, Wesley and Mount Union were on the other side of the bracket, but they didn’t exactly go through a bunch of nobodies. Elmhurst featured Gagliardi Trophy winner Scottie Williams and went 9-1 in the powerful CCIW. Hobart was 12-0 coming into the quarterfinal game, and in the semis, UST beat No. 5 UW-Oshkosh, which knocked No. 3 Linfield out of the playoffs.

Literally as I write this, Tommies defensive end Ayo Idowu tweets “You guys haven’t seen the last of this St. Thomas team.” I was thinking the same thing. Between Caruso, commitment to facilities and the program, and the young players already in the program – not the least of which is sophomore quarterback Matt O’Connell – I’d be surprised if this was St. Thomas’s last trip to Salem.

Caruso is perhaps the next Kehres, but there’s still the matter of the current one. He loses impact seniors all over the place – his top six offensive linemen, a national player of the year in safety Nick Driskill, an all-American-level defensive end/linebacker in Charles Dieuseul, three senior wide receivers, three senior running backs, etc. But he’s got a star in the making in sophomore quarterback Kevin Burke.

A Mount Union broadcaster before the game predicted he’d go down as the best Purple Raiders quarterback ever. In a line that includes Gagliardi Trophy winners like Greg Micheli, Bill Borchert and Jim Ballard, plus champions like Gary Smeck and Rob Adamson, that’s saying something.

“The future at Mount Union is bright,” said Driskill, the senior who had endured three losses in Salem before finally going out a champion. “It’ll be just fine.”

While Mount Union’s seniors avoided becoming the first Purple Raiders class to go without a championship since those who graduated after the 1992 season, there are a couple programs awful close to breaking through in Salem. UMHB loses LiDarral Bailey, Javicz Jones and a group that nearly knocked off Mount Union on the road in the semis, just as the 2004 Stagg Bowl Cru did.

They’re at the top of the heap of teams itching to win their first title. Wesley’s done everything but get to Salem. Linfield returns its entire defense, plus a star running back and defensive tackle who missed most of this season with injuries.

UW-Whitewater’s three losses this season equaled their number of defeats from 2007 through 2011, when they won four national championships under Lance Leipold. There’s a good chance the Warhawks will be back challenging for a run to Salem next season.

That makes six legitimate contenders for Mount Union’s throne, as Burke will have to carry more of the offensive load his next two seasons.

The drama is back in D-III. And the joy is back in Alliance.

Because UW-Whitewater raised its level the previous seven seasons, and had won three straight, Mount Union got to live the way the rest of us do. Championships are not a birthright. They are won with talent and coaching, but also harnessing it and putting forth every once of effort it takes to get to Salem and leave victoriously.

Be it defensive linemen Chris Favazzo and Jared Modrak switching to the offensive line, Blair Skilliter playing both ways, or Skilliter, Jake Simon and T.J. Lattimore sharing carries, Mount Union’s seniors – all but two of whom had never won before – did whatever they had to win it all. Dieuseul, who is from Florida, mentioned practices in the snow, 5 a.m. spring workouts and 6 a.m. lifting sessions, all powered by the fuel of having come up short the previous season.

In that sense, Mount Union got to experience the championship organically, the same way any other group of seniors winning it for their first time would have. Family hugged players outside the locker room. There were cheers, and players saying they wouldn’t sleep all night following the Stagg Bowl. They were soaking it all in.

Driskill called it a perfect ending. I asked if it would have been any more perfect going out against UW-Whitewater instead.

“I didn’t come to Mount Union to beat Whitewater,” he said. “I came to win a championship.”

Oct. 13: All times Eastern
Final
Bridgewater State 24, at Mass-Dartmouth 22
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at UW-Whitewater 21, UW-La Crosse 14
Video Box Score Recap
Oct. 14: All times Eastern
Final
Salve Regina 45, at Nichols 10
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Mount Ida 14, at Dean 7
Box Score
Final
at Thomas More 59, Waynesburg 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Maine Maritime 34, Coast Guard 16
Video Box Score
Final
at Finlandia 27, Trinity Bible 21
Video Box Score
Final
Hamilton 28, at Bowdoin 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Delaware Valley 49, King's 14
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Olivet 47, Albion 26
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Wesleyan 41, Bates 23
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Union 27, at Rochester 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Amherst 40, at Colby 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Western New England 41, Endicott 14
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Brockport 48, Morrisville State 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final - OT
at Plymouth State 16, Framingham State 13
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at RPI 27, Ithaca 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Hobart 49, at Hartwick 27
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Ferrum 34, LaGrange 20
Video Box Score
Final
at Carnegie Mellon 42, Geneva 27
Video Box Score
Final
Ohio Wesleyan 16, at Wabash 13
Video Box Score Recap
Final
DePauw 26, at Denison 17
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Trine 42, Kalamazoo 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Washington and Lee 47, Guilford 26
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Husson 49, Castleton 0
Box Score Recap
Final
Gallaudet 35, at Alfred State 19
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Wittenberg 49, Allegheny 15
Video Box Score
Final
Brevard 41, at Methodist 17
Video Box Score
Final
at Lebanon Valley 31, Stevenson 24
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Buffalo State 24, at St. Lawrence 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final - OT
at Cortland 20, Alfred 17
Box Score Recap Live stats
Final
at Randolph-Macon 52, Emory and Henry 29
Video Box Score
Final
at Wesley 29, Kean 9
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Hampden-Sydney 58, Apprentice 28
Video Box Score
Final
Frostburg State 59, at William Paterson 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at N.C. Wesleyan 45, Greensboro 0
Video Box Score
Final
at Westminster (Pa.) 49, Grove City 27
Video Box Score
Final
Washington and Jefferson 49, at Bethany 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Westminster (Mo.) 56, Crown 15
Video Box Score
Final
at Northwestern (Minn.) 29, Iowa Wesleyan 7
Video
Final
at Knox 56, Grinnell 14
Video
Final
at Widener 31, Lycoming 17
Video Box Score
Final
Trinity (Conn.) 23, at Tufts 16
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Mount St. Joseph 66, Earlham 7
Video Box Score
Final - 2OT
Ohio Northern 27, at John Carroll 20
Preview Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Baldwin Wallace 23, at Muskingum 20
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Mount Union 72, Capital 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Rose-Hulman 44, at Manchester 13
Video Box Score Recap Recap Photos
Final
at Hanover 31, Bluffton 28
Video Video Box Score
Final
Defiance 45, at Anderson 0
Video Box Score
Final
at Wartburg 42, Loras 11
Video Box Score
Final
Hiram 62, at Kenyon 56
Video Box Score
Final
Springfield 35, at Merchant Marine 13
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Williams 27, at Middlebury 26
Video Box Score
Final
at Westfield State 33, Fitchburg State 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Marietta 43, at Wilmington 33
Video Box Score
Final
at Berry 34, Hendrix 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Curry 40, at Becker 0
Video Box Score
Final
TCNJ 20, at Rowan 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at SUNY-Maritime 51, Anna Maria 15
Video Box Score
Final
Salisbury 28, at Montclair State 10
Video Box Score
Final
at Huntingdon 28, Maryville (Tenn.) 16
Video Box Score
Final
at Austin 33, Millsaps 19
Video Box Score
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 65, Howard Payne 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Washington U. 55, Buena Vista 20
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
Alma 27, at Aurora 19
Video Box Score
Final
at Rockford 29, Concordia-Chicago 14
Video Box Score
Final
Wisconsin Lutheran 22, at Concordia (Wis.) 19
Video Box Score
Final
at Lakeland 57, Benedictine 21
Video Box Score
Final
at St. Norbert 10, Chicago 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Concordia-Moorhead 45, at Hamline 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
St. Olaf 22, at Augsburg 20
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Bethel 24, at Gustavus Adolphus 3
Video Box Score
Final
St. John's 35, at Carleton 0
Video Box Score
Final
at Eureka 30, Greenville 19
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Centre 27, at Trinity (Texas) 21
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Dubuque 42, at Nebraska Wesleyan 27
Video Box Score
Final
Central 30, at Coe 19
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Lake Forest 56, at Cornell 28
Video Box Score
Final
at Carthage 31, Elmhurst 8
Video Box Score
Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 30, Carroll 0
Video Box Score
Final
Millikin 28, at Augustana 27
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Ripon 52, at Beloit 28
Video Box Score
Final
MacMurray 49, at Minnesota-Morris 13
Video
Final
Macalester 21, at Lawrence 18
Video Box Score
Final
at Monmouth 59, Illinois College 14
Video Box Score
Final
at UW-Stevens Point 26, UW-Eau Claire 3
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Case Western Reserve 63, at Thiel 28
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Wooster 38, Oberlin 28
Video Box Score
Final
Texas Lutheran 41, at East Texas Baptist 34
Video Box Score
Final
at UW-Stout 21, UW-River Falls 16
Box Score Recap
Final
UW-Oshkosh 28, at UW-Platteville 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Sewanee 34, at Birmingham-Southern 13
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Hope 22, Adrian 3
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Linfield 49, at Lewis and Clark 14
Video Box Score
Cancelled
La Verne at Occidental
Video Live stats Audio
Final
Whitworth 17, at Pacific Lutheran 14
Video Box Score Photos Photos
Final
at Cal Lutheran 42, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 20
Video Box Score
Final
at George Fox 58, Willamette 12
Video Video Box Score
Final
at Pacific 35, Puget Sound 27
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Pomona-Pitzer 45, at Whittier 23
Video Box Score
Final
at Western Connecticut 28, Massachusetts Maritime 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at St. Scholastica 56, Martin Luther 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final - 5OT
at St. John Fisher 39, Utica 36
Video Recap Live stats Audio
Final - OT
at Heidelberg 48, Otterbein 45
Video Preview Box Score Recap Audio Tickets
Final
at Shenandoah 38, Bridgewater 20
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Southwestern 60, at Belhaven 31
Video Video Box Score
Final
Hardin-Simmons 35, at Sul Ross State 10
Box Score
Final
at Louisiana College 52, McMurry 34
Box Score
Final
at Simpson 38, Luther 17
Video Box Score
Final
at Chapman 45, Redlands 26
Video Video Box Score Recap Recap
Oct. 16: All times Eastern
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 42, North Central (Ill.) 20
Recap Box Score
Oct. 14: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 49, King's 14
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final - OT
at Cortland 20, Alfred 17
Box Score Recap Live stats
Final
at Wesley 29, Kean 9
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Frostburg State 59, at William Paterson 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Wittenberg 49, Allegheny 15
Video Box Score
Final
at Brockport 48, Morrisville State 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Washington and Jefferson 49, at Bethany 14
Video Box Score
Final
Ohio Wesleyan 16, at Wabash 13
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Mount Union 72, Capital 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Wartburg 42, Loras 11
Video Box Score
Final
at Berry 34, Hendrix 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Springfield 35, at Merchant Marine 13
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 65, Howard Payne 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
St. John's 35, at Carleton 0
Video Box Score
Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 30, Carroll 0
Video Box Score
Final
Concordia-Moorhead 45, at Hamline 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Case Western Reserve 63, at Thiel 28
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
UW-Oshkosh 28, at UW-Platteville 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Linfield 49, at Lewis and Clark 14
Video Box Score
Final
at George Fox 58, Willamette 12
Video Video Box Score
Final
Hardin-Simmons 35, at Sul Ross State 10
Box Score
Oct. 16: All times Eastern
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 42, North Central (Ill.) 20
Recap Box Score