/playoffs/2017/mount-union-goal-never-changes

At Mount Union, the goal never changes

More news about: Mount Union
Mount Union player taking a selfie after the game
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
 

By Keith McMillan
D3sports.com

SALEM -- Recruits don't go to Mount Union for two-point semifinal losses. They go to win championships.

When those who have come before have been so efficient at championship-winning that Stagg Bowl appearances seem a foregone conclusion, it can create the impression to outsiders that it's easy. This is what Purple Raiders do, after all.

The 15-0 season that culminated Friday night with a 12-0 victory against Mary Hardin-Baylor in Stagg Bowl 45 was anything but easy. It had been borne out of 53 weeks of frustration since a 14-12 loss to UMHB in Belton last season. There were speed bumps along the way, and a 25-point second-half deficit that made even getting to Salem appear unlikely.

The thing about winning so often, so easily, is that the losses are unexpected, and thoroughly painful. Thirteen wins would be a high-water mark for many Division III programs. For Mount Union, a two-loss, zero-Stagg Bowl season such as 2016 is utter disappointment.

Friday night, with a chance to exorcise its Crusaders demon, Mount Union brought into the game the nation's best scoring offense, at 53.3 points per. Against the defending champions, who brought in the nation's best defense, which had allowed 16 points in four playoff games, Mount Union scored one touchdown. Rushing yardage was so tough to come by that the Purple Raiders essentially abandoned handing the ball off when the Salem Stadium wind was at their backs.

Because of a gritty defensive effort -- eight sacks, 144 yards allowed -- the Purple Raiders pitched the first shutout in a Stagg Bowl since 1982, and won the lowest-scoring championship game ever. The sparse scoring wasn't because of rain, or snow, or Salem's whipping winds -- it was because nothing against UMHB came easily.

Then again, during Mount Union's rare season as chip-on-the-shoulder underdog, little did.

Down 35-10 in the third quarter of a semifinal at UW-Oshkosh, the Purple Raiders were more or less left for dead. Six days later, Mount Union was the last team left standing.

The week prior, coach Vince Kehres benched quarterback D'Angelo Fulford for a quarterfinal game against Frostburg State, stemming from legal issues that surfaced before the first-round win against Washington & Lee. Backup Luke Poorman came in and threw six touchdown passes. Poorman made it look easy, but it couldn't have been easy for teammates to see Fulford -- a player Kehres refers to as high-character, on and off the field -- sit following a traffic stop, arrest and missed court date. For a few weeks, eye-opening statistics and game-changing escapability weren't the topic of conversation around Fulford. Against UW-Oshkosh, he threw a deflating interception that was returned for a touchdown. But the sophomore quarterback pumped life back into the Purple Raiders' flagging championship hopes during a 33-5 rally from behind to beat the Titans, 43-40.

Overcoming Oshkosh wasn't easy, but even when they had, the Purple Raiders craved the difficult task of dethroning UHMB. Getting back to Salem had been Mount Union's goal. Getting back and beating the Cru made it sweeter. All-American center Cole Parrish told a story during game week about rewatching the 2016 loss at least 10 times. It was a source of motivation.

But so is not even making it to the Stagg Bowl at a place where wins are expected. Purple Raiders fans scoff when there is no championship to celebrate. Former players wonder privately about that particular team's moxie. The same thing that drew most of the players to Mount Union is what makes the task monumental: Nothing short of winning in Salem is good enough.

In Friday night's postgame news conference, AP reporter Hank Kurz asked if Mount Union championships come with a sense of relief. Nick Brish said he couldn't really call it a relief.

"I can," Kehres said, to a room full of laughter.

Eric Drennan, a reporter from Texas, later asked if coaching a team to the national championship entitled Kehres to the big Turkey leg at Christmas dinner.

"Not the way I look at it. I've got nine more to go," Kehres answered, referencing the 11 titles that his Hall-of-Fame father, Larry, coached Mount Union to. 

Over more than a dozen trips to Salem, Larry Kehres would often point out how each experience was new to someone on the roster. Faces and roles would change for those who had been before; it was never old hat.

Brish, a hybrid defensive player who wasn't even a starter until Week 11, was named Stagg Bowl Most Outstanding Player on Friday night. He had 10 tackles, 2.5 for losses, 1.5 sacks and a safety. Teammates chanted "Brish, Brish, Brish" at midfield as the award was presented.

Sophomore wide receiver Justin Hill did a backflip at midfield as time ran out, and beamed throughout the news conference, enjoying his first national championship. Tight end Cole Moxie and wide receiver Demarco Haynes mimed a sword fight as they brought the Raiders' logo to life in an on-field postgame celebration. Purple Raiders players were smoking cigars at 2 a.m. in front of the Hotel Roanoke, not wanting the night to end. 

Lest anyone think Mount Union championships are ho-hum, think again. The final Road to Salem might have been the Purple Raiders' most difficult, but exorcising a demon and living up to the championship pressure proved to be more gratifying than if it has been easy.

Oct. 19: All times Eastern
Final
Martin Luther 21, at Northwestern (Minn.) 6
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Oct. 20: All times Eastern
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at Stevenson 33, Wilkes 21
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at RPI 31, Hobart 24
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at MIT 13, Coast Guard 0
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Norwich 15, at Maine Maritime 7
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at Moravian 31, Juniata 14
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at Dean 53, Gallaudet 21
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Endicott 45, at Becker 13
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Frostburg State 24, at Montclair State 17
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SUNY-Maritime 68, at Castleton 41
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at Trinity (Texas) 28, Sewanee 14
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Johns Hopkins 51, at Gettysburg 14
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N.C. Wesleyan 29, at Brevard 21
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at Misericordia 37, FDU-Florham 33
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Union 29, at St. Lawrence 7
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at Ithaca 28, Rochester 3
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at Colby 23, Hamilton 21
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at Middlebury 35, Bates 34
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Trinity (Conn.) 48, at Bowdoin 6
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Springfield 23, at Catholic 11
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Amherst 33, at Wesleyan 3
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at Plymouth State 17, Massachusetts Maritime 14
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at Husson 54, Anna Maria 14
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TCNJ 13, at Kean 8
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Carnegie Mellon 41, at Thiel 7
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Salve Regina 30, at Curry 21
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King's 37, at Albright 26
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Trine 31, at Finlandia 0
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Susquehanna 41, at Ursinus 35
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Delaware Valley 52, at Lebanon Valley 7
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at Western New England 70, University of New England 13
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Franklin and Marshall 35, at Dickinson 14
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at Wittenberg 38, DePauw 23
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at Emory and Henry 52, Shenandoah 50
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at Wabash 32, Oberlin 7
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at Westminster (Pa.) 27, Washington and Jefferson 20
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at Hampden-Sydney 38, Guilford 35
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at Randolph-Macon 44, Bridgewater 41
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Cortland 56, at Hartwick 3
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at Denison 27, Ohio Wesleyan 10
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Waynesburg 12, at St. Vincent 10
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Salisbury 33, at Southern Virginia 0
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at Methodist 42, Greensboro 6
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Christopher Newport 39, at William Paterson 10
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Albion 49, at Adrian 42
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Thomas More 35, at St. Scholastica 0
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at Westminster (Mo.) 25, Minnesota-Morris 7
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Lake Forest 24, at Grinnell 0
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at Greenville 41, Crown 14
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at Merchant Marine 25, WPI 24
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at John Carroll 27, Marietta 24
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at Tufts 28, Williams 21
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Ohio Northern 49, at Capital 46
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Baldwin Wallace 35, at Wilmington 33
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at Mount Union 54, Heidelberg 0
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at Lycoming 52, Alvernia 0
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at Rose-Hulman 44, Anderson 6
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at Franklin 64, Earlham 20
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Hanover 48, at Manchester 14
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Mount St. Joseph 20, at Defiance 0
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at Utica 30, Alfred 22
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Maryville (Tenn.) 37, at LaGrange 17
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Framingham State 27, at Westfield State 2
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Morrisville State 35, at St. John Fisher 7
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at Muskingum 21, Otterbein 14
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Final - OT
at Berry 28, Millsaps 21
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at Muhlenberg 42, McDaniel 18
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at Rowan 28, Wesley 27
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at Wooster 28, Hiram 21
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Allegheny 54, at Kenyon 10
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at Nebraska Wesleyan 23, Luther 15
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Wheaton (Ill.) 20, at Augustana 3
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at Eureka 50, Benedictine 20
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Mary Hardin-Baylor 49, at Belhaven 0
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at Hardin-Simmons 58, Texas Lutheran 14
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Chicago 63, at Beloit 0
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at Concordia (Wis.) 45, Concordia-Chicago 34
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Aurora 25, at Rockford 7
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at Bethel 41, Concordia-Moorhead 13
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Lakeland 38, at Wisconsin Lutheran 12
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at St. John's 57, St. Olaf 7
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at Gustavus Adolphus 42, Augsburg 0
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Dubuque 38, at Buena Vista 7
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North Central (Ill.) 26, at Carthage 14
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at Ripon 58, Macalester 34
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at Monmouth 51, Cornell 0
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at Simpson 38, Loras 33
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at Knox 20, Illinois College 6
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UW-Stout 31, at UW-Stevens Point 27
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Millikin 14, at Elmhurst 13
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at MacMurray 20, Iowa Wesleyan 13
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UW-Eau Claire 40, at UW-Platteville 16
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at St. Thomas 68, Carleton 0
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at Mass-Dartmouth 41, Worcester State 27
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at Wartburg 47, Central 20
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at UW-Oshkosh 24, UW-La Crosse 13
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at UW-Whitewater 44, UW-River Falls 7
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at Birmingham-Southern 47, Austin 35
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Centre 41, at Rhodes 14
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at Carroll 23, North Park 0
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at Kalamazoo 17, Alma 10
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at Pacific Lutheran 33, Willamette 20
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at Brockport 65, Buffalo State 7
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at Averett 45, Huntingdon 17
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Washington and Lee 38, at Ferrum 35
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at Pacific 54, Lewis and Clark 22
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Redlands 35, at La Verne 17
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Whitworth 47, at Puget Sound 13
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Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 27, at Occidental 7
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Linfield 14, at George Fox 0
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at Hope 35, Olivet 30
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at Western Connecticut 50, Bridgewater State 48
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Case Western Reserve 27, at Geneva 14
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at Sul Ross State 28, Howard Payne 27
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East Texas Baptist 48, at Louisiana College 27
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Illinois Wesleyan 27, at Washington U. 21
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St. Norbert 46, at Lawrence 0
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at Pomona-Pitzer 42, Whittier 17
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Chapman 33, at Cal Lutheran 29
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Oct. 20: All times Eastern
Final
Frostburg State 24, at Montclair State 17
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Final
at RPI 31, Hobart 24
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Final
Trine 31, at Finlandia 0
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Final
at Wittenberg 38, DePauw 23
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Final
at Westminster (Pa.) 27, Washington and Jefferson 20
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Final
Delaware Valley 52, at Lebanon Valley 7
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Final
Johns Hopkins 51, at Gettysburg 14
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Final
at Mount Union 54, Heidelberg 0
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Final
at John Carroll 27, Marietta 24
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Final - OT
at Berry 28, Millsaps 21
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Final
at Rowan 28, Wesley 27
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Final
at Muhlenberg 42, McDaniel 18
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Wheaton (Ill.) 20, at Augustana 3
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Final
Mary Hardin-Baylor 49, at Belhaven 0
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at St. John's 57, St. Olaf 7
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Final
at Hardin-Simmons 58, Texas Lutheran 14
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North Central (Ill.) 26, at Carthage 14
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Final
at St. Thomas 68, Carleton 0
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Final
at UW-Oshkosh 24, UW-La Crosse 13
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Final
at UW-Whitewater 44, UW-River Falls 7
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Final
at Brockport 65, Buffalo State 7
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Final
Whitworth 47, at Puget Sound 13
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Final
Linfield 14, at George Fox 0
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Final
Case Western Reserve 27, at Geneva 14
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Final
Illinois Wesleyan 27, at Washington U. 21
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