Mt. Union edges N. Central 41-40 in D-III semi

A lot of numbers were staring Mount Union in the face Saturday –

16 trips to the Stagg Bowl, 19 straight Division III semifinal

appearances, 28 wins in a row, 77 straight home victories.

But the only number with any significance for the Purple Raiders

was 41.

With 1:38 remaining in the game, Mount Union’s Kevin Burke led

the offense on a game-winning scoring drive in the snow to give the

Purple Raiders the 41-40 D-III playoff semifinal victory over North

Central (Ill.).

Burke completed 12 of his 19 passes for 163 yards and a

touchdown, but he burned North Central (13-1) with his feet,

gaining 131 yards and two TDs on 28 carries.

The Raiders (14-0) were down 40-35 when they took the field late

in the fourth following a 1-yard TD run from Cardinals Matt

Randolph, who finished the day with 20 carries for 68 yards and

three scores.

North Central was also led by Spencer Stanek, who completed 19

of 37 passes for 198 yards and two TDs, adding another 61 yards

rushing on 11 attempts.

”I don’t think anybody panicked when we got behind,” Purple

Raiders coach Vince Kehres said. ”It brought the guys

together.”

And they weren’t thinking about the history books, either.

”You don’t think about numbers or records or being undefeated

or any of that,” Burke said. ”As a player, you focus on your job

and you can’t think about outside factors of the football game. You

can’t get caught up in media or numbers or glory or whatever it may

be.”

It worked, because in just three plays, Mount Union took the

lead for good, with Burke completing the 26-yard TD pass to Mike

Collichio. The double-move down the right sideline was the first

touchdown of the sophomore receiver’s career.

”Once I heard the play call,” Collichio said, ”I knew it was

six.”

The Purple Raiders reached their 17th Stagg Bowl, but North

Central gave them everything they could handle in their first

semifinal appearance. Mount Union will face the winner of the

Wisconsin-Whitewater versus Mary Hardin-Baylor semifinal on Dec.

20.

”I wanted to get some red in the championship game,” Cardinals

coach John Thorne said. ”Awful lot of purple in there the last few

years. We just couldn’t get it done.”

Down 27-16 in the third quarter, North Central scored three

times – including a fumble recovery in the end zone – to take a

34-27 lead.

Mount Union answered with a 15-yard TD run from Logan Nemeth and

a successful 2-point conversion run from Burke, who leaped over the

left pylon to lead 35-34.

”I’m not really known for my hops, but you’re gonna do it.

You’re gonna sacrifice yourself for the team,” Burke said.

The resilient Cardinals answered again for the 40-35 lead with

1:38 remaining, but a failed 2-point conversion (along with two

previous blocked extra points and another missed extra point

attempt) gave the Purple Raiders their window.

Though not exactly the offensive spectacle it was expected to be

thanks to a constant snowfall that played a major factor, it was

still a back-and-forth, unpredictable and sometimes sloppy

game.

Only one thing mattered in the end.

”We had 41 and they had 40,” Kehres said.