Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Having appeared in eight straight NCAA Division III title games, including three straight losses, Mount Union was a hungry team heading into Friday night’s clash with No. 3-ranked St. Thomas.
The Tommies hung with the Raiders 14-10 late into the third quarter, but Mount Union scored the last 14 points in a 28-10 victory over the Tommies to claim the national championship. It was the only loss of the season for the 14-1 Tommies, while the Raiders completed a perfect 15-0 season but got their best test of the year.
The Raiders scored on their opening possession to take an early 7-0 lead, then blocked a St. Thomas punt and returned it for a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead.
St. Thomas got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter on a bit of a trick play. Facing a 23-yard field goal, the Tommies faked it and Dan Ferrazzo scored on a 10-yard run to cut the deficit in half at 14-10.
That was the score at half and it stayed that way until almost midway through the third quarter. The Tommies punted, but Mount Union fumbled on the return and St. Thomas recovered, getting the ball back at the Mount Union 27-yard line. The Tommies ended up settling for a 38-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10.
The Raiders got their lead back to two possessions late in the third quarter when Kevin Burke found Chris Denton for a 17-yard touchdown to give Mount Union a 21-10 lead. Burke finished the day 21-of-28 passing for 222 yards.
The dagger came with 4:28 left to play on Jake Simon’s 1-yard touchdown run, giving the Raiders a 28-10 lead. Simon finished the day with 87 yards and 21 carries.
The Tommies had relied on a stingy defense and big plays on offense all year to get to the national title game. St. Thomas held Mount Union, which averaged 558 yards of offense and more than 55 points per game this year, to about half that in points and 344 total yards. The difference: St. Thomas only forced one turnover and couldn’t get defensive stops in key situations to get off the field.
St. Thomas also ran for just 78 yards after averaging more than 240 all season. Jack Kaiser led that effort with 30 yards on 16 carries. Brenton Braddock tried to play despite a calf injury, but ran the ball twice for minimal yardage before leaving the game and never returning.
Mount Union held St. Thomas to season lows in points (10), rushing yardage (78), passing yardage (116) and total yards (194). The Raiders lived up to their billing as one of the top defenses in the nation.
While the loss is disappointing, the Tommies can look back and be proud of their 2012 season. After graduating several key playmakers from last year and suffering from a rash of injuries, St. Thomas won its third straight MIAC title and got to the NCAA playoffs for the fourth straight season. Every year under Glenn Caruso, St. Thomas has gotten better. Now they’re close to being the best in Division III.
There were 12 seniors who will graduate from this program. They helped lead St. Thomas to records of 11-2, 12-1, 13-1 and 14-1 over four years. That’s a combined record of 50-5, including just two losses at home.
Five years ago, this type of accomplishment wouldn’t have seemed possible at St. Thomas. Now it’s almost expected for the program to win the MIAC title in 2013 and get back to play for a national title. There’s no other way to put it: You’ve had a successful season when you’re only loss is in the national title game. And with only 12 seniors leaving the program, the future is a bright one.