Story and photo courtesy of Mount Union Athletics
ALLIANCE, Ohio – Down 28-14 entering the fourth quarter, top ranked Mount Union rallied to defeat Mary Hardin-Baylor 48-35 in the NCAA Division III Football Playoffs to advance to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl for a 16th time Saturday at Mount Union Stadium.
Jake Simon's (Parma/Holy Name) 12-yard touchdown run with five seconds left gave the Purple Raiders the go ahead touchdown while Matt Fechko (Twinsburg/Twinsburg) 25-yard fumble recovery on Mary Hardin-Baylor's (13-1) final play made for the 48-35 final.
Mount Union (14-0) wins its 68th straight home game and will meet St. Thomas (Minn.) in the national championship game next Friday night at 7 pm at Salem Stadium in Salem, Va. It is the 40 th Stagg Bowl – 20th in Salem – and the game will be broadcast LIVE on ESPNU.
Mount Union's Kevin Burke (Westlake/Lakewood St. Edward) went 3-for-3 on the final drive with a 15-yard rush as the Raiders covered 71 yards in six plays with just over two minutes left in the game for the game winner.
In the fourth quarter, the Raiders ended up scoring 34 points, Burke was 9-for-11 passing for 125 yards and receiver Jasper Collins (Geneva, N.Y./Geneva) had 83 yards in the quarter while the offense went 5-for-5 on third down.
Burke hit Julius Moore (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen Senior) on the first play of the quarter to bring Mount Union within seven points then on the ensuing possession, the Raiders would tie the game when freshman linebacker Hank Spencer (Greencastle, Ind./North Putnam) blocked a punt that Nyejel Thomas (Pittsburgh, Pa./Central Catholic) recovered in the end zone to tie the game.
Mount Union's defense forced a three-and-out and the offense appeared on the march again when a fumble – the fifth turnover of the game for the Raiders – gave the ball back to The Cru.
Two plays later, LiDarral Bailey had his second rushing touchdown of the game to put Mary Hardin-Baylor back up 25-28 with 7:39 to play.
Burke then engineered an 11-play, 77-yard drive that Blair Skilliter (Curtice/Genoa) ran in from two yards out with 3:42 left to tie the game at 35-35.
On the next drive, Mount Union's top ranked defense held Mary Hardin-Baylor to just four yards to force a punt and set-up the game-winning drive.
The Raider defense held the high-powered Mary Hardin Baylor offense – ranked No. 4 in the nation in total offense – to just 275 total yards including a fourth quarter where the Cru managed just 79 yards and minus-1 yard rushing.
All-American safety Nick Driskill (Wabash, Ind./Southwood) had a game and season-high 19 tackles, fellow All-American in linebacker Charles Dieuseul (Winter Haven, Fla./Lake Region) had 12 stops while Fechko had 2.0 sacks.
Burke finished with 268 yards passing with three touchdowns along with 89 yards rushing. Two of the touchdowns went to Collins, who had 11 catches for 200 yards and extended his NCAA playoff record total to 11 receiving touchdowns.
Collins' two TD's came in the first quarter that saw Mount Union run out to a 14-7 lead before Mary Hardin-Baylor got toucdown runs from Elijah Hudson and Bailey to lead 21-14 at the half.
The Cru -- which scored all 35 of its points off five Mount Union turnovers -- had a 42 yard interception return for a touchown by Brodrick Crain in the third quarter to go up 28-14.