Mount Union, Wisconsin-Whitewater meet for title
The Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on Friday night could be dubbed: The Rivalry, Volume 9.
The game in Salem, Virginia, determines the NCAA Division III football champion, and in nine of the last 10 seasons, it has been the same two teams - Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater - squaring off.
For the second year in a row, change is afoot in the rivalry.
Last season was Vince Kehres' first as coach of Mount Union, his father Larry having retired with a career mark of 332-24-3 and 11 national championships in 27 seasons after guiding the Purple Raiders.
This year's game will be Whitewater coach Lane Leipold's last with the Warhawks. He's leaving after the season to become the coach at Buffalo of the FBS, and if his team can prevail for the fifth time in the last six matchups, he'll leave with a 111-6 career record and as many national titles, six, as losses.
The younger Kehres has only lost once in 29 games - 52-14 last season to the Warhawks. It was Mount Union's worst loss since the 1974 season, and has provided inspiration and motivation ever since.
''It was humbling and definitely something I think a lot of our coaches and players used as a motivation to try and get back to this point with a better opportunity to win,'' Kehres said this week.
''We asked them to man up and own up to the fact that we took a pretty bad beating there at the end of the year and in order to get better, we needed to get deeper, we needed to play more men, we needed to improve in all areas of the team, and I think they bought into that and they've done that to this point.''
While the Purple Raiders have rolled through the playoffs, the Warhawks have not. Two weeks ago, they rallied from a 33-16 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Wartburg 37-33. Last week, they were deadlocked at 14 with Linfield until tailback Dennis Moore broke free for a 33-yard scoring run with 5:00 to play.
''We've been tested,'' Leipold said. ''We've had to find a way to win games and play 60 minutes.''
The gaudy numbers don't stop with the coaches.
Mount Union quarterback Kevin Burke, who on Wednesday night became the first two-time winner of the Gagliardi Award as the best player in Division III, will enter his final college game with a 43-1 record as a starter. In 14 games, he has completed 65 percent of his passes (265-405) for 4,089 yards and 49 touchdowns, the most in the country, with five interceptions. He's run for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Last week, the Purple Raiders beat Wesley 70-21 in the semifinals.
Whitewater quarterback Matt Behrendt has been similarly spectacular, throwing for 3,305 yards and 38 touchdowns while completing 67.2 percent (252-375) of his throws. He's thrown just six interceptions.
In last year's title game, Behrendt upstaged Burke, throwing for four touchdowns, but Kehres said the story of the game - and the lesson taken from it - was more about how the Warhawks' defense dominated.
''We're playing with a lot of confidence right now. We're playing with great tempo and we're executing at a high level,'' he said. ''... All we have to do is look back at the film from a year ago and the success that their defense had against us to know that we can easily be defended by a good defense.''
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