Mount Union still rolling, striving to rule D-III again
''We just won 100 straight regular-season games. I don't think anybody knows,'' said Larry Kehres, the former football coach who handed the program off to his son after winning the last of his 11 Division III NCAA titles in 2012.
Do not think for a second that Mount Union has slipped under Vince Kehres, who played for and coached under his father before being named head coach in spring 2013.
The Purple Raiders (7-0) are No. 1 in D-III, pounding their opposition by an average score of 58-4. Mount Union reached 100 victories in a row in the regular season last Saturday with a 69-0 rout over Wilmington.
But the last two seasons and five of the last six for Mount Union have ended with championship game losses to Wisconsin-Whitewater. The standard for excellence in Division III is no longer set by the 2,000-student school in this rust-belt town in northeast Ohio.
It's an odd rivalry Mount Union has developed with Whitewater. The Warhawks are not on the schedule, but the Purple Raiders have played them in nine of the last 10 Stagg Bowls, losing six times.
Vince Kehres said he and his staff do not obsess over beating Whitewater, but no opponent influences the Purple Raiders more.
''When you go back three, four, five weeks later, you're looking at the last game of the year,'' Kehres said. ''You learn more from a loss than you do a win. What was exposed? Why was it exposed? How do we fix it? A lot of the answers that we try to come up with in the offseason stem from what we did in that game.''
Larry Kehres, who is now the athletic director at Mount Union, said the national championships are harder to come by for Mount Union because of the rise of Wisconsin-Whitewater and other rivals.
''Many of our teams that lost to Whitewater were as good teams that won before Whitewater became so strong,'' said Kehres, who was head coach at Mount Union for 27 years with a record of 332-24-3.
The elder Kehres tried to stay out of his son's way when he first gave up coaching to make sure it was clear Vince was in charge.
''I kind of pictured, he'll be up in the press box and if I'm not sure what to do I'm going to ask him,'' Vince Kehres said. ''That first game comes around and I'm on my own here.''
Larry Kehres now attends practice every day and has settled into something of an adviser role to his son and the rest of the coaching staff.
Vince Kehres said Mount Union's success has come from emphasizing character in recruiting. Players take ownership of the team and provide the leadership. The older players set an example for the younger ones.
''You either get on board or you kind of get run out,'' Kehres said.
The coach recalled a good player who had a series of missteps a few years ago. The coaches did not have to dole out the punishment.
''The captains had cleaned out his locker,'' Kehres said. ''Here's your stuff, you're not on the team anymore.''
Kehres said this season's team reminds him of the 2012 national title team that had a core of seniors who had never won a championship but were desperate for one. This year's seniors, like star linebacker Hank Spencer, were freshmen on that team.
''You can't be complacent at any time during the season,'' Spencer said. ''You can't think you're already there. No matter how good you are on a given day, you can always get better.''
If Mount Union can break Whitewater's hold on the national championship under Vince Kehres, it will be the most satisfying title of all for the man who built the Purple Raiders' dynasty.
''If he's able to do that,'' Larry Kehres said, ''it will be 10 times more exciting for me and his mother than when I did it.''
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAp