ALLIANCE, Ohio – The first-ever meeting of NCAA Division III programs with 700 or more victories was close for a half before the Mount Union Purple Raiders pulled away from the visiting Wittenberg Tigers for a 56-21 victory in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The loss ended the Tigers' 2013 season with a record of 10-2 and snapped a 10-game Wittenberg winning streak. Ranked 10th by the American Football Coaches Association and 12th by D3football.com, Wittenberg now has just one more all-time victory than the Purple Raiders, who have won 11 of the last 20 national championships.
Mount Union, which has not played a road game in the NCAA Division III Tournament since 1994, advanced to the national quarterfinals for the 22nd consecutive season after beating the Tigers for the straight time in the NCAA Division III Tournament (1998, 2000, 2001 and 2013). The Purple Raiders improved to 12-0 under first-year Head Coach Vince Kehres, with a likely home date opposite Wesley looming on Dec. 7. Mount Union, which has been ranked first all year in both polls, has won 27 straight games.
The key to the game, which was just 21-14 in favor of Mount Union at halftime, was the Purple Raiders' ability to make a potent Wittenberg offense one-dimensional. Coming into the game, the Tigers were averaging 525 yards of total offense – with 227 yards on the ground. Mount Union held Wittenberg to just 36 yards on 25 carries.
The game opened with a 76-yard scoring drive by the Tigers, who marched 76 yards in 10 plays to score on a 23-yard pass from senior quarterback Reed Florence (South Charleston, Ohio/Southeastern) to senior wide receiver Brendon Cunningham (Kettering, Ohio/Fairmont). It was just the fifth touchdown Mount Union had yielded in the first quarter in 12 games in 2013.
Mount Union had the answer all day, starting with the ensuing drive. The Purple Raiders went 67 yards in 10 plays, culminating in a seven-yard TD pass from Kevin Burke to Jack Nicholls.
Both teams added a touchdown in the first quarter before the Purple Raiders made it 21-14 with just 27 seconds left in the first half. The momentum gained on that 92-yard, 10-play drive carried over into a dominant second half for the defending national champions.
Mount Union allowed 149 yards on Wittenberg's first two drives but just 214 yards the rest of the way. On offense, the Purple Raiders were in control throughout, piling up 601 yards, 215 yards more than any other Division III opponent in 2013 (Butler finished with 451 against Wittenberg in the season opener).
The Tigers' last score of the game came with six minutes left in the third quarter as sophomore tailback Jimmy Dehnke (Canton, Ohio/Massillon Jackson) found the end zone from 10 yards away to make the score 35-21. But the Purple Raiders continued to pound away with freshman tailback B.J. Mitchell (19 carries, 143 yards and one touchdown) and junior quarterback Kevin Burke (20-of-32 for 326 yards and five touchdowns) doing most of the damage and outscoring the Tigers 35-7 over the final 30 minutes.
Florence finished with 327 yards (205 in the first half) and two touchdowns through the air, with his primary target being Cunningham, who piled up 168 yards on nine receptions. Florence finished the season with 3,366 passing yards and 38 passing touchdowns, both school records, while Cunningham moved into second on Wittenberg's season receiving list (63) and third on the career chart (172).
Defensively, the Tigers were paced by senior safety Mark Swope (Fairborn, Ohio/Fairborn) and senior linebacker Spencer Leno (Massillon, Ohio/Washington) with seven tackles apiece. They were among 32 seniors who were making their final appearance in the Red & White after winning three North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) titles in their four seasons.