NCAA Division-III Football Playoffs, Round 3: Mount Union vs. John Carroll
Matchup: On Saturday at noon Eastern Time the Mount Union Purple Raiders will take on the John Carroll Blue Streaks in the third round of the NCAA Division-III Football playoffs. Both teams were highly ranked in the final regular season D3Football poll, with Mount Union finishing No. 3 and John Carroll No. 6. This is a rematch of the Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) championship game, which the Purple Raiders won 31-24.
How They Got Here:
Mount Union was 10-0 in the regular season, including 8-0 in the OAC. The Purple Raiders won a close title game over John Carroll on November 15, when they got an 8-yard touchdown from Bradley Mitchell with 1:12 left in the game to give them the win. The Blue Streak moved to the Mount Union 7-yard line with a few seconds left on the clock, but the game’s final pass fell incomplete making winners of Mount Union.
On to the post-season the Purple Raiders went, and to say that Mount Union entered the playoffs with their “A” game is like saying that an ant is a little smaller than a planet. The Purple Raiders rolled over the Adrian Bulldogs in their first round matchup, 63-3. In the first quarter it was 14-3 before Mount Union pounded out 49 unanswered points. After being forced to punt on their opening drive, they put up scores on their next four possessions.
As a team they put up 650 yards, with a balanced attack of 329 through the air and 321 on the ground. QB Kevin Burke passed for 286 yards and 4 touchdowns. Tim Kennedy had 2 touchdowns and 127 yards receiving.
Onto Washington and Jefferson the Purple Raiders went, and after a sluggish first quarter that ended with them leading 7-0, Mount Union busted out a 38-point second on route to a 67-0 win. Burke threw for 5 touchdowns in the first half alone, and ended the day going 30-41 for 402 yards and 6 TDs. Luc Meacham and Roman Namdar were the primary recipients of Burke’s “rain” of terror. Meacham had 9 passes fall into his lap for 151 yards and a score, and Namdar caught 8 passes for 112 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jamal Johnson had 14 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown.
John Carroll was rolling through an undefeated season until dropping the title game to Mount Union. Overall the Blue Streak finished 9-1, with a conference record of 8-1.
In their first round matchup against the Centre Colonels, John Carroll handily defeated them, 63-28. Kelly Culbertson took the opening kickoff and returned it 94-yards for the score and a quick 7-0 lead. The John Carroll defense then made a big play when Michael Hollins picked off a pass and returned it 43-yards for the touchdown. It was 14-0 and the John Carroll offense had not even taken the field.
Despite giving up 28-points, the Blue Streak’s defense had a huge day, intercepting three passes and recording four sacks. Myers was a star as well, completing 24 of 30 passes for 264 yards and 5 touchdowns. Tommy Michals added 150 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground.
John Carroll then took on Wheaton College and it looked like the rematch with Mount Unioin was a virtual lock. Wheaton had other ideas. Michals scored from 1-yard out just before the first quarter ended, staking the team to a 7-0 lead. Wheaton got a 1-yard touchdown run of their own just before half, but the point after attempt was blocked sending the two teams to the locker room with the score 7-6.
To start the second half, the Blue Streak went on a 9-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a 22-yard pass from Myers to Zach Strippy to make the score 14-6. Wheaton responded later in the quarter with another touchdown, but the two-point attempt failed, and the score was 14-12 with a little over 16 minutes left in the game.
John Carroll had a chance to extend their lead, but Wes Keller’s field goal attempt was blocked, giving Wheaton the ball at their own 10-yard line. They then moved to the Blue Streak 14, but decided to go for it on fourth and 1. Andy Bryan made a huge stuff to force a turnover on downs and keep the score 14-12. With 1:07 left in the game, Wheaton attempted a field goal to give them the lead, but Sam Cote’s attempt was blocked, sealing the victory for John Carroll.
Myers did just enough to lead his team to victory. He was 19-29 on the day for 229 yards and a touchdown. The defense recorded no sacks, and made just one turnover, but they played solid all game long. They made tackles on first contact, and didn’t allow Wheaton to have any second chances at making first downs. Jimmy King was the star of the day on defense, leading the team with 12 tackles and adding an interception.
John Carroll Offense vs. Mount Union Defense
John Carroll Offense: 49.8 points per game, 189.3 yards rushing per game, 300.8 yards passing per game.
Mount Union Defense: 6.8 points allowed per game, 90.4 yards rushing allowed per game, 113.2 yards passing allowed per game.
To understand the matchups of this game a little better, we must examine the first contest between the two. In the November 15th game, the Blue Streak had great success moving the ball. Myers threw for 294 yards and Michals had 182 yards rushing on 30 carries. He also scored twice. While the ground game was having great success, the Purple Raiders seemed to have no answer for receivers Marshall Howell and Aramis Greenwood. Howell had 11 catches for 110 yards and Greenwood added 10 catches for 96 yards. There weren’t many big plays through the air, but they passed effectively and moved the chains.
A big key to that game was the two interceptions that Myers threw. Both resulted in touchdowns for Mount Union, and that simply can’t happen in the rematch.
For John Carroll their success begins with their offensive line. It is not a big group, but it is a very experienced one that is incredibly athletic. They give great protection to Myers, allowing him to be sacked just six times this season.
The line also makes great holes for their star running back. Michals has the ability to take over games. At 5-9, 175 he is not your pro-typical sized running back, but he has great heart and his 217 carries prove he can take a pounding. He carried the ball 30 times in the previous game vs. Mount Union and looked ready for more. He has gained 1413 yards this season with 19 touchdowns.
Myers is one of the best quarterbacks in Division-III football for a reason. He in the top five in passer efficiency with a 184.9 rating and has 38 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions. His 69.1 completion percentage shows that he is accurate, and he has the skill and moxie to lead his team to a win.
Greenwood and Howell are extremely difficult to cover, and pose a matchup nightmare for most defenses, even for Mount Union. Howell has made 62 catches for 1007 yards and 13 touchdowns, and Greenwood adds 828 yards and 9 scores on 46 catches. For those who try to double up on the wide outs, TE Zach Strippy is a threat as well, making 35 catches for 515 yards and 6 TDs. This is a potent offense, which is well-balanced.
The Purple Raiders defense has proven that they can bring it. Three points allowed in two playoff games is 1985 Chicago Bears territory. They have a skilled player at virtually every position on defense. Their secondary is especially dangerous. Junior Alex Kocheff and senior Cody Pogorelc are real ball hawks who can go after the quarterback and play solid pass coverage. They always seem to be around the ball.
Up front, Tom Lally and Josh Butler wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines. They are relentless and their eight combined sacks show that once they have a quarterback in their sites, they are not giving up until they have him.
Analysis: This is high-powered offense vs. a dominant defense. The trenches are where this battle is going to be won, and both teams have the warriors to win it. Edge: Tie.
Mount Union Offense vs. John Carroll Defense
Mount Union Offense: 61.5 points per game, 303.5 yards per game rushing, 303.6 yards per game passing.
John Carroll Defense: 11.5 points allowed per game, 96.0 yards rushing allowed per game, 142.4 yards passing allowed per game.
There is no disputing that this may be the most potent offense of the teams left in the playoffs. The Purple Raiders are averaging better than 300 yards on the ground and in the air. They have an incredibly potent attack that makes them extremely difficult to stop.
Burke has proven to be everything a team could want in a quarterback. At 5-11, 190 he has good size, and his accuracy is right up there with Myers. The senior has thrown for 3377 yards and 38 touchdowns, completing 67 percent of his passes, while only throwing 4 interceptions. The quarterback play of this game is going to be a lot of fun to watch. Burke threw for 258 yards and a TD in the earlier contest, and added 62 yards on the ground.
Mount Union has their own bruising back in Bradley Mitchell, who gained 1035 yards on just 131 carries. That’s a 7.9 yards per carry average and he added 18 touchdowns. Containing Mitchell is enough of a nightmare alone, but the Purple Raiders have five guys that have gained at least 411 yards this season. Burke is one of them, and shows that he can beat a team in more ways than one. He has 460 yards rushing and 9 TDs so far this season. Logan Nemeth gained 662 yards and scored seven times and Johnson ran for 557 yards on just 62 carries, a 9.0 yards per carry average.
Behind a stout offensive line, these playmaking wizards get plenty of time and find large holes in which to gain yards. This is a very experienced group with a great deal of girth. Led by seniors Alex Goff and Matt Keith, the two are both over 300 pounds but are very athletic. This is a line that keeps their quarterback upright and makes room for their running backs to go.
What would a well-balanced running attack be without a well-balanced passing one? The Purple Raiders have that as well. Taurice Scott and Roman Namdar have each recorded 50-plus catches this season. Scott has 58 catches for 807 yards and 9 touchdowns, and Namdar has 54 catches for 983 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also has an amazing 18.2 yards per catch average.
This is a big challenge for the Blue Streak, but they have shown before that they can play with the Purple Raiders. The two interceptions in the previous contest were the ones who made the difference.
This is a great defensive line, led by David Porter who had 2 sacks and eight tackles in the last game. Mike Tozzi, Michael Hippler, Frank Pines, and Owen O’Reilly combine with Porter to make one of the more solid groups of defensive linemen in the country. Pines has 3.5 sacks and Porter has 3. They are a skilled group with great speed that allows their linebackers to have clean shots at the ball carrier.
The Blue Streak also have a great group of linebackers. Jimmy King leads the team in tackles and always seems to be involved in plays. Kevin Cope is a solid tackler as well, and he covers incredibly well. Brody Zangaro is an incredible defensive back who leads their secondary.
Analysis: I agree that John Carroll has a very potent offense, but it is hard to go against a team that is averaging 300 yards on the ground and in the air. The Blue Streak defense is facing a real challenge here, one I don’t think they can handle. Edge: Mount Union.
Outlook: John Carroll looked very good against Mount Union in their first matchup this season. It is tough to beat a team twice, and I believe that last week’s result against Wheaton may have been the result of a little looking ahead to this week’s game. However, Mount Union has looked like a machine in these playoffs. Normally I would see Mount Union rolling in this one, but familiarity makes this a closer game. Take Mount Union, 38-27.
By Robert Pannier