ALLIANCE -- For University of Mount Union head football coach Vince Kehres, Saturday's 2013 season opener against 19th-ranked Franklin College will be long remembered.
Yes, the rookie coach won his first game, 30-27. Because the Purple Raiders are the defending national champs of Division III and are currently ranked No. 1, the victory is expected. It makes 26 straight season-openers that the Raiders have won and extended their winning streak to 74 regular-season games in a row.
Kehres is no stranger to winning. He has been part of the great tradition at Mount Union for 13 years as a coach and four as a player. Those 17 years included 10 national titles under the leadership of his father, Larry Kehres, who stepped down following last season after winning his 11th national championship.
"It was a win," said Kehres. "You won't believe me, but today's game was the kind of contest I was prepared for as I knew that Franklin was a very good team. We're a team that has a lot of growing to do along with the coaching staff."
In the first half, the Raiders cruised along to a 20-0 lead. Leave out a penalty on a score and fumble, it could have been a 34-0 lead.
But the third quarter was a disaster. Mount Union left its concentration in the locker room. The Grizzlies scored 14 points to Mount Union's three. In addition, the Franklin defense stopped the Raiders offense twice after letting Mount reach a first-and-goal at the 5 twice.
"Give Franklin a lot of credit, they kept their poise," said Kehres. "They gave it to us in the second half."
In fact, the Grizzlies went through the Raider defense like butter, adding 13 more points to take a 27-23 lead with 7:09 left.
"We needed to respond with poise of our own to win the game," noted Kehres. "It turned out as I expected it to be.
"We had to rely on quarterback Kevin Burke. He is quite a kid. Our backs were against the wall and he gave us the win. He proved it all last season."
The winning drive took 2:49 and covered 79 yards. Burke completed two passes to Jack Nicholls for 19 and 22 yards and added a 31-yard scramble. That's 72 of the 79 yards. Actually, Burke completed 17-of-25 passes for 266 yards in the game and was the top rusher with 83 yards.
The defense took over and played up to their potential. Right here it looks good. But there is the bad. Kehres could make a list that would cover a blackboard and not repeat himself twice: Bizarre happenings like a 15-yard penalty due ot having two players on the field at the same time wearing the No. 2 jersey during a blocked-punt return for a TD that would have broken the game wide open. Or eight more penalties for 62 yards that gave Franklin new life time after time.
And you can add in a fumble on the opening kickoff of the third period that Franklin recovered on the 9 that led to the Grizzlies cutting the lead to 20-7.
"The good news is we have 14 days to correct these mistakes," said Kehres. "We don't have a game next week. We can take our time, focus on our goals and be ready to finish games.
"It is a sign of a young team that is willing to grow."
The team had smiles on their faces. The older players have had similar experiences as the Franklin game and have come back to win. They'll put it behind them and be ready in two weeks.