Mount Union hangs on for 62-59 quarterfinal win over Wesley

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By JEFFREY ZUPANIC | Alliance Review

Mount Union wasted no time jumping on Wesley early and often Saturday afternoon. Then the Purple Raiders turned the ball over to its star quarterback in the fourth quarter to hold off a furious second-half rally by the Wolverines.

B.J. Mitchell scored on the game's first play and the Purple Raiders were off to the races. And to the national semifinals for the 19th straight year with a 62-59 win at Mount Union Stadium.

"We are glad to advance," said a visibly disappointed Mount Union head coach Vince Kehres.

Next up for Mount Union will be a semifinal matchup with North Central (Ill.) (13-0), which defeated Bethel (Minn.) 41-17 on Saturday.

Mitchell went untouched for 67 yards and just 17 seconds into the game it was 7-0. Less than a minute later, quarterback Kevin Burke hit Sherman Wilkinson for a 23-yard pass and a 14-0 lead with 13:38 left in the first quarter.

Throw in two more touchdowns by Luc Meacham (76-yard punt return) and Tre Jones (56 interception return) plus a 34-yard field goal and the Purple Raiders had its most explosive first-quarter since scoring a NCAA-record 52 points against Averett (Va.) in the 2007 season opener.

Mount Union's offense only generated 109 yards on 14 plays in the first quarter. By the time the second quarter started, the Purple Raiders had touchdowns through the air, on the ground, from a punt return and a pick-six.

Wesley (10-3) got on the board early in the second and the teams alternated scores throughout the quarter before Mount Union led 48-20 at the half. Sophomore quarterback Joe Callahan threw three first-half touchdowns of 4, 33 and 78 yards but couldn't undo the damage done by the three interceptions in first quarter.

The Wolverines had four turnovers in all and coughed it up 10 times in their last six quarters at Mount Union Stadium dating back to the 2009 semifinals, when they turned it over six times in a 28-21 loss.

The Purple Raiders (13-0) almost the 50-point mark in the first half after a rushing TD by Burke (8 yards) and a 57-yard catch by Wilkinson. They added a 34-yard field goal by Edward Ruhnke as time expired before halftime.

Wesley dominated the third quarter with two touchdowns and pulled within 48-41 in the fourth.

The Wolverines put 25 points on the board in the fourth quarter with the final two coming in the last three minutes to make it a three-point game with 1:30 left. Callahan set playoff records with 633 yards and eight touchdowns, but also had four interceptions as the Wolverines turned it over six times total.

Burke then went to work. First, he hit a Wilkinson behind the defense for a 41-yard touchdown then he scored a rushing touchdown with three minutes remaining to make it 62-44.

"I've been in a lot of big games and I know what it takes as the only returning starter on offense," said Burke. "Our mindset is not we need a touchdown in that situation, but just to get consistent and execute our plays."

Wilkinson, who had two touchdowns in the regular season, recorded his second game of three in the playoffs.

"Coach VK always tells us to keep our poise and I thank him for that because we did that (on those two fourth-quarter scoring drives)," Wilkinson said.

"We felt we needed to get turnovers coming into the game and thankfully we got them," said Kehres.

The teams combined for the most points in a Division III playoff game (121) and Wesley scored the most points against Mount Union since a 66-8 loss to Wittenberg in 1958.

"We won't let this game affect us negatively going forward," said Burke.

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