Salem Stadium stands ready.
City of Salem photo
This somehow feels familiar.
After a one-year hiatus of these two teams’ season culmination in Salem, we’re again getting to see Mount Union and UW-Whitewater duke it out for the Walnut and Bronze. Oh, but what an exciting trip is has been to get to this point, as both of these two teams won by just one point last weekend.
Pat Coleman and Frank Rossi also gave their pregame thoughts (kept it under 10 minutes!):
Pat, Keith and Ryan bring you an expanded Triple Take this week, with a few guest prognosticators. And, of course, not only are we doing scores, but we’re also throwing in a bit of analysis. It’s been a D3football.com tradition since 1999.
As always, we welcome your remarks and your own picks in the comments section below!
Pat Coleman, D3football.com publisher and executive editor
I came into this week with a specific result in mind. Whether I could find enough points to make it happen, though, I wasn’t quite sure. Eventually I end up with about the prediction I’d like. Could I see UW-Whitewater scoring enough points on offense to justify the “just barely more than one score” prediction that was on my mind. Mount Union should score enough points to keep this game close and UW-Whitewater needs to really avoid the early-game issues they’ve had the past two weeks. If so, I think the Whitewater defense outperforms the Mount Union offense.
UW-Whitewater 30, Mount Union 21
Keith McMillan, D3football.com managing editor and Around the Nation columnist
I usually try to watch as much of both teams as I can and give a serious pick based on expected on-field factors. But I have a couple of problems this year. While I’ve seen all or part of five Mount Union games, I haven’t seen enough UW-Whitewater to comfortably form a really good opinion. (I do plan to watch the Thursday 3 p.m. ESPNU re-air of the UMHB semifinal on DVR before game time, so I’ll be sharp for our annual Web cast). My second problem is that UW-W fans have specifically requested that I pick against them as I have the past two weeks, when they’ve beaten the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in our poll to advance; Now they’re facing No. 1. So, because I really have no idea who’ll win Round 8 (Isn’t that the way it should be?) and because it will make both sides happy, even our picks at 3-3 and the series at 4-4, I’ll take the Purple Raiders. (I’m not as terrible at this as I thought; I’ve picked the past five Stagg Bowl winners correctly in Triple Take, including UW-W in ’09, ’10 and ’11). I just mentioned myself 10 — make that 11 — times and haven’t mentioned a single player. Yuck. Anyway, it’s scary to think what it means for the rest of D-III if Mount Union replaces 17 starters and its legendary coach and still wins the Stagg Bowl, but they’ve got Kevin Burke, taking his place alongside the great D-III quarterbacks, playmakers around him (look for a big play from Luc Meacham) and a defense that can be gashed but is opportunistic as well. The Warhawks’ front seven will cause problems for the Purple Raiders’ O-line, but in the fourth-quarter play that defines the game, I can’t envision Burke failing. You had your chances, D-III sub-elite class. Here goes nothin’. Mount Union 21, UW-Whitewater 20.
Ryan Tipps, D3football.com senior editor and former Mid-Atlantic columnist
Year after year when these teams meet, winning seems to wind up being about defense — and most signs point to the Warhawks ultimately being more dominant than the Purple Raiders on that side of the ball. The scores and the stars through the regular and postseasons have shown us a team that can hold the likes of UW-Platteville, Franklin, Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor each to 17 points or less. (For comparison, UMHB’s worst game before last week was a 34-point offensive effort in Week 2.) I have no doubt that Burke and his UMU compatriots will push UW-W to the absolute limit, and Whitewater could get into trouble if Mount’s passing game really takes off (remember 2008?). But Whitewater has beaten the pass, as well as beaten the run, this season, and they’ve made me a believer in the process. Mount Union started the season No. 1 on my ballot and has lived there sporadically since. Since September, I’ve chosen four teams to spend time in the top spot, and Whitewater has beaten two of them in the postseason. Because they’ve done that, there’s little reason to think they couldn’t do it a third time. UW-Whitewater 21, Mount Union 17
Adam Turer, Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist
This is as much a matchup of weaknesses as it is strengths. Casual fans may think this is just another Purple Power coronation, but each of these teams has been exposed, probably moreso than in any other season during this eight-game, nine-year series. The Warhawks have struggled to score early. Falling behind to Mount Union is not a recipe for success. The Purple Raiders have been vulnerable in the secondary, allowing 99 points in the past two games. Matt Behrendt should be salivating. Who do you believe in more: Cole Klotz and the Whitewater defense, or Burke and the Mount Union offense? The past two Stagg Bowls have been defensive struggles. That trend ends this year. Burke and the Purple Raiders will get their points. I expect the Warhawks to try and keep Burke & Co. on the sideline, which means Jordan Ratliffe will be counted on to grind out yards on the ground. This game will hinge on third down — can the Purple Raiders defense get off the field and get the ball back in the hands of the nation’s second-most prolific offense? Mount Union safety Alex Kocheff had the game of his freshman season in last year’s Stagg Bowl. Now, the sophomore starter will need to lead the defense to a bounce-back performance after it was humbled over the past seven quarters. Whitewater has a great defense, but I don’t think the Warhawks have the offense to keep up with the Purple Raiders. Burke will win his third championship in the past four years and the Purple Raiders will be dynastic once more. Mount Union 38, UW-Whitewater 24
Frank Rossi, D3football.com broadcaster
Anyone who saw the playoff games of these two knows there’s great balance between opposite sides of the ball for these teams. The Mount Union offense looks unstoppable at times, while the UW-Whitewater defense becomes stifling as games wear on. Because of this, we’ll see overtime, or perhaps two, with Burke making a believer out of everyone who doubts the Mount Union mantra, “The guy just wins.” Watch the two-point conversion from last weekend for more information. Mount Union 37, UW-Whitewater 31 (2 OT)
Josh Smith, Around the West columnist
It’s the No. 1 offense versus the No. 1 defense. The adage is “defense wins championships,” but not every defense plays against Mount Union. The job Burke has done leading this brand new cast of players on offense is incredible, and the Purple Raiders’ ability to score points when the game is the line has truly impressive. But the UW-Whitewater defense is stingy. Thanks to their ability to adjust on the fly, the defense has been able to shut teams down in the second half, giving Behrendt and company opportunities to put points on the board. I don’t anticipate a shootout, which leads me to think the “defensive” team has the edge over the “offensive” team. A key turnover is likely to shift the game in one direction or another, and the Warhawks seem to come up with big stops when they are needed. UW-Whitewater 20, Mount Union 17