Jeannette's Mahoney helps D-III power Mount Union to national title game
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The University of Mount Union boats one of the top football programs in all of NCAA Division III.
Entering last weekend, the Purple Raiders had played in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl — the Division III national championship game — a staggering eight straight years and 16 times in the previous 18 years.
“We expect to be in Salem every year,” said starting right guard Pat Mahoney, referring to the town in Virginia that hosts the Stagg Bowl every year.
Make that nine straight years, as Mahoney, a Jeannette native and Greensburg Central Catholic graduate, and his Mount Union team are back in the Stagg Bowl once again. They'll play the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater for the national championship this Friday. This time, however they came scarily close to missing the annual trip to Salem.
In the semifinals on Saturday, Mount Union built a 27-16 third quarter lead over North Central, before the Cardinals mounted a serious comeback.
North Central pulled ahead 34-27 early in the fourth quarter before Mount Union reclaimed the lead 35-34. Then, with a 1:38 left, things got scary for the Purple Raiders as North Central scored a touchdown run by Matt Randolph (and failed on a two point conversion attempt) to take a 40-35 lead.
Mahoney said even with a deficit and less than two minutes left, his team wasn't worried.
“When they scored and we got the ball back, we stayed confident,” he said. “”We work on the two minute offense in practice all the time.”
You can see where the confidence comes from as, three plays later, Mount Union scored a touchdown on a pass from quarterback Kevin Burke to Mike Collichio. A two point conversion run by Burke gave the Purple Raiders a 41-40 lead, and their defense then held onto that score for one more minute to give Mount Union an ultra dramatic win.
“We've been in tight games in the past, but nothing that big, a national semifinal game,” said Mahoney. “Plus, it was really snowing. There was snow everywhere. There were two-to-four inches on the field, which was challenging in itself. It was pretty crazy, actually.”
Mount Union is now 14-0 and ranked No. 1 in Division III. They've won 29 consecutive games, including 77 straight at home.
Undefeated Wisconsin-Whitewater is familiar national title game foe, as this will be the eighth time in the past nine seasons that the two teams will meet in the Stagg Bowl.
For Mahoney, a junior, there's some extra motivation, even beyond the national championship.
Last year, when Mahoney was a sophomore, Mount Union went undefeated and beat St. Thomas the Stagg Bowl. The year before, the Purple Raiders went undefeated until the Stagg Bowl when they lost to Whitewater.
“Whitewater is the only loss we've had in my (college) career,” said Mahoney. “There's that redemption factor.”
Kickoff for Friday's Stagg Bowl is set for 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.
Brian Knavish is a contributing writer.
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