SALEM, Va. - It will be familiar opponents when Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater meet in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl for the Division III national championship Friday night at Salem Stadium.
But there will a new twist.
The teams have been the last two standing in Division III in eight of the past nine seasons, but the Purple Raiders of Mount Union (14-0) got there this year with a new coach, 37-year-old Vince Kehres.
Kehres is the son and former defensive coordinator under his father, Larry Kehres, who guided the Purple Raiders to 21 unbeaten regular seasons and 11 national championships in 27 years as coach.
"You can see that they haven't really skipped a beat with Vince taking over for his father," Warhawks coach Lance Leipold said this week. The older Kehres retired after last season, when he won his 11th national championship, with a career record of 332-24-3, and Leipold dealt him four of those losses.
The Warhawks had won three in a row before last season, when they missed the playoffs entirely while Mount Union gave Larry Kehres a retirement gift with a 28-10 victory against St. Thomas (Minn.).
When Kehres retired in May, but remained as athletic director, his son took over. Vince Kehres played for the Purple Raiders and was connected in some way to 10 of the 11 national championship winners.
"I feel like I got handed the keys to a Cadillac, and I put a coat of wax on it and I gassed it up," Vince Kehres said. "The football program at Mount Union didn't need a lot of touching up."
Especially not with Kevin Burke, last year's Stagg Bowl MVP and this year's Gagliardi winner as the top player in Division III returning. Burke has thrown for 3,514 yards and 44 touchdowns with just seven interceptions, and he's run for another 1,035 yards and 13 touchdowns, often on play-saving scrambles.
In the last two weeks, Burke has guided the Purple Raiders to a 62-59 victory against Wesley, and last week's 41-40 victory against North Central (Ill.).
It has been, Kehres said, "a wild ride."
The Warhawks, by contrast, advanced by beating Linfield 28-17 in the quarterfinals, then edged Mary Hardin-Baylor 16-15 last weekend. Leipold, though, said none of that will matter come Friday night, and with his 100-man roster including 47 freshmen, he hopes the Warhawks' history will help fill in some gaps.
"Hopefully we can take in the confidence that we've had some success in past years," he said.
They've also had success this season, especially their quarterback.
Matt Behrendt has thrown for 3,041 yards with 36 TDs and one interception.
It should all make for another competitive showdown between the teams.