Purple Raiders feel playoff pain
ALLIANCE — The mighty have fallen.
Second-ranked Mount Union lost a 59-52 record-setting shootout to fifth-ranked North Central (Illinois) in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs Saturday — ending the Purple Raiders’ 52-game home playoff win streak.
It also ended Mount Union’s run of 24 straight years in the national semifinals. It is the first time since 1994 the Purple Raiders will not play in the semifinals and the first time since 1991 they did not reach the quarterfinals.
The Purple Raiders finished the season with an 11-1 record — their fewest wins since going 10-2 in 1994.
Mount Union had its chances as the two teams combined for 1,412 yards — 713 for Mount Union and a school-record 699 for North Central.
North Central senior quarterback Broc Rutter, a Gagliardi Trophy semifinalist, threw for a school-record 522 yards and five touchdowns, four of those to Andrew Kamienski, who caught 12 passes for 256 yards.
Mount Union senior quarterback D’Angelo Fulford set an NCAA playoff record with 688 yards of total offense, as he threw for a career-high 549 yards (23-of-35) with four touchdowns and rushed for 139 yards and two scores. His second interception of the season happened on the Purple Raiders final offensive snap as he threw a ball into the North Central end zone from 16 yards out with two seconds left in the game.
His top target was senior wide receiver Justin Hill with seven catches for a career-best 221 yards and his touchdown catch tied the school single-season record of 23.
North Central (11-1) was able to make the plays when it had to. On third and fourth down, North Central combined to go 13-of-19 (11-of-16 on third down and 2-of-3 on fourth down) while Mount Union was 5-of-14 (4-of-10 on third down and 1-of-4 on fourth down).
Mount Union had one last attempt to win the game, making a defensive stand at its own 40-yard line with 2:39 to play.
Wayne Ruby made a circus catch for a 50-yard gain to the North Central 10. The Purple Raiders could not get into the end zone as Jake Beesley’s interception on fourth down ended the threat.
Mount Union took a 38-28 lead at halftime after piling up 460 total yards on 35 plays.
Each team scored on their first possessions of the second half and North Central got it to 45-42 when Ethan Greenfield had a 3-yard touchdown run to finish off a nine-play, 89-yard drive with 8:56 left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing drive, Mount Union got to the North Central 30-yard line and turned the ball over on downs. North Central then went on a 10-play, 60-yard drive and ended up taking the lead for good on a Rutter 6-yard touchdown pass to Kamienski.
Mount Union turned the ball over on downs near midfield and Rutter made it 56-45 with a 10-yard touchdown run in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
The Raiders got back within striking range on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Fulford to Josh Petruccelli to make it 56-52 with 12:53 to play.
Mount Union held North Central to a Magnus Meyer 35-yard field goal with eight minutes to go.
¯ Senior kicker Max Righetti, a 2016 graduate of Salem High School, took over placekicking duties for the Purple Raiders.
Righetti kicked a 28-yard field goal and was 5-of-6 on extra points. He averaged 52.0 yards on nine kickoffs.
¯ North Central will play ninth-ranked Delaware Valley in the quarterfinals on Saturday.
Tight end Dan Allen scored four touchdowns and Delaware Valley forced six turnovers in a 45-10 win over 10th-ranked Wesley.
¯ The Stagg Bowl will return to Shenandoah, Texas, on Dec. 20 with the 2020 and 2021 games scheduled for Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
¯ The Purple Raiders will be looking to make another title run next season as they return four starters on offense — including three-time 1,000-yard rusher Josh Petruccelli — and six starters on defense.
¯ Mount Union has lost 10 times in the last 214 games — six of them to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the Stagg Bowl.
¯ The Purple Raiders open the 2020 season by hosting Westminster (Pa.) College on Sept. 5. They will open Ohio Athletic Conference play at Baldwin Wallace on Sept. 19 and will host John Carroll on Sept.