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Mount Union feels at home in semifinal

Mount Union’s Derrick Harvey Jr. (right) is congratulated by teammate Ulice Gillard after making the game-winning touchdown catch in overtime to beat Muhlenberg, 35-29, in an NCAA Division III quarterfinal. (Morning Journal/Ron Firth)

ALLIANCE — Mount Union played like a champion when it counted the most.

The fourth-ranked Purple Raiders rallied from a 21-9 deficit in the final 18 minutes of regulation and beat 13th-ranked Muhlenberg, 35-29, in overtime an NCAA Division III quarterfinal Saturday.

Braxton Plunk rolled to his right and threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Harvey Jr. for the game winner. Plunk completed 38-of-57 passes for 465 yards and 27 first downs.

The Purple Raiders (13-0) return to the national semifinals for the 25th time in the last 26 playoffs. The 2020 season was canceled due to the coronavirus season.

Mount Union will host top-ranked North Central (Illinois) at noon Saturday.

The Purple Raiders have won 55 of their last 56 home playoff games. The only loss was to North Central, 59-52, in a second-round playoff game in 2019 on the way to its first national title.

Mount Union outgained Muhlenberg, 581-299, but the Purple Raiders had three turnovers.

The Mules led 14-9 at halftime as the Purple Raiders converted two of four red-zone opportunites.

Muhlenberg drove 80 yards and went ahead 21-9 on a 17-yard pass from Michael Hnatkowsky to Mitch Daniel with 6:27 to play in the third quarter.

Mount Union’s defense held after an interception by Muhlenberg and, on the next play, Josh Petruccelli ran 53 yards for a touchdown to close the gap to 21-16 with 2:37 to play in the third quarter.

DeAndre Parker and Petruccelli added scoring runs to give Mount Union a 29-21 lead with six minutes remaining in regulation.

On the next series, the Mount Union punter’s knee touched the ground, giving the Mules the ball at the Mount Union 25.

Hnatkowsky completed an 8-yard touchdown pass and the conversion to tie the score at 29-29 with 1:20 remaining.

Mount Union advanced to the Mules 15-yard line. After a 9-yard sack, the Purple Raiders missed a 41-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to send the game into overtime.

The Mules missed a 35-yard field goal to open overtime. Two plays later, Gillard had the game-winning touchdown catch.

Game notes

¯ Mount Union had 92 offensive plays and Muhlenberg 82.

¯ Petruccelli has 20 rushing touchdowns on the season and 65 in his collegiate careeer.

¯ Plunk has thrown for 4,284 yards and 41 touchdowns this season. He completed at least four passes to six different receivers Saturday.

¯ Hnatkowsky was 30-of-58 passing for 294 yards and three touchdowns.

The 58 attempts tied a Muhlenberg school record. He also broke his own single-season school records with 47 touchdown passes and 3,876 yards passing.

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