SALEM, Va. (AP) Vince Kehres has been a head coach for 30 games in his career, and part of the staff at Mount Union for 10 of its 11 national championships.
He doesn’t have a lot of experience at losing, and the second-year Purple Raiders coach was a man of few words after his career record fell to 28-2 on Friday night with a 43-34 loss to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the NCAA Division III championship game.
”They’re just a great team,” Kehres said when asked what has made the Warhawks so tough for the Purple Raiders. Whitewater has won six of the last seven meetings, all in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. ”Hard to beat,” he continued. … They have good players. They execute well. Well coached.”
And the Purple Raiders, he said, could have been better coached in the title game.
Late in the first half, after the Warhawks’ Brady Grayvold intercepted Kevin Burke’s pass and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Warhawks a 27-14 lead, Kehres opted to try to score with under a minute left.
Burke threw deep, was intercepted again and the Warhawks turned it into a field goal.
”I called the deep pass before halftime. We probably should have just run the ball and got in the locker room,” Kehres said. ”We maybe pressed a bit and part of it was poor coaching decisions.”
Whitewater also did plenty to make things tough.
Matt Behrendt threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns and Wisconsin-Whitewater (15-0) extended its winning streak to 32 games, the longest in the nation, and won its second straight national title.
Behrendt finished 26 for 38 for 365 yards with two interceptions. Jake Kumerow caught eight passes for 130 yards and a score, and Dennis Moore ran for 74 yards and caught two passes for 108 and a touchdown.
Mount Union (14-1), was appearing in the game for the 10th consecutive season, and arrived having admittedly changed some things up on defense after a 52-14 loss to the Warhawks in last year’s game.
On the field, however, Whitewater had Behrendt, and for the second year in a row, he outplayed Burke, the first two-time Gagliardi Trophy winner, in the game that mattered most.
”I love it,” Behrendt said about getting championships over player of the year awards. ”Especially for the team to have these two national championships. You can’t ever take them away. There’s nothing more important than that.”
Burke was 25 of 47 for 323 yards and three touchdowns, but after arriving at his final college game with 49 touchdown passes and just five interceptions, the Warhawks picked him off four times.
The victory sent coach Lance Leipold out in style. He has accepted the job at Buffalo, and finishes eight years with the Warhawks with a 109-6 record and, remarkably, as many national championships as losses in his career.
His Warhawks trailed for just one play all night, at 31-30 in the third quarter.
After falling behind, Behrendt hit Moore with a screen pass, and Moore found his blockers, cut back across the field and took it 75 yards for a touchdown, restoring the Warhawks lead to 37-31.
Lake Bacher’s second field goal, from 31 yards out, made it 40-31 with 12:20 to play.
Trailing 30-14 at halftime, Mount Union came out looking more like the team that averaged better than 60 points this season, and Burke looking more like the first two-time player of the year winner.
He led a 67-yard drive finished off with a 29-yard scoring pass to Roman Namdar, and when the Warhawks couldn’t get anything going, a 79-yard drive capped by Logan Nemeth’s 3-yard run made it 30-28.
Behrendt hit Kumerow in the hands on the next drive, and the ball went through his hands and into those of cornerback Tre Jones, returned the interception it to the 17. There the Whitewater defense dug in, chasing Burke out of bounds on a third-and-6, and Edward Ruhnke kicked a 29-yard field goal.
It gave the Purple Raiders the lead, but only very briefly.
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