Mount Union, St. Thomas are bringing the purple power

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 14, 2012 - 2:20 PM

St. Thomas knew all along it likely would have to go through Mount Union to win a national title.


St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso (center) has taken his team to the brink of an undefeated season and the school’s first national football championship. The Tommies will be on foreign soil tonight, though. After winning their first four playoff games in St. Paul, they will play in Salem, Va., a site their opponent is plenty familiar with.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune file

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

If Larry Kehres were a flashy guy -- the kind prone to piling on the bling -- he might have a dilemma on his hands. Or, at least, on his fingers. The Mount Union football coach has won 10 NCAA Division III titles, meaning he has reached his digital capacity to display his championship rings even as he pursues another on Friday.

St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso pondered that fact last week, shortly after earning the chance to try for his first. He insisted the No. 3 Tommies will not be intimidated by the top-ranked Purple Raiders, despite Kehres' mind-boggling résumé at the school in Alliance, Ohio. Mount Union has made the title game in eight consecutive years and 16 of the past 20. It is 77-13 in NCAA playoff games, has a record of 181-7 since 2000 and has won 331 games in Kehres' 27-year tenure.

This season, the Purple Raiders shut out six consecutive opponents -- preventing them from scoring for more than 377 minutes, a Division III record -- and have scored 249 points in four playoff games, also a D-III record. Kehres credits their remarkable success to a simple formula: setting high expectations and giving players clear and consistent guidance on how to reach them.

Kehres doesn't reflect much, he said, on a record that includes the most victories of any active coach in college football. With a senior class intent on winning the school's first championship since 2008, Kehres is thinking only about that 11th ring.

"They've used the last three losses [in the title game] as motivation," Kehres said of his seniors, who hope to end a title drought that is the longest of a run that began in 1993. "They want to make sure they're grinding out good days in everything they do. They've used it positively, no pouting, no moping. It's been an enjoyable season."

Caruso can relate. His Tommies lost 20-0 to Wisconsin-Whitewater in last season's semifinals and were driven to reach the championship game for the first time in school history. Friday's game will be their first against Mount Union, which fell to UW-Whitewater in the title game in each of the past three seasons.

St. Thomas aspired to reach the pinnacle that Mount Union has occupied for nearly two decades. Caruso, who has studied the Purple Raiders' progress since his college days at Ithaca, attended last year's title game to get a taste of what it is like to be there. He ran into Kehres at the teams' hotel, and the two coaches talked for more than an hour.

Caruso expected that if the Tommies rose to the heights of Division III, they would likely meet up with Mount Union. He said he finds that prospect exhilarating, not terrifying.

"I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't truly excited about having the chance to play a program like Mount Union," Caruso said. "Larry Kehres is not only ridiculously successful beyond most people's dreams, he's been able to sustain that over a long period of time. He is the standard in Division III football."

Like the Tommies, the Purple Raiders enter the game 14-0. They have won the Ohio Athletic Conference title 21 years in a row and boast an offense and defense that are both ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Sophomore quarterback Kevin Burke is the top-ranked passer in D-III and leads an offense that averages 55 points and 558 yards per game. The Mount Union defense is surrendering 8.9 points, 46 rushing yards and 180 total yards per game.

Last week, the Purple Raiders trailed Mary Hardin-Baylor 28-14 heading into the fourth quarter. They calmly rallied to a 48-35 victory, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 5 seconds left and returning a fumble for a touchdown on the game's final play. Kehres said the consistency of the defense and the offensive line has kept Mount Union on track, while Burke has grown more assured during a season in which he has improved his passing, his leadership and his ability to make plays.

As he has accumulated rings for every finger, Kehres noted that each journey to the title game -- including this one -- spawns its own joys and memories. "It's no less fun, just unique each time," he said. "We might have had a little more fun this year, because we learned to relax a little more while pushing them to do well."

The Tommies will be experiencing all of it for the first time. In each of Caruso's five seasons, they have inched a little closer, always visualizing themselves in this place. And after getting a taste of the title game as a spectator, he knew there was something more precious than jewelry waiting for them in Salem.

"My No. 1 takeaway was that if we were to get there someday to make sure we didn't wish a second of it away, to enjoy every moment," Caruso said. "Because it was pretty magical."


  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Los Angeles - LP: B. Wilson 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 8
Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 2
Philadelphia - WP: J. Williams 3 FINAL
Oakland - LP: D. Otero 0
Toronto - WP: M. Stroman 6 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: C. Capuano 3
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 1 FINAL
Colorado - WP: E. Butler 5
Boston - LP: R. De La Rosa 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: C. Tillman 7
Milwaukee - WP: Z. Duke 1 FINAL
Pittsburgh - LP: M. Melancon 0
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
Miami - LP: J. Cosart 2
NY Mets - WP: J. Niese 4 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 2
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay - WP: C. Archer 3
Cleveland - WP: T. House 7 FINAL
Minnesota - LP: T. May 3
Seattle - LP: C. Young 1 FINAL
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 10
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 4 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: J. Motte 8
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2 FINAL
San Diego - WP: A. Cashner 3
Texas - LP: C. Lewis 5 FINAL
LA Angels - WP: J. Weaver 8
San Diego 12:00 PM
Dallas 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 12:00 PM
Houston 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 12:00 PM
Baltimore 12:00 PM
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 12:00 PM
Oakland 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 3:05 PM
Denver 3:25 PM
Kansas City 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
(18) Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
Miss State 34 FINAL
(8) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(14) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(24) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
(22) Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 0 FINAL
Portland 3
Houston 0 FINAL
Philadelphia 0
New England 0 FINAL
Columbus 1
San Jose 0 FINAL
Montreal 2
Seattle 1 FINAL
Red Bull New York 4
Chicago 3
FC Dallas 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 12:00 PM
Ottawa 3:00 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters


Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA




question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question