SALEM, VA. – The kickoff for the Stagg Bowl was five hours away, the wind was starting to gather momentum from the northwest, and yet there was a steady arrival of small campers, trucks and SUVs arriving in the large parking lot at Salem Stadium.
Everyone was wearing some form of purple, but 95 percent was in honor of Mount Union, not St. Thomas.
Mount Union is located in Alliance, Ohio, and it’s roughly a seven-hour drive to Salem. “That’s not much of a drive to make when you’re a fan of the greatest dynasty in college football,’’ a man among the hundreds of early-arriving tailgaters.
The wind kept getting stronger, the night kept getting colder, and yet when it was over, many of the fans descended toward the field celebrate the 12th Mount Union title in the 23 seasons the Stagg Bowl has been played in Salem.
Mount Union trailed 14-0 five minutes into the second quarter, and just like that, quarterback Taurice Scott, the game MVP, and his talented Purple Raiders partners turned Tommies’ previously stout defense into a shambles.
The final was Mount Union 49, St. Thomas 35, and as Tommies coach Glenn Caruso said, “A couple of our touchdowns weren’t exactly conventional.’’
Tight end Charlie Dowdle had a ball pop from his hands, but replay review ruled that he had possession and a foot down in the end zone. Quarterback John Gould ran 56 yards following a teammate’s fumble. He also unloaded a 58-yard touchdown pass to teammate Nick Waldvogel on a fourth-down play that looked like a sack waiting to happen.
The game changed when Mount Union responded to the 14-0 deficit with a hurry-up offense that featured a two-back set with Logan Nemeth, the star runner, and Bradley Mitchell, small and very quick.
St. Thomas linebacker Tim McClanahan, terrific early in helping to stop Scott and Nemeth, was asked about the effect of the hurry-up.
“I don’t think it was the first time we’d seen that kind of offense,’’ he said. “The two backs were what was different. There were three guys back there — the quarterback and two backs — that made it tougher to read the play.’’
That was for sure. St. Thomas took a 21-14 lead on the pass to Waldvogel early in the second half, then Mount Union had three consecutive four-play touchdown drives that covered a total of 220 yards and occurred within 5:08 on the game clock.
That’s more like the yardage allowed by the Tommies this season, not in five minutes.