ALLIANCE, OH – Top-ranked Mount Union returned two interceptions for touchdowns, including a 76-yarder by Gabe Brown with just under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and the Purple Raiders held off 13th-ranked Johns Hopkins, 28-20, in the NCAA Division III Football Semifinals Saturday afternoon at Mount Union Stadium.
The win propels Mount Union (14-0) into next week’s national championship game against either Mary Hardin-Baylor or Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Blue Jays had an 11-game winning streak snapped and end the season at 12-2.
Mount Union led 21-6 late in the third quarter and had moved from its 10-yard line to its 44 before the Blue Jay defense changed how the final 17 minutes would play out.
Freshman Nick Seidel intercepted a D’Angelo Fulford pass at the Blue Jay 44 and returned it up near midfield. Eight plays and 51 yards later, the Blue Jays got a seven-yard touchdown run from senior Stuart Walters to pull within seven at 21-14 with 13:28 remaining in the fourth.
The Purple Raiders then pieced together an impressive drive that started at their own 29 and moved to a first-and-goal situation at he Blue Jay six. Three plays later, Fulford was intercepted again, this time by senior safety Michael Curry in the end zone, to kill the scoring threat.
The Blue Jays then worked their way from their own 20 to the Mount Union 24 with junior quarterback David Tammaro connecting with Luke McFadden (19 yards), Harrison Wellmann (12) and Emmett Turner (10) to fuel the drive. However, on second-and-10 from the 24, Tammaro was hit as he threw and Brown stepped in front of the intended receiver and raced untouched down the sideline for what proved to be the decisive score.
After the teams traded punts, Johns Hopkins would draw within 28-20 with just under two minutes remaining as the Blue Jays went 77 yards in just four plays with Walters scoring his second touchdown of the game – this one a one-yard plunge up the middle – to make it a one-score game. Sophomore Ryan Hubley had two receptions that covered 70 of the 77 yards on the drive.
Any hopes for a comeback were dashed moments after Walters’ touchdown as Mount Union recovered an onsides kick and the Purple Raiders kneeled out the final 1:54 to seal the victory.
The Purple Raiders had struck first as they stopped the Blue Jays on downs to open the game and then went 89 yards on eight plays to grab an early 7-0 lead. The final 39 of those yards were covered by a Fulford-to-Justin Hill touchdown pass as Hill got behind the defense and Fulford hit him in stride down the sideline.
The Blue Jays had several chances to pull even and worked their way to the Mount Union 16 midway through the second quarter. There, Tammaro’s pass to Luke McFadden was tipped out of McFadden’s hands and intercepted by Trevor Cox at the Purple Raider 10-yard line and returned 90 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-0.
It appeared the Blue Jays were within a touchdown less than 20 second later as Wellmann returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, but an illegal block inside the Mount Union 10-yard line moved the ball back to Purple Raider 20 and Hopkins missed a field goal four plays later.
The Blue Jays matched Mount Union’s first defensive touchdown on the Purple Raiders’ first play after the missed field goal as freshman Jake Vall-llobera stripped Fulford of the ball while he was scrambling and fellow freshman Robert Fletcher scooped it up at the 25-yard line and returned it for a Blue Jay touchdown to pull Hopkins within 14-6.
Mount Union had a late threat in the second quarter snuffed out by another forced turnover by the Blue Jay defense as Fulford’s pass down the middle was intercepted by Curry at the goal line to keep the score 14-6 at the half.
The 14-6 lead held for half of the third quarter. Mount Union would take the second of three two-touchdown leads when Fulford hit Hill on a 14-yard fade that he caught at the pylon to give the Raiders the 21-6 lead.
The 15-point lead was intact for nearly nine minutes before Walters’ touchdown following Seidel’s interception set up the frantic final 13 minutes that included a touchdown for both teams, alternating interceptions and ultimately Brown’s pick six that was more than the Blue Jays could overcome.
Mount Union outgained the Blue Jays 375-367 with Fulford throwing for 210 yards and two touchdowns against three interceptions. Hill was his favorite target with five receptions for 93 yards and two scores, while Josh Petruccelli rushed for 110 yards on 28 carries.
Tammaro was 27-of-40 for 250 yards with the two interceptions, while Nick Leongas was 3-for-3 for 76 yards. Hubley (5 receptions for 109 yards), McFadden (6-86), Turner (8-63) and Wellmann (5-38) led a balanced receiving attack.
Seidel led the Blue Jay defense with seven tackles and the one interception, while two of Vall-llobera’s three tackles on the day were sacks, including the one that resulted in Fletcher’s touchdown. Curry matched his career high with the two interceptions and added three tackles.
Notes: Johns Hopkins was making its first appearance in the NCAA Semifinals • The Blue Jay defense held the Mount Union offense to just two touchdowns – the Purple Raiders entered the game averaging 52.9 points per game • Wellmann had three kickoff returns for 125 yards, including an 87-yarder that ranks as the seventh-longest in school history • Walters topped 5,000 career all-purpose yards and ends his career tied with Andrew Kase for the most in school history (5,025).