By JEFFREY ZUPANIC | Alliance Review
Widener head coach Isaac Collins went so far to say that Mount Union resembles the University of Oregon in every way possible -- minus the infinite number of uniform combinations.
The Purple Raiders lead Division III in scoring (53.7 points per game) and are on pace to break the NCAA record for points scored in a season -- set by the 2007 Mount Union team -- heading into the quarterfinal matchup against the Pride at Mount Union Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
"They are running the spread. Very similar to what you see Oregon run. And they've got the skill guys, just like Oregon does, that they try to get up and down the field on you," said Collins. "They've got a quarterback that's like a point guard on a basketball team. He does a tremendous job of spreading the ball around and if you start to gang up on his skill guys, he can pull it down and hurt you as well."
The quarterback is sophomore Kevin Burke, who has completed 180-of-260 passes for 2,902 yards with 32 touchdowns against just five interceptions through 12 games. Burke's primary receiving targets are seniors Jasper Collins, Chris Denton, Julius Moore and tight end Shannon Stewart, although Stewart is not expected to dress for the second straight game.
Collins, who is Isaac Collins' nephew, leads the team with 67 catches for 1,272 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's been red-hot in the postseason with 372 yards and eight touchdowns in two blowout wins against Christopher Newport (72-14) and Johns Hopkins (55-13).
"I think his totals you are seeing in games are a reflection of playoff time, and he's playing a little bit more," said Mount Union head coach Larry Kehres. "But (Junior) has been able to play like this forever."
The biggest difference is the experience and improvement of Denton, Moore and Stewart, which give Mount Union what Kehres called an "explosive passing game." Denton has 53 catches for 804 yards and five touchdowns, while Moore has 29 receptions for 449 yards and five touchdowns and Stewart has 25 catches for 352 yards and four touchdowns, respectively.
But Widener (11-0) isn't too shabby on offense either with its 48.5 points per game average, including wins where they scored 56, 63, 67 and 90 points, respectively, in the regular season. The coach Collins has a big-time threat that resembles his nephew. Anthony Davis has 58 catches for 1,130 yards and 16 touchdowns after an impressive 201 receiving yards in a 28-7 win versus Salisbury last Saturday.
The Pride averages 483.7 yards per game on the season with 335.5 coming through the air.
"They are a very good football team that has been very solid in every aspect of the game," said Kehres. "Anytime you play a team that has won their conference and had the success they have had, we know we are getting a football team."
Widener has won a pair of national championships (1977 and 1981) in the playoff format and are back in the quarterfinal for the first time since the 2001 season. The year the Pride saw its season end with a 57-32 loss to Bridgewater (Va.). The previous season was the furthest Widener has ventured in the postseason since they won the national championship in 1981. The Pride visited Mount Union Stadium in the national semifinal and suffered a 70-30 loss.
Mount Union is 4-0 all-time against teams from the Middle Atlantic Conference with wins --all in the playoffs --against Lycoming (61-12 in 1997), Widener, Albright (55-9 in 2009) and Delaware Valley (31-3 in 2010). The Purple Raiders have outscored its opponents 644-72 on the season, including 127-27 in the playoffs.
"They are very well coached. They have a physical offensive line and running backs by committee but they all get yards," said Collins. "They have the best defense we've seen on film. They fly around to the ball and don't give up big plays and that makes for a very difficult challenge. Oh and on special teams, they make plays and pin people deep. They are the complete package."
With all that being said, Collins doesn't expect the Pride to get intimated by the surroundings and Mount Union's 66-game home winning streak.
"Part of it is we are so young that we have been focused on our own program so I don't think the kids have followed them," said Collins. "I told the players that Mount Union has played for the national title the last seven years and it surprised them. This is really the first year they've noticed those types of things (the aura of teams) and we know that we better be at our best when you go on the road."