Centre at Mount Union

NOON, ALLIANCE

Records: Centre 10-1, Mount Union 10-0

Series: Mount Union leads 1-0

Last meeting: Mount Union won 30-10 in 2011 in Alliance.

 

With six national championships in the past 13 years, Mount Union is such a juggernaut in Division III that it can be difficult for a graduating class to leave a mark all its own.

But for this year’s group, that could come in the form of winning three national championships.

 

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The Purple Raiders’ seniors won titles last year and in 2015, and if they finish the feat, they would become the first to win three since the class that took titles in 2005, ’06 and ’08.

“The expectations are so high here. As a player, it’s like, if you don’t win a national championship, it’s a down year,” said senior Trevor Cox, a Hilliard Darby graduate and two-year starter at safety with national titles his freshman and junior years.

The road to another championship continues Saturday with a second-round playoff game against Centre, a member of the Southern Athletic Association from Danville, Kentucky. The Purple Raiders eliminated Denison 60-0 in their playoff opener, and the Colonels defeated Washington & Jefferson 54-13.

Cox will be back at Mount Union Stadium after planning a side trip to central Ohio for Thanksgiving with his family. It was to be his first Thanksgiving with them in his time at Mount Union; he had stayed closer to campus his first three seasons. Parents, grandparents and siblings plan to return the favor by traveling to Alliance for the game.

And a long-term reunion could be coming soon because Cox said he wants to return to the Columbus area after graduating next year with a civil engineering degree.

“It’s starting to set in,” Cox said of the end of his career approaching. “The regular season flew by.”

Facing the Colonels, Cox and his teammates in the secondary will be kept busy. Three receivers have at least 25 catches and are averaging at least 40 yards per game, led by Jaylon Hibbs, who averages 104.4 yards and has 12 touchdowns.

“They’re definitely going to challenge our secondary,” Mount Union coach Vince Kehres said. “They have some really good receivers, and they complement it with a really good run game. … A lot of what they do is the RPO (run-pass option plays). You’ve got to defend both.”

Cox has 36 tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception this season. Two other seniors start in the secondary: safety Austin White (43 tackles, nine pass breakups, two INTs) and cornerback Louis Berry (30 tackles, seven pass breakups, four INTs).

The group has benefited from familiarity.

“It’s good to know if I do my job, they’re definitely going to do their job,” Cox said.

The Purple Raiders allow only 8.7 points per game and have shut out three opponents. But the biggest obstacle to continuing their 26-game winning streak might not come from anything Centre does but from missing a key part of their offense.

Quarterback D'Angelo Fulford suffered a foot injury in the regular-season finale and has not played since. The junior remains the most efficient passer in Division III with a rating of 208.4. No update on his status was expected before kickoff.

Against Denison, Mount Union used three quarterbacks. Sophomore Jake Keeney saw the most playing time, completing 11 of 15 passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.

Centre limits opponents to 17.8 points per game — way below the 54.5 that Mount Union scores — and Kehres acknowledged that, no matter who is at quarterback, the challenges are only going to get tougher.

“The competition increases each week as you go through the playoffs,” he said. “But it doesn’t change our preparations. That started in the regular season, and I think our players get acclimated to that, and they get confidence.”

 

bhofmann@dispatch.com

@BrianHofmann