North Central at Mount Union
Records: North Central 10-1, Mount Union 11-0
Series: Mount Union leads 1-0.
Last meeting: Mount Union won 41-40 in 2013 in Alliance.
Mount Union is used to piling up points and yards on offense as the second-ranked team in Division III. But this week in a second-round playoff game, the Purple Raiders may have found their equal.
They lead Division III with 55.5 points per game and are second in yards with 557.9 per game. But right behind them in scoring and ahead of them in yards is No. 5 North Central, at 54.6 and 571.3, making this a matchup of the top two offenses in the division.
“Both teams have veteran quarterbacks. Both teams often use three or four receivers,” Mount Union coach Vince Kehres said. “Both teams have an excellent group of skills players. … There’s a lot of skill on both offensive groups.”
It showed for the Purple Raiders in how they dominated the Ohio Athletic Conference postseason awards this week. Their veteran quarterback is senior D’Angelo Fulford, who was named offensive back of the year. He has passed for 39 touchdowns and an average of 233.5 yards per game. Senior Justin Hill was named top receiver with 1,460 yards and 22 touchdowns on 73 catches.
“People call us the dynamic duo,” said Hill, of Circleville. “He knows where I’m going. … We’ve been connecting like that ever since freshman year.”
All five starting offensive linemen were honored, among them senior left tackle Sean Sherman as lineman of the year and senior right tackle Brendan Klaus as a first-team all-conference selection.
“The athleticism that we have at tackle, it's a really hard position to recruit for at our level,” Kehres said. “It’s an area where you try to exploit (potential mismatches).”
That may prove handy considering the forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of rain or snow with temperatures in the upper 30s. Leading the running game is junior Josh Petruccelli, who averages 119.1 yards and has 18 touchdowns. But the Purple Raiders mostly use the running game to keep defenses honest and to set up the passing game, especially as they target Hill downfield.
“We went into the year knowing he's one of our best players,” Kehres said. “He came into camp in great physical condition and motivated. He’s played at the highest level that I’ve seen him play thus far. He's really locked in and focused. He's had elite talent since he's got here.”
Although he averages 20.0 yards per catch, he’s not just a deep-ball threat. The Purple Raiders sometimes like to use him on shorter routes where he may find himself matched against a linebacker instead of a defensive back.
“He’s really good with the ball in his hands,” Kehres said.
Hill said he has worked this season at improving the timing on his pass routes.
“Going from my freshman to sophomore to junior year, I wanted to rush myself,” he said. “I wasn’t timing things right. It's helped me a lot.”
But now time is running short on Hill’s career at Mount Union. He said he is trying to treasure each remaining day, although he wants to take a shot at a professional career.
A win over North Central would put the Purple Raiders in the quarterfinals, with their goal being a return to the Stagg Bowl in Shenandoah, Texas, on Dec. 20. Last year, they fell to Mary Hardin-Baylor 24-16 in the final, but Mount Union has reached the title game 21 times since 1993, winning 13 championships.
“Our biggest goal is to go 15-0 and get that ring,” Hill said.
Four games to go.
Notre Dame College at Kutztown
NOON, KUTZTOWN, PA.
Both teams advanced to the second round of the Division II playoffs in thrilling fashion. Kutztown (11-1) scored with 86 seconds left to edge Tiffin 33-31 and prevent an instate matchup against the Golden Falcons. Notre Dame College (11-1) needed a goal-line stand in the closing seconds to preserve a 31-24 win over West Chester.