SALEM, VA. — It will be familiar foes squaring off Friday night when Mount Union and St. Thomas of Minnesota meet in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl to determine the Division III national champion.
It is a rematch of the 2012 showdown at Salem Stadium, which Mount Union won, 28-10.
Mount Union (14-0) is a regular in the title game, having advanced to an unprecedented 11 straight and every national championship contest except one since 2000. The Tommies (14-0) are making just their second appearance.
In some ways, the teams are mirror images of each other.
Mount Union leads all of Division III with averages of 53.6 points scored and 7.5 points allowed, and St. Thomas is second is both categories. The Tommies score 52.5 points per game, and allow just 9.9 points.
Mount Union's Vince Kehres has been a part of 10 of the Purple Raiders' 11 Division III football national championships, either as a player or a coach. But he has not added to the total in two years as the head coach.
Kehres and Mount Union hope losses the last two seasons will pay dividends this year.
"We're a little bit more experienced. We have a number of seniors that have played a lot of football games for us, so I think we certainly have a little bit more experience than we've had the past two years," Kehres said.
Mount Union (14-0) earned its return trip last week by dispatching its nemesis, Wisconsin-Whitewater, 38-6 in the semifinals. The Purple Raiders faced the Warhawks in eight of the last nine Stagg Bowls, and had lost the past five meetings. The only time Mount Union has raised the ultimate hardware in the past six seasons came in 2012, when they sent then-coach Larry Kehres out with a 28-10 win against the Tommies.
Vince Kehres replaced his father as coach the following season, and the only times he's lost in 44 games since have been the two championships.
"Our guys are very, very motivated to try and get a 'W' on Friday," Kehres said.
Mount Union features the top scoring offense and the top scoring defense in Division III. The Tommies are right behind them in both categories.
Both teams have put up some staggering numbers.
Mount Union has run for a school-record 4,446 yards this season, and quarterback Taurice Scott has thrown for nearly 3,200 yards with 41 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Running back Logan Nemeth averages 7.6 yards per carry and has 1,737 yards and 27 touchdowns, and receivers Roman Namdar (976 yards) and Tim Kennedy (978) are both approaching 1,000-yard seasons. Namdar also is second in the nation with 19 touchdown receptions.
The Tommies also are offensively balanced, led by running back Jordan Roberts and quarterback John Gould. Roberts has run for nearly 2,000 yards and 32 touchdowns, and Gould has thrown for 2,851 yards and 25 TDs.
St. Thomas, which missed the playoffs two seasons ago and lost in the first round last year, has an aggressive defense with 51 sacks. The Tommies have attempted 48 fourth-down conversions this season, converting 32 times.
But with their nearly annual appearance in the title game, Mount Union remains the gold standard.
"We know that this is a different animal than all the others that we've seen," said St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso. "We've been well prepared by both our league and playoff run, but there's going to be points in time when you're not going to get everything you're used to getting. That's why you're playing for a national championship."