Purple Raiders End Muhlenberg Run

James Diggs, Muhlenberg
James Diggs, Muhlenberg

Despite getting off to a fast start and taking an early lead, the Muhlenberg football team fell to top-ranked Mount Union, 38-10, in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

The loss ends the best season in program history with a record of 11-2. The two losses were to national semifinalists Johns Hopkins and Mount Union, who will play each other next week for the right to advance to the national championship game.

Playing against a team that had committed only 10 turnovers all season, and none in its first two postseason games, the Mules forced two turnovers on the Purple Raiders' first three offensive plays.

Sophomore Daymon Fleming forced a fumble that was recovered by senior Luke Wiley near midfield on the second play after the kickoff. Muhlenberg went three-and-out on its first possession, but a nice punt by freshman Kevin Olifiers pinned Mount Union at its 9-yard line.

On the next play, sophomore Spencer Kirin wrestled the ball away from a Purple Raider receiver for his second interception of the season, giving the Mules the ball at the 18-yard line. It was only the second pick of the season thrown by the Mount Union quarterback, who came in leading Division III in passing efficiency.

This time Muhlenberg took advantage. On third-and-7, sophomore Michael Hnatkowsky found classmate Thomas Murphy, who broke a tackle and ran in for a 15-yard touchdown to put the Mules up 7-0.

The deficit was the first for the Purple Raiders since their third game of the season, on September 22.

Mount Union responded with a long touchdown drive to tie the game and took advantage of a fumble to take a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.

The Mules drove into Mount Union territory on each of their final two drives of the first half but could not put any points on the board. Muhlenberg went into the locker room trailing 14-7 to a team that held 32-0 and 51-7 halftime leads in its first two postseason games.

Mount Union added to its lead with a field goal early in the second half, then returned an interception for a touchdown to make it 24-7.

Junior Todd Spirt booted a 36-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 24-10, but the Purple Raiders pulled away with two fourth-quarter touchodwns.

The defense held the Mount Union quarterback to 10-of-23 passing for 61 yards. The Purple Raiders, who came in averaging 473.1 yards per game, gained only 322, with 104 of them coming in the fourth quarter.

Junior Mickey Kober led the defense with 13 tackles, including two for loss. Wiley forced and recovered a second fumble late in the game, finishing with seven tackles.

Sophomore James Diggs (pictured above) rushed 14 times for 69 yards to surpass 1,000 yards for the season. His 33-yard run in the fourth quarter was the longest allowed by Mount Union this season.