Fifteen straight national quarterfinal appearances. Eight national championships. A coach with 20 losses in 21 seasons.
Haven’t heard enough? How about winning streaks of 55 and 54 games over the past decade? How about leading every single second of every game this year? How about holding four teams (including Capital) to negative rushing yards?
That’s enough perverse pleasure for the masochists reading this column. But the fact remains; Mount Union is a very, very good football team, and the Crusaders will once again have their hands full this Saturday if they want to move on to the national semifinals.
Earlier this season, Capital traveled to Alliance, fell behind 17-0 early and never found a rhythm in a 38-12 loss. I was there, and the elements were as unkind to the Crusaders as was the running of stud back Nate Kmic (240 yards, three TD’s), who enters the rematch with four 200-yard efforts this year and 23 touchdowns.
Heck, Mount Union’s rushing attack is so strong, their second-string running back earned all-conference honors. Wow.
Though the Purple Raiders have (rightly) earned their status as the top dogs on the block, you can’t completely discount the Crusaders in the rematch. Capital’s 41-13 victory over North Central (Ill.) College pushed the football team to a school record 11 wins, and the Crusaders have maintained a top-five national ranking all season.
Capital’s success over the past few seasons hasn’t gone unnoticed: “We hope to someday consider Cardinal football a powerhouse, not necessarily just on the regional level, but on the national level with the likes of Capital and Mount Union,” said Kam Kniss, North Central’s quarterback, following Saturday’s game.
Senior quarterback Rocky Pentello has been the focal point of the resurgence of the Capital football program, which before this season hadn’t hosted a playoff game since the 1970 Stagg Bowl. Pentello became just the fourth quarterback in Division III history to surpass the 12,000 career yard mark Saturday while throwing for a career-best five touchdowns.
But the Crusaders are more than just Pentello’s gaudy passing numbers. Coach Jim Collins and defensive coordinator Jim Bickel have developed a defense that’s allowed Capital to win games in other ways besides shootouts. This year’s defense yields less than 12 points per game and holds its opponents to under 250 yards per game.
People have asked me all week, “Scott, is it worth going up there for the game? Do we even stand a chance?”
The answer: Yes. The behemoth that is Mount Union football, while not an easy task, is also not an insurmountable feat to accomplish. Remember, in this same round last year, Capital battled hard before dropping a 34-31 decision.
“They’re a great team,” Pentello said. “I don’t want to say we have to play a perfect game because we’re a good team too, but we’re going to have to go up there and play well and execute on both sides of the ball.”
“It’s the playoffs,” said sophomore safety C.J. Steele. “It’s anybody’s game.”