By John Kovach
Mount Union is preparing for Saturday’s playoff game against Montclair State.
For the second straight year as a starter on the offensive line, senior left tackle Caleb Crowl is hoping to spearhead the Mount Union College football team to another NCAA Division III national championship.
Saturday at noon, Crowl (6-foot-5, 305 pounds), from Lisbon High, will lead the Purple Raiders (11-0) against Montclair State (10-1) in a regional semifinal game in Mount Union Stadium in Alliance.
Mount Union has won 10 national titles under coach Larry Kehres — in 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008.
Mount Union will be playing the Montclair State Redhawks for the first time.
The winner will meet the Delaware Valley (Pa.)-Albright (Pa.) winner on Dec. 5 at noon in a regional final at a site to be determined.
The Purple Raiders, who won their 18th straight Ohio Athletic Conference title and 20th overall, are coming off 55-0 win over Washington & Jefferson in a quarterfinal.
Montclair State advanced with a 38-22 win over Maine Maritime.
Crowl helped Mount Union to become the nation’s No. 1 offense last year behind then-senior and prolific running back Nate Kmic.
Crowl said the team has adjusted this season to being without such a big-yardage rusher as Kmic, and is ready to make another try for a national title.
“I think we are strong enough to pass tests in the playoffs,” Crowl said. “We are aware of how good Wisconsin-Whitewater is, and if we do win [the next three games] we know that they will be waiting for us [in the Stagg Bowl final].
“They have most of their key players back,” Crowl said. “But in the beginning [this season], it seemed hard to get our rushing attack going without Nate Kmic. He was unbelievable.
“He gained about 8,000 yards in four years. So it has been harder this year,” Crowl said. “We were happy if our backs got 150 yards rushing, but Kmic would get a lot more like 250-300 yards. But about halfway through the season our offense meshed, and we have been rolling.”
Crowl repeated that Kmic, who now is a student assistant coach with the team tutoring running backs while completing his undergraduate degree, “was unbelievable.
“He had quick feet. I have never seen anybody run like him. You would have to see him run to believe it.”
Earlier in the season, Mount Union used its potent passing attack behind quarterback Kurt Rocco and receivers Cecil Shorts II to power the team.
Then the Purple Raiders re-energized their rushing offense with Terrance Morning and Scott Panchik being the primary load carriers.
Rocco has passed for 2,931 yards on 169-for-242 for 33 TDs and six interceptions.
Shorts has 75 catches for 1,412 yards and 16 TDs. Shorts also is the top scorer with 19 TDs for 114 points.
Meanwhile, Morning has 818 yards rushing in 146 carries and 10 TDs while Panchik has 740 yards in 136 carries for 704 yards and 13 TDs.
The Purple Raiders rank No. 1 passing and No. 2 rushing in the OAC. A contributing reason is the powerful offensive line led by Crowl, who was an All-OAC first-team pick this year.
He was one of 20 MUC selections to the OAC team, including nine starters.
Crowl said experience has helped the offensive line to do another excellent job this season.
The team was without Luke Summers (Springfield), who used up his four years of eligibility.
Summers is a student assistant coach for the team, guiding the freshmen offensive linemen while finishing his undergraduate degree.
“We returned five of the six guys [on the offensive line] who saw playing time in the starting rotation last year,” Crowl said.
Lining up alongside him are junior John Nicolozakes at left guard, senior Mike Nitz at center, senior James Bird at right guard and enior Samy Guerrero at right tackle.
Last year, Crowl started all 15 games. In 2007, he came off the bench in 11 games and was a member of the 52-man playoff roster.
The son of Bilynda Linam and Blaine Crowl, Caleb is majoring in history and would like to become a teacher and coach.
While at Lisbon, he won three football letters under coach Jim Tslimous.
Also on the MUC playoff roster are Chuck Lengyel (6-0, 210), sophomore linebacker from South Range; and Jon Biehl (6-0, 180), sophomore defensive back from Lakeview.
Both players are backups and/or on special teams guys.