Wolverines fall to Mount Union in D-3 quarterfinals 56-35

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Wesley QB Joe Callahan attempts a pass during Saturday’s D-3 quarterfinal game. (Dan Poel, OhioSI.com)

ALLIANCE. Ohio — Mike Drass is not normally the type of coach that believes in ripping into people on the sidelines. But with Wesley trailing by 35 points at halftime to powerful Mount Union in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III Football Tournament, the veteran coach felt like this was the time.

“For the first time in a long time, I said some things that I haven’t said in a long time. I questioned what the hell they were doing,” Drass said.

The Wolverines responded and even had a chance to pull within seven points in the fourth quarter, but the Purple Raiders finally put them away to post a 56-35 victory Saturday afternoon.

Top-ranked Mount Union (13-0), which will advance to the semifinals for the 21st straight season next week against Wisconsin-Whitewater, knocked the Wolverines (11-2) from the tournament for the third season in in a row and fifth time since 2009. That included a crazy 62-59 game in 2013 and a 70-21 blowout last season. This game reminded you a little of both.

“I was proud of the effort that they gave in the second half,” Drass said. “Our execution may not have always been there, but as we walk off this field, I am proud of our team.”

The Wolverines trailed 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and 49-14 at the half. Both times, however, the team found a way to climb back into the contest.

Wesley’s defense held the Purple Raiders scoreless through the third quarter and much of the fourth. During that time senior quarterback Joe Callahan fired three touchdown passes to pull the Wolverines within 49-35.

“In the first half we didn’t do the little things, like wrap up and play the ball,” said linebacker Samer Manna. “After we made the adjustments we really stepped up as a defense. We did all the little things right.”

While Wesley seized the momentum in the second half to climb back into the game, the Wolverines still had three possessions end in Mount Union territory that resulted in no points.

“We didn’t capitalize on all the opportunities,” Drass said. “If we had scored every time we got in the red zone? But we didn’t. I can’t cheapen Mount Union’s win. They won fair and square. They stopped us.”

The Wolverines had the ball inside the Purple Raider 20-yard line with just under six minutes left, trailing 49-35. But Callahan was forced into three straight incompletions after Wesley had a second-down-and-6 at the UMU 13-yard line.

Receiver James Okike led Wesley with 143 yards on nine receptions, scoring on touchdowns of 58 and six yards. Tight end Kyle George added nine catches for 61 yards.

After that, Mount Union finally put the game away. After one first down, running back Logan Nemath broke free on a 73-yard run during an all-out Wesley blitz. Nemath rushed for 218 yards on 26 carries and added a pair of touchdowns.

“We had some great third and fourth down stops,” Drass said. “We just kind of blew it on that last run. I’ve got to give Nemath credit. That’s one tough dude.”

Middletown product Jamar Baynard scored from five yards out on the second play of the second quarter, and after the defense forced a three-and-out, Callahan hit tight end Kyle George from six yards to pull the Wolverines within 21-14. Baynard rushed for 66 yards and touchdown, while catching four passes, including a touchdown.

“We put our defense in a tough situation in the first half,” Callahan said “It’s not the ideal way to start any game, especially against the number one team in the nation.

“The second half we battled back a little bit. We at least went out and fought. I am glad that if this is our last game that we just didn’t roll over.”

After appearing to make it a game, the Wolverines again fell apart. The Purple Raiders capitalized on two turnovers and a 10-yard punt to score 28 points over the next nine minutes.

UMU quarterback Taurice Scott fired three touchdown passes and ran for another. In all, the senior quarterback threw for 330 yards and five touchdowns, while being picked off once.

“I don’t think we ever lost belief or hope,” Callahan said. “It got pretty bad by halftime. We’ve been in some pretty bad situations before.

“Against Mount Union two years ago, we got back within three. Earlier this year against North Central to win. When you have experiences like that, you never really give up hope that you can come back.”

Callahan, a senior, finished a stellar career with 379 yards and four touchdowns. He had perhaps the greatest season ever by a Division III quarterback. After setting the division’s single season passing record last week, he eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark by ending with 5,063 yards. He also threw 55 touchdown passes.

“It’s a pretty neat feeling but it speaks more about the players around me,” he said.

While Callahan remained humble about his accomplishments, Drass offered a different perspective.

“We think Joe is the best football player in the country. He’s made people around him better for three years. The common denominator in the offense has been him. I feel horrible that this is his last game, but he’s the best player in the country.”

The Wolverines again earned respect from a Purple Raider program know as ‘The Machine.”

“We have tremendous respect for Wesley, their staff and players,” Coach Vince Kehres said. “It’s very difficult to be down and rally the troops. They’ve done that several times against us.”

But like four of the last five times the Wolverines have been eliminated by UMU, Wesley again was left to wonder what if.

“We’ll be back,” Drass said as he left the postgame press conference.

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