Marietta Faces Monumental Challenge Against No. 1 Mount Union

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In sports, the phrase “David and Goliath matchup” tends to be quite overused. Many used it after the Appalachian State Mountaineers toppled the mighty Michigan Wolverines 34-32 when the Wolverines were ranked No. 5 in the country. As colossal as this may seem, Appalachian State was a power of its own division and the upset could have been bigger.

In Division III football, no teams have been further polar opposites than the Marietta Pioneers and the Mount Union Purple Raiders. Sure, they both play in the Ohio Athletic Conference and feature a new head coach in the 2013 season, but that’s about where the similarities end.

Over the last decade, Mount Union has recorded eight seasons of 14 wins or more. Marietta? Zip.

The Pioneers have lost 12 straight games dating back to Nov. of 2011. The Raiders have lost a combined 12 games since 1992.

The Raiders have competed in eight straight national championship games, taking home four including the 2012 title, and currently hold the No. 1 spot in the national rankings.

Needless to say, a Marietta upset over Mount Union would truly go down as one of the largest upsets in sports history, but Raiders head coach Vince Kehres isn’t taking the Pioneers lightly

“We respect every opponent we play,” Kehres said. “We know that every OAC team is very skilled and well coached.”

Vince Kehres, son of legendary Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, takes the reigns of the storied program after his father’s resignation from the position after last season. Larry Kehres led the Raiders to 332-24-3 record over his 27 years at the helm, so it’s understandable why his son wants to continue on the same path.

“The foundation and values of this program have not and will not change,” Vince Kehres said. “I will continue to uphold the values and ideals that have made Mount Union what it is in the world of college football.  Our mission remains the same: Bring quality young men to this place and allow them the opportunity to grow and be successful on and off the field."

The Raiders have won the first two games of the Vince Kehres era, but the Andy Waddle era at Marietta College is still looking to tally it’s first win. Some thought that the Pioneers’ drought might end last Saturday, but Marietta gave up five second-half touchdowns to fall to the Capital Crusaders. Despite the loss, Waddle and his team can take some positives away from the performance.

“If any area of our team is improving, it’s our running game,” Waddle said. “Our offensive line is improving and we feel like we have two strong options in Tim Conner and Patrick Lewis.”

The two backs and the offensive line developed Marietta’s first sign of a running game this season against Capital, as Conner rushed for 116 yards on 20 carries and Lewis added 69 yards on nine carries.

Waddle indicated before the Capital game that fans would likely see a dual-quarterback system, but decided to stick with Tom Fulton for the entirety of Saturday night’s game. Fulton accumulated 142 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 19 completions. Waddle said that the quarterback position continues to be a week-to-week decision, but “Tom appears to be taking the lead”.

While Waddle realizes his team is improving, he also recognizes that Mount Union is a whole different animal. Waddle doesn’t have much experience against the Raiders, but mentioned playing them in his sophomore season as a Wittenberg Tiger in 2001.

“Mount Union is a tremendous program,” Waddle said. “Larry Kehres is a legend and Vince [Kehres] has proven himself as a defensive coordinator.”

In an effort to build a program that rivals the Raiders, Waddle looks to Mount Union as an example of how to become dominant through consistency.

“They’ve made moves over the years, but they’ve been able to keep a level of consistency with their schemes,” Waddle said. “When you face Mount Union you know that you’ll face not just a well coached team, but great athletes as well.”

Waddle continued, “We realize that task at hand is extremely big, but it’s an incredible opportunity to play on the national stage.”