By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – There is only one local college football team still playing as we approach early December. Widener has advanced to the quarterfinals of the Division III NCAA Tournament after beating Salisbury 28-7 in the second round over the weekend in Chester. Now the Pride are preparing to travel to Alliance, Ohio, to play the #1 team in all of Division III, the Mount Union Purple Raiders.
The win over Salisbury improved Widener’s record to 11-0 and head coach Isaac Collins is very happy to still be playing football.
“We talked, from the very first time I stepped in front of the team, about being able to play on Thanksgiving and being able to make a legitimate run at a national championship,” Collins tells KYW Newsradio. “So being in the Elite 8 is something truly special and I’m so excited for our kids.”
But this will easily be the toughest challenge for this Widener team. Mount Union is 12-0 and they have outscored their opponents this season, 644-72. They have won their first two tournament games by a combined score of 127-27. Since 2000, Mount Union has a record of 179-7 and during that run, the Purple Raiders have won six national championships. They are currently on a 66-game home winning streak – they haven’t lost in Alliance since 2005. But Collins says they relish the opportunity to match-up with the best.
“I think our guys watch college football, they’re college football fans, so they know that you only get these opportunities once in a lifetime,” Collins says. “To play #1 in the country, to play a program with the history that they have, certainly sets the table for us to be able to try and get our program back to where it was under Coach Bill Manlove.”
Widener won a pair of national titles under Manlove in 1977 and 1981.
This is also a very special time for seniors like defensive end and captain Chad Gravinese.
“It is definitely exciting,” Gravinese tells KYW Newsradio. “You’re playing the #1 team in the nation, they get all the hype, they get all the publicity, that’s what makes it special to us. We work all season to play the best teams in the nation and now we get the opportunity.”
As for the match-up, Collins says his defense has to play its best game against the Purple Raiders.
“They are running the spread,” Collins says. “Very similiar to what you see Oregon run. And they’ve got the skill guys, just like Oregon does, that they try to get up and down the field on you. They’ve got a quarterback that’s like a point guard on a basketball team. He does a tremendous job of spreading the ball around and if you start to gang up on his skill guys, he can pull it down and hurt you as well.”
But Mount Union will also have it’s hands full with the Widener offense. The Pride average 48.5 points a game and senior quarterback Chris Haupt has thrown 36 touchdowns. His top target is sophomore wide receiver Anthony Davis, who has 58 catches for 1,130 yards and 16 touchdowns.
This will be just the second meeting between these two programs. The first came in the 2000 NCAA Semifinals and Mount Union won that one easily 70-30.
The winner of this game gets the winner of Wesley and Mary Hardin-Baylor in the national semifinals.
Widener and Mount Union will kick-off at noon on Saturday.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.