So Brian Schaetz was milking a cow…
That isn't a setup for a punch line. It's an explanation for the greatest current dynasty in college football. Schaetz was working on his family dairy farm with his dad, and that's when he made up his mind, called the football coaches at North Dakota State and told them he was coming.
Welcome to Midwest football.
Schaetz didn't have a scholarship offer or dream of being a star. But he was strong and had huge hands, and anyone in the Midwest could have told you what was going to happen: He would become a defining piece of a North Dakota State football dynasty.
Now a senior, Schaetz and North Dakota State play Richmond in the semifinals at the FCS level Friday. The Bison are shooting for their fifth straight national title.
"He literally called from the farm," Jeremy Jorgenson—who basically built the North Dakota State radio network and still serves as a TV and radio host—said of the team's star defensive end. "We developed a culture of toughness, and we're getting that same type of kid."
Drive across the northern part of America's heartland—from Fargo, North Dakota, around the Great Lakes and into Alliance, Ohio—and you find another of the great Midwest dynasties, Division III's Mount Union.
Mount Union didn't reach the mountaintop by landing farm kids from remote lands. It got there with kids from Ohio's rich high school market—but ones who were a little too small or half a step too slow for the big time, for the Big Ten. Its legendary coach, Larry Kehres, found a better way to measure them.
Mount Union will play St. Thomas (Minn.), another Midwest team, in the Stagg Bowl for the D-III national championship Friday. Now coached by Kehres' son, Vince, Mount Union could win its 12th national title since 1993.
These Midwestern dynasties are 1,000 miles apart and the result of really different stories. But they are connected by shared Midwestern values. By trust and toughness, teamwork and togetherness. They aren't on national TV every week, and they don't get a lot of national attention other than a quick nod and pat on the head. They aren't Ohio State or Notre Dame or Michigan or Michigan State. But in some ways, that makes them even more symbolic of where they are from.
"It's part of the aura of what has become Mount Union," said Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell, who was a national champion player and assistant coach at Mount Union. "Under Coach [Larry] Kehres, it was always done the right way: with great player ownership. Nobody wants to let the tradition of that program down.
"I learned how to be a great leader through my teammates. How you work, how you lead every day. It's never about you, but always about the program. As a player and coach, I didn't want to let the program down."
This calendar year, starting with the bowl games in January, has been a turning moment for Midwestern football—and a reinforcement of values. At the highest level, the Big Ten had become a joke, seen as farm boys who were too slow and too outdated to win in the modern era. Then came a highly successful bowl season, topped with Ohio State's defeat of ultra-modern Oregon to win the national championship and show that the wide-open spread offenses don't surprise or fool top teams anymore.
This year, Michigan State is in the College Football Playoff. Ohio State and Iowa just missed out. At the next tiers down, missing out hasn't been an issue for the Midwest. The dynasties and best teams mostly come from the northern part of the country, whereas the heart of the sport is supposedly in the South. That's partly because top recruits from a place like North Dakota can go overlooked.
"A lot of the programs in the North, in the Midwest, have not given into the new world of college football where they're throwing it 60 times," Jorgenson said. "This is old school: Run the football, stop on defense. We're kind of back into the '60s and '70s. Where the rest of the country gravitates toward high-powered, fast-paced offenses, we pound and pound and pound until other teams want to get on the bus."
You would not think the base of a national football dynasty would come from the state of North Dakota. There are roughly 115,000 people in Fargo and just 740,000 in the entire state. The big industry is agriculture, though North Dakota is now one of the richest oil states, too, which bodes well for bigger, better facilities—read: indoor practice facility—than you'll usually find at the FCS level.
Nationally, there is anonymity to the entire state, which might as well be 10 minutes from the North Pole. Fargo has two national images: cold and Steve Buscemi being shoved into a wood chipper in Fargo.
When North Dakota State won the national championship a few years ago, even the NCAA sent the banner to its rival, North Dakota.
"I don't think the NCAA would have trouble knowing the difference between Alabama and Auburn or Arizona and Arizona State," said former North Dakota State athletic director Gene Taylor, who now is a deputy athletic director at Iowa. "But who knows?"
But there's no lack of identity for the football program within the state. There aren't major league sports teams to follow in North Dakota, so North Dakota State football and North Dakota hockey are the sports identities. They are the thing to do. At Bison games, you see people from North Dakota go crazy and fill the 19,000-seat Fargodome.
The team had a decadeslong history of success at the Division II level, but Taylor took it to Division I under heavy criticism. It required more money for scholarships and facilities. And it took roughly a game or two to find out that pounding on Division I players can be just as effective as pounding on Division II players. Two years ago, the Bison beat Kansas State, defending Big 12 champs, on the day K-State was unveiling a statue of coach Bill Snyder.
North Dakota State won with a late, long bruising drive.
"There's no question: They were built on inside runs, tight ends and fullbacks," Taylor said. "By the fourth quarter, I've seen a lot of these teams that are used to facing spread offenses just tap out. Sometimes, in the playoffs.
"I think it's the type of kids they get, Northern kids are used to hard work on farms. And it's cold. We saw that last year in the championship game: Ohio State just physically beat up Oregon."
That was a little Midwestern bragging. But you get why. These Midwestern successes have been validating as evidence of the value of the lifestyle.
Jorgenson said people listen to the games while working on their tractors.
New athletic director Matt Larsen went as far as to say that while North Dakota State does have some Southern players on the roster now, they find a way to assimilate.
Even with a new coach, Chris Klieman, and Larsen, the dynasty just seems to continue.
Mount Union has had its own turnover. Sort of. Larry Kehres, who built the dynasty, retired as coach three years ago and turned the team over to his defensive coordinator: his son. Vince lost in the national title game to Wisconsin-Whitewater two years in a row. Until this season, Whitewater had been getting the better end of the rivalry the past six years. They seem to play each other in the national title game every year. But in this year's semis, Mount Union won 36-6.
It was a big moment for Vince Kehres, showing that the program isn't slipping under him.
"There is a little bit of that sometimes; I am nervous," Larry Kehres said about the experience of watching his son run the family business.
"But it's been enjoyable, too," he said. "I think it's hard for a coach to take over at a place that's winning games. Of course, it's hard to take over a team that has been a doormat, too. But when you take over a team near the top, sometimes you don't get recognition for maintaining that. You just did what your predecessor did. And if you drop just a little bit, it's easy to get criticized."
Campbell said Vince Kehres has the most difficult job in America, following his dad at a dynasty. He said that the most amazing thing is how Mount Union never seems to really drop off, not even temporarily.
One reason that is so amazing, Campbell said, is that Mount Union used to be the obvious choice for the best players not recruited by the big boys. Now, he said, several Division II teams have emerged in the state of Ohio, and they can give scholarships. Mount Union, as a Division III school, does not.
So some Ohio kids are heading for the D-II schools, while Mount Union has been forced to look for players at other places. But a psyche has remained, Campbell said. It's a belief and a desire to never let the program down.
It's also a family feel, though. Larry Kehres spent 12 years as an assistant and then 27 as the head coach, winning 11 national titles. Vince was an assistant for 13 years under his dad before becoming the head coach. Larry said it was easy to pass on other job opportunities because he loved Mount Union and the lifestyle there. Campbell has already tried to hire Vince as an assistant once.
It's a good bet that Mount Union's next head coach will be one of Vince's sons, Evan or Bo.
"Not unless they start studying film more than they are now," Larry Kehres said. "They're both in the pool now doing cannonballs. They're six and 10. I've got to talk to them soon about film."
It's already in their blood.
Greg Couch covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
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St. Thomas finished seventh in the nine-team MIAC and had an overall record of 2-8 in 2007. It was the worst football season for the Tommies in 37 years, and Don Roney resigned after a decade in charge of the program.
Glenn Caruso had brought some respectability to Macalester football in two quick seasons, and was hired to replace Roney. Caruso spotted a computer ranking that had St. Thomas at No. 206 among 240 NCAA Division III teams, and he hasn’t forgotten it.
Saturday, St. Thomas thumped Linfield (Ore.) 38-17 in the D-III semifinals. It was the second time in four seasons that a group of revered Linfield seniors had been stopped in the semifinals.
Asked if the disappointment of not reaching the national championship game would be one remembrance of these seniors, Linfield coach Joe Smith said:
“I will remember them for excellence. Very few teams have made that championship game … I would say three in the past 10 years, including [St. Thomas].”
You think the NBA has a balance problem with one team (Golden State) at 24-1 and another (Philadelphia) at 1-25? That’s nothing compared to Division III football.
Mount Union, a Methodist-affiliated, liberal arts college with 2,300 students in Alliance, Ohio, and Wisconsin-Whitewater, a state university with nearly 11,000 students, have split the past 10 D-III titles — six for Whitewater, four for the Mighty Mount.
Those schools played one another in nine of those games. The only outsider was St. Thomas, which lost to Mount Union 28-10 in 2012. And now the Tommies, 14-0 with an average point differential of 52.5 scored to 9.9 allowed, are back to face Mount Union, 14-0 and 53.6 to 7.5.
After Saturday’s victory over Linfield, Caruso mentioned the No. 206 rating that he inherited and said: “Three years later, we were No. 5. And I can assure you that going from No. 206 to No. 5 is not as difficult as going from No. 5 to No. 1.”
Caruso paused, which doesn’t happen often with him in a post-victory news conference, and said:
“Or, in this case, from No. 2 to No. 1. We are thrilled to have gotten back to Salem [Va.] for the second time in four seasons. Check me on this, but for Mount Union, I think it’s the 20th time in the 23 years that it has been in this game.”
Close. The Purple Raiders will be playing for the 19th time in Salem’s 23 Stagg Bowls.
The NCAA created Division III in 1972. The first 10 Stagg Bowls were played in Phenix City, Ala. It moved around for the next decade — Kings Island, Ohio; back to Phenix City; and Bradenton, Fla. — before finding a home in Salem in 1993.
The arrival of the Stagg Bowl in Salem coincided with Mount Union’s first national title game (and victory). Since then, the game has been played without Mount Union four times: 1994 (won by Albion), 1995 (Wisconsin-La Crosse), 1999 (Pacific Lutheran) and 2004 (Linfield).
One season earlier, in December 2003, St. John’s won a second Division III title (to go with two NAIA titles) for coach John Gagliardi, with a stunning 24-6 victory that ended a 55-game winning streak for Mount Union.
The Purple Raiders have lost seven of their previous 19 Stagg Bowls: six to Whitewater, and the one to St. John’s, the Tommies’ archenemies of MIAC athletic venues.
How did the Johnnies, a team known more for athletes with outstanding football sense than physical might, negate the power of Mount Union a dozen years ago?
Jerry Haugen, the Johnnies defensive coordinator then and now, said this week: “We knew we had to try to take away something, and decided it was the run. We had some great players on the defensive line — Damien Dumonceaux, Ryan Weinandt, Jeremy Hood, and Cam McCambridge was a terrific inside linebacker.
“That let us control the middle of the line, and Mount Union hadn’t dealt with that too often. They were averaging 542 yards, and we held them under 300 .
“We got the big play on the goal line, with [Mike] Zauhar’s 100-yard interception, but just as important was this: We did enough on offense.
“Blake Elliott was able to have some runs and [quarterback] Ryan Keating made enough plays to let us put together first downs when our defense needed a break.
“St. Thomas is really good … we saw that up close twice this season. When the Tommies get a possession, they have to hold the ball for a while. You can’t keep giving it back to Mount Union, not with the explosive offense that team always brings.”
Patrick Reusse is a sports columnist who writes two to three columns per week. He also can be heard on AM-1500 KSTP from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays.
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Dec 16, 2015 · 2012 rematch: Mount Union, St. Thomas (Minn.) meet again for Division III title in Stagg BowlSt. Thomas football: Mount Union rules Division III again .
SALEM, Va. — The mountain once again proved too tall for the Tommies to climb. St. Thomas, unbeaten and largely unchallenged in 14 games on its way to Friday night .St. Thomas trumped by tradition in 49-35 loss to Mount Union
Dec 18, 2015 · The Tommies jumped out early in the Stagg Bowl, but Mount Union was simply too tough to handle.Mount Union, St. Thomas meet in Division III title game
SALEM, Va. (AP) — It will be familiar foes squaring off Friday night when Mount Union and St. Thomas of Minnesota meet in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl to determine .Mount Union vs. St. Thomas, Stagg Bowl 2015: Time, live .
Dec 17, 2015 · 1. Evenly matched. The numbers on both of these teams are gaudy, with Mount Union and St. Thomas ranking first and second in both scoring offense and defense.Mount Union-St. Thomas: Stagg Bowl preview - Stats & Info- ESPN
The Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl (the Division III national championship football game) will not pit Mount Union (Ohio) against UW-Whitewater, as it did nine of the past 10 .Mount Union vs. St. Thomas: Five things I think about Stagg .
Compelling storylines abound between Mount Union and St. Thomas heading into tonight's Stagg Bowl NCAA DIvision III national championship football game in Salem .Mount Union tops St. Thomas, wins record 12th football title
Dec 17, 2015 · Taurice Scott threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score and Mount Union won its NCAA-best 12th football title, beating St. Thomas of Minnesota .Mount Union vs St. Thomas (Minn.) - DIII Football | NCAA.com
Get up to the second scores and updates for your favorite NCAA teams anytime at NCAA.com.Football: #1 Mount Union and #3 St. Thomas Meet in Stagg Bowl .
Mount Union alumni Stagg Bowl website (fan buses, hotel, watch party information) Printable Bracket ; Game Tickets: Buy tickets in the lobby of the McPherson Academic .
Mount Union defensive end Tom Lally (90) and coach Vince Kehres celebrate following the team's 49-35 victory against St. Thomas in the NCAA Division III football championship game in Salem, Va., Friday, Dec. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Michael Shroyer) syndication.ap.org
SALEM, Va. (AP) - Mount Union is back on top of Division III football, and coach Vince Kehres finally has one of his own.
Taurice Scott threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score and Mount Union won its NCAA-best 12th football title, beating St. Thomas of Minnesota 49-35 on Friday night in the Division III championship game.
It was the Purple Raiders' 11th consecutive appearance in the game, but the first time in the last three years with Kehres as the coach that they came out on top.
"It means a lot," Kehres said after adding to the family lore that saw his father, Larry, guide the Purple Raiders to the first 11 titles. "I had the great mentor and a lot of mentors to get to this point. . I think it feels great for a lot of us."
Logan Nemeth ran for 220 yards and two touchdowns for Mount Union (15-0), which took over by scoring 21 unanswered points in the third quarter, turning a 21-14 deficit into a 35-21 lead in a span of just over five minutes. And they did it while working against a wind that had limited them to 30 yards in the first quarter.
"The offensive staff wanted to be able to run the football in the third quarter going into that wind," said Kehres, who was part of 10 titles as a player and assistant coach under his father.
They did it with a fast-paced approach, something they haven't used much in the playoffs.
"The offensive line did a great job and I think all that speed flying around had to mess with them a little bit," Nemeth said.
Jordan Roberts ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns for St. Thomas (14-1), which was appearing in the game for only the second time. The Tommies also played for the title in 2012, losing 28-10 to Mount Union.
"I've said it now for many years," coach Glenn Caruso said. "They are the standard in Division III."
The Purple Raiders took command with three four-play touchdown drives sandwiched around a turnover and a three-and-out by the Tommies. St. Thomas rallied with a fluky touchdown, but the Tommies had no answer for the big-play capabilities of the Purple Raiders.
"Three of the four times that we scored, they came right back and scored," Caruso said. "That's the sign of a championship team."
In the 21-0 third-quarter burst, Scott hit Roman Namdar for 63 yards to highlight the first drive, a fumble recovery set up the second, and Nemeth had a 42-yard run on the third drive before Scott's 18-yard scoring run.
St. Thomas got within 35-28 when Nick Waldvogel fumbled on run up the middle, and the ball bounced sideways and into the hands of quarterback John Gould, who outran the defense 55 yards.
Mount Union let Nemeth do most of the heavy lifting in the final quarter as it chewed time off the clock.
Unable to generate any offense moving into the stiff wind in the first quarter, Mount Union scored on its first two possessions of the second quarter with the wind at its back. Nemeth set up the first score with a 40-yard run, and Scott hit Lane Clark from 7 yards out for the touchdown. It was the 42nd touchdown pass of the season for Scott. He later hit Clark for another, from 13 yards, to make it 21-all.
After a three-and-out for the Tommies, Nemeth had runs of 15 and 3 yards, and Scott hit Namdar for 29 yards and the touchdown, his 20th scoring catch of the season.
The Tommies got help from a pass-interference call in converting a fourth-and-6 play from the Mount Union 30. After a holding call, Gould hit Charlie Dowdle for 25 yards. Dowdle initially bobbled the ball as he passed through the end zone, but a review ruled he gained possession in time for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
It was the largest deficit the Purple Raiders have faced this season, and the Tommies doubled it in the second quarter, again with help. It came in the form of a fake punt by Mount Union that failed, giving St. Thomas the ball at the Purple Raiders 34. Eight runs later, Jordan Roberts ran it in on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
It was Roberts' 33rd rushing touchdown, tops among NCAA players at all levels this season.
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