When John Carroll plays Mount Union in football, it's the ultimate challenge | Opinion

Oct. 30—So many John Carroll football teams have valiantly tried to defeat the Mount Union football machine.

Few have succeeded.

Since 1989, it's happened twice. Two times in 33 tries.

The 1989 team defeated the Purple Raiders, 31-7, en route to winning the Ohio Athletic Conference title. In 2016, JCU rallied in the final minutes in Alliance to win, 31-28, and again win the OAC crown.

In between, there have been close calls.

In 1990, Mount won a defensive struggle, 13-7, and in the following season, the teams tied at 20-20.

In 1999, there was a 57-51 JCU loss that went to overtime. Two years later in a game played in Bedford, Mount needed a last-season field goal to win a shootout with former JCU QB Tom Arth, 33-30.

When Arth was the Blue Streaks' coach starting in 2013 until 2016, his JCU squad played Mount to the final moments in four of five games, including an NCAA Division III playoff game in 2014.

In four of those five games from 2013 to 2016, the stakes were huge. On Nov. 5 in Alliance, it will be no different. The Blue Streaks (7-1) and Purple Raiders (8-0) have identical OAC 7-0 records with two games to play.

The winner of this game won't be outright OAC champ with a win but will clinch the automatic NCAA D-III playoff bid. Regardless, it's all on the table for both teams in Alliance.

For JCU, the ultimate challenge awaits.

The Purple Raiders have demolished their opposition this fall through eight games. The results are staggering.

The scores seem like clockwork ... 65-0, 55-7, 59-0, 45-0, 63-3, 59-0. The only team to stay with three touchdowns of the Purple Raiders was Heidelberg on Oct. 8 in a 28-6 victory. One team — last-place Capital — has scored in double-figures against the Mount defense. That was 14 in a 49-14 win.

Offensively, it starts with two players — quarterback Braxton Plunk and wide receiver Wayne Ruby. Together, they've been unstoppable this season.

"You can tell there's great chemistry between the two of them," said JCU interim coach Drew Nystrom. "There's great value in that."

Plunk is completing 76 percent of his throws for 2,439 yards with 30 TD passes and just three inceptions.

In seven games, Ruby has 49 receptions for 1,045 yards and 18 touchdowns. That's a 37 percent TD rate every time Ruby — now tied for Mount's record for career TD receptions with Pierre Garcon (47) — touches the ball.

Ruby did not play Oct. 29 during the Purple Raiders' 59-0 win over Otterbein. Jade Manley stepped up in Ruby's absence with nine receptions, 140 yards and three TDs. Plunk was nearly flawless, going 23 of 31 for 385 yards and five TDs.

In turn, the spotlight will be on the JCU defense, especially its secondary. That group has been stout this fall but it must be ready for Plunk and his receivers — which will undoubtedly be the biggest test for the Blue Streaks' defense this season.

Plunk has shown in two games against JCU he can win with either the big play (like he did in the spring of 2020 in a 52-27 win) or dinking and dunking for four quarters (like he did in 2021 in 28-14 win).

In the spring 2020 game, Plunk was an impressive 38 of 58 for 521 yards and threw for seven TDs.

In the 2021 game, the JCU defense did its best to keep big pass plays to a minimum, and the results were long, sustained drives by Mount. Throwing 71 percent of the time, Plunk was 42 of 54 passing for 392 yards and four TDs. He was intercepted once in the end zone.

Take away one aspect of their game, and the Purple Raiders find another way.

With Plunk flinging the ball, Mount is near-impossible to stop on offense. For his career, he's completed 71 percent of his passes with 105 TD passes and just 14 interceptions.

"I think we have a really special team," said Nystrom. "They've been solid in all three phases of the team, and play well together. (Defensively), I've got confidence in (defensive coordinator Jeff) Long will put the guys in position to succeed.

"We know it's a big game, there's hype building around campus. It's about managing that balance, maintaining that poise."

Some how, some way, the JCU defense must find a way to stop Plunk and Co. It's the biggest challenge for JCU — the ultimate challenge.

John Carroll at Mount Union

When: 1:30 p.m., Nov. 5

Where: Mount Union Stadium

Records: JCU 7-1, 7-0 OAC; Mount 8-0, 7-0