Looking in the rearview mirror is not in the Mount Union DNA and it certainly won’t be found in any football playbook.
The season is over, falling one game – and maybe just minutes short – of a 14th NCAA Division III national championship.
Following the 28-21 loss to top-ranked North Central in the 49th Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl coach Geoff Dartt reminded the media that moral victories are non grata at Mount Union.
So, too, is looking back.
“We lost the game and that is what it is,” he said after the Raiders’ valiant fourth-quarter rally, in which they came back from a 21-0 deficit to get to within one score of tying the game, fell heart-wrenchingly short. “I am proud of these guys and what they accomplished.”
On Tuesday, Dartt reaffirmed his feelings and the trust he has in his team.
“They never flinched when things were going good and when they weren’t going so good,” he said. “We got to the point of where we wanted to be in order to win a national championship. We got to the game we needed to get to. That says a lot.”
Dartt said the offseason and preparations for 2023 have begun and will accelerate when the players return to campus from winter break on Jan. 9.
There are significant decisions to be made along the way. The foremost being which seniors will take advantage of the “COVID Rule” instituted by the NCAA, granting them one year of eligibility caused by the lockdown in 2020.
The Raiders have many prominent players eligible for another season if they wish. Some of those include:
QUARTERBACK: Braxton Plunk.
RUNNING BACKS: DeAndre Parker, KJ Redmon, Lance Mitchell.
RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS: Wayne Ruby Jr., Jaden Manley, Edwin Reed, Orreon Finley, Chase Lawson, Evan Weygandt.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Carson Barrett, Davis Ward, Taizhun Chisolm.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Duke Hill, Matt Lilja, Jake Scott.
LINEBACKERS: Mason McMillen, Kaleb Detellem, Landon Jenkins.
CORNERBACKS/SAFETIES: Ian Sexton, Jesse Vail, Josh Jones, Derrick Bradley, Dow Cameron, Jevanni Witter, Aaron Hawk.
Dartt said he has spoken with some of those players but many decisions have not been made.
“Nothing definite has been decided,” he said. "We want the kids to go home, talk it over with their parents and think about it. It is a big decision. I will support them whatever they decide.”
Whatever individual decisions help compose the 2023 roster, the Raiders should have plenty of returning talent to contend for a 34th Ohio Athletic Conference championship and make another run to the Stagg Bowl.
Of the 68 players on the Stagg Bowl travel roster, 32 were seniors, 12 were juniors, 13 were sophomores, 10 were freshmen and there was one graduate student.
Of the 58 who dressed for the game, 28 were seniors, 11 were juniors, 10 were sophomores and eight were freshmen, along with the grad student.
Approximately 45 players were used but official participation lists, which Mount Union provides regularly when it is its responsibility, were not provided by the NCAA for the Stagg Bowl.
Mount Union Football All-Americans:Braxton Plunk, Wayne Ruby Jr. and Carson Barrett top Raiders as D3football All-Americans
While no one knows what will happen going forward you can bet that every Raider will take it to their grave that had safety Ian Sexton not been held by North Central tight end Eric Wolff on one of the biggest plays of the game the Raiders would be celebrating a 14th national championship instead of a ninth runner-up.
NC quarterback Luke Lehnen took advantage of the non-call to race 42 yards to the Mount 5-yard line and set up the score that gave it a 28-14 lead.
“You can’t point to one play,” Dartt said as the Raiders were boarding the bus for the long ride home on Saturday.
After falling behind by three touchdowns and the offense seemingly stuck in neutral the Raiders reversed gears and got themselves back into the game. Momentum, it seemed, switched sides late in the third quarter.
Mount Union controlled the ball for 10:33 of the final period. North Central had it for 4:27.
Mount Union held North Central to 52 yards on 11 plays in the final 15 minutes and came up with two key stops. The Raiders gained 164 yards on 25 plays.
Plunk completed 12 of 13 passes for 143 yards and two TDs, with Ruby catching four of those throws for 83 yards and one TD and Manley catching two for 24 yards.
Trailing by 14 points, Ruby made a terrific catch in traffic to put the ball at the 4-yard line and Plunk found Reed over the middle for a TD with 30 seconds left.
It wasn’t until the Cardinals (15-0) smothered the ensuing onside kick did the Raiders feel their chances had run out.
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Mount Union football team focuses on 2023 after Stagg Bowl loss