HENRY POWERS, SPORTS WRITER
ALLIANCE, Ohio – In a back-and-forth showdown, Wartburg fell to the Purple Raiders of Mount Union, 34-31, on a late touchdown to end the Knights’ historic season in a Division III college football playoff game at Kehres Stadium.
Tyler Echeverry, Mount Union’s sophomore running back, scored on a run with under 30 seconds remaining to put the Purple Raiders up by the final margin. Their defense turned the Knights over on downs in the final seconds. Mount Union kneeled to run out the clock.
Photos Courtesy of Henry Powers
Wartburg (13-1) had never before reached the semifinal stage of the Division III playoffs. The game was nationally televised on ESPN+.
“Super proud of the way our guys competed,” Wartburg coach Chris Winter said during the postgame press conference that saw him holding back tears. “(We) wanted to make them one dimensional. I feel like we executed that part of the plan well, but we didn’t finish.”
Nile McLaughlin, the fourth-year quarterback for the Knights, finished with 334 yards passing and three touchdowns in one of his best performances of the season. Sophomore wide receiver Carter Henry found chemistry with McLaughlin as he finished with 158 receiving and two touchdowns.
Coming into the game, Mount Union (13-0) had one of the top offenses in the country, led by senior quarterback Braxton Plunk. For the game, Plunk completed 43 of 56 pass attempts for 396 yards and two touchdowns. He threw for one interception.
Hunter Clasen, one of Wartburg’s offensive forces, rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown. He also caught four passes for 46 yards.
Wartburg receiver Drake George had 59 yards through the air and a touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, Owen Grover had 15 tackles – 10 solo stops and two tackles for a loss. He also forced a fumble.