SALEM, Va. -- In his four seasons at Mount Union College, Nate Kmic had run for more yards and scored more touchdowns than any other player in NCAA football history.
There was only one score left for the senior running back to settle, and with plenty of help from his Purple Raiders teammates, that task was taken care of in Saturday's Stagg Bowl.
Greg Micheli threw two touchdown passes and Kmic rushed for another score -- all in the first quarter -- and Mount Union (15-0) regained its spot atop Division III football Saturday, beating defending national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater 31-26. The victory gave the small Ohio school its 10th Stagg Bowl title, all coming in the past 16 seasons.
And Kmic walked out of Salem Stadium for the fourth and final time with the added satisfaction that the Raiders' win came over the Warhawks (13-2), the same foe Mount Union has faced in the championship game the past four years and one of only two teams to beat the Raiders during Kmic's career.
"As a senior, this is the most unbelievable feeling," said Kmic, who conceded that ending 2007 with a loss made for a long offseason. "I would trade in all of the individual awards and all the other stuff that has happened in my career for this moment right now."
That's saying a lot, considering what Kmic has accomplished.
During the five-game 2008 postseason, Kmic broke the Division III records for rushing yards (1,150), touchdowns (16) and points (96). He also became the first running back at any NCAA level to reach the 8,000-yard mark for career rushing yards. The last 88 of those 8,074 yards came on Saturday.
But it was Micheli who was the catalyst for the Purple Raiders' offense this time. The senior completed 12 of 19 passes for 262 yards and had TD passes of 55 and 41 yards to Cecil Shorts. He also rushed for 56 yards two days after winning the Gagliardi Award as Division III's outstanding player.
All but 102 of those passing yards came in the first quarter, when the Raiders opened up a 21-7 lead, taking advantage of Wisconsin-Whitewater's decision to do whatever was necessary to shut down Kmic.
"Our coaches thought that it might be worthwhile to take a few shots downfield," Micheli said. "Obviously with what Nate's done in his career, everyone focuses on him, and that wasn't any different today."
While the Warhawks chipped away at the Raiders' lead in the final three quarters, they never caught up.
"I thought that if we had a little more time, the game would have been even more interesting -- that's for sure," said Warhawks quarterback Jeff Donovan, who passed for 257 yards and led Wisconsin-Whitewater to 16 second-half points. "It wasn't necessarily that we had a slow start, they just had an absolutely [great start]. They came out of the gate -- like we preach all year. They did to us what we pride ourselves in doing."
The Warhawks' mistakes also cost them dearly.
Kicker Jeff Schebler missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt late in the first half and a 42-yarder on the Warhawks' first drive of the second half. After making 14 of his 16 attempts during the regular season and the first three he tried in the postseason, the junior converted just five of his last 10 attempts.
Whitewater's offense, which outgained Mount Union 455-401, turned the ball over just once, but it was devastating.
The Purple Raiders' Drew McClain intercepted Donovan's pass and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown with 11:59 to play, making the score 31-13.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," said McClain, who returned an interception 100 yards for a TD in a 2007 regular-season game against Averett. "I was lucky enough that the receiver had tipped it up in the air and I happened to be there.
"I was just glad that I was able to send these seniors out on the right note."