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Mount Union beats St. Thomas 28-10 in Stagg Bowl

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Mount Union beats St. Thomas 28-10 in Stagg Bowl

SALEM, Va. (AP) Mount Union is back on top of Division III football, and failure was the inspiration.

Kevin Burke led two second-half touchdown drives and the Purple Raiders ended a three-year losing streak in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl with a 28-10 victory over St. Thomas of Minnesota on Friday night.

Those three straight losses, coach Larry Kehres said, gave him a sense of urgency to win again, and keep his seniors from being his first class in 20 years to leave without a title.

``It was a difficult three years to see the seniors experience loss in the final game,'' Kehres said. ``I felt for them. This group inspired me to do everything I could coaching to make sure we got every chance to win the championship this year.''

The victory gave Kehres his 11th national title in 16 appearances in the Stagg Bowl, all in the past 20 years. He's staggering 332-24-3 in 27 seasons, and those seniors did a lot of the heavy lifting.

Linerbacker Charles Dieuseul blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown as the Purple Raiders (15-0) took an early 14-0 lead, and wide receiver Chris Denton rebounded form fumbling a punt away with a 17-yard TD catch on a fourth down play.

``It's the best feeling in the world,'' Dieuseul gushed after also having six tackles and a sack. ``We worked all summer to get to this point right here. All the hard work - 6 a.m. lifting, practicing in the snow - and it paid off tonight.''

Burke, the game's most outstanding player, threw the scoring pass to Denton on fourth down late in the third quarter to give the Purple Raiders a 21-10 lead, then directed a 14-play, 87-yard drive for the clinching score with 4:28 to play.

``I think it was these guys kind of buckling down,'' Burke said. ``You looked at where you are and kind of realized that this is it. This is our last second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter. That hits you hard and you've got to step up at that point.''

The sophomore quarterback stepped up, too, completing three third-down passes to keep the final drive alive. Burke finished 21 for 28 passing for 222 yards with the touchdown, and avoided the turnovers that often alter title games.

The Tommies (14-1), making their first appearance in the championship game and playing in the Eastern time zone for the first time since 1949, managed only 35 yards of offense in the second half against Mount Union's top-rated defense, and couldn't stop the Purple Raiders' top-ranked offense after Paul Graupner's 38-yard field goal made it a 14-10 game.

``I do think for sure one of the pivotal points of the game was when we did get within those four points and then they came back and they answered and I think that's the mark of a championship team,'' fifth-year coach Glenn Caruso said.

The Tommies seemed poised to make it a game down to the wire until Burke and Co. took command.

``We're crushed,'' wide receiver Dan Ferrazzo said, ``and like coach said, we're going to own this pain and we're going to get better from it.''

Mount Union's offense, stymied for several series, came alive after Graupner's field goal midway through the third quarter. The scoring play was set up by the game's first turnover, a fumble by Denton recovered by Zach Novaczyk at the 27.

The Purple Raiders took over at their 19 and went 81 yards in 12 plays. Burke hit Julius Moore for 12 yards on a third-and-four and Jasper Collins for eight yards on a third-and-12 from the St. Thomas 25.

Kehres opted to go for it on fourth-and-four, and Burke hit Denton in the left corner for the TD.

A leaping, fingertip interception by Isaiah Scott at the Purple Raiders' 13 ended the Tommies' attempt to answer, and Burke completed three passes on third down to keep the ensuing nearly 9-minute drive alive.

The third one, on third-and-6 from the St. Thomas 43, went to Jasper Collins, who juked Sean Hamlin after the short catch, turning it into a 38-yard gain. Two plays later, Jake Simon's second 1-yard TD run made it 28-10.

The Tommies struggled early, but used a trick play to get untracked, and on the scoreboard.

Facing fourth-and-10 from the Purple Raiders' 10, they lined up for a 27-yard field goal. The snap came to Ferrazzo, the holder, who bolted for the right pilon, diving for the touchdown to make it 14-7 just 1:29 into the second quarter.

The Tommies should have tied it later in the quarter when Matt O'Connell hit Matt Misiewicz in the hands a few steps from the end zone, but the ball glanced off the big tight end's hands and the drive stalled.

O'Connell finished 15 for 35 for 116 yards. He was sacked five times and under pressure all game.

The Purple Raiders looked intent on reclaiming their perch atop Division III football from the start. From its own 18, Mount Union needed just seven plays, the biggest a 41-yard pass from Burke to Collins, to go ahead 7-0. They actually scored twice, too, because the officials said they needed to review Burke's 10-yard pass to Denton to the 1, but didn't decide to do it until after Simon scored on a 1-yard run. After a lengthy review, Simon ran it in again on the do-over.

Mount Union made it 14-0 after an exchange of punts. The Purple Raiders held again, and when Tommies' 6-foot-6 punter Garrett Maloney had to jump to catch a high snap, he was swarmed as he tried to punt.

``I was going to score regardless, even if I had to drag 20 people,'' Dieuseul said.

It was Mount Union's fourth punt block, and third return for a TD, in the past three games.

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

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USA TODAY Sports

Nats give up monster HR, drop series-opener with Giants

SAN FRANCISCO  -- Mac Williamson hit a two-run homer in the sixth to lead the Giants past the Washington Nationals 4-2 on Monday night.

Chris Stratton (2-1) struck out five over 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits.

Williamson, playing his first home game at AT&T Park this season after being called up during the recent road trip, connected with a deep drive to right-center off Shawn Kelley after he relieved starter Gio Gonzalez (2-2). Gonzalez walked Brandon Belt to end his day before Williamson crushed the first pitch he saw from Kelley.

The 464-foot shot by Williamson is the furthest homer by the Giants this year, topping his previous 434-foot homer Friday after he was promoted to face the Angels in Anaheim. Earlier Monday, Williamson drove in his team's initial run on a fielder's choice in the fourth.

Only three home runs have travelled further in 2018, according to MLB StatCast: Franchy Cordero (489), Avisail Garcia (481) and Marcell Ozuna (479)

San Francisco kicked off a 10-game homestand by winning back-to-back games for only the second time this season and first since April 4-7. The Giants were coming off their first series victory of the season against the Angels.

The Nationals' runs came on a pair of sacrifice flies, by Howie Kendrick in the third and pinch-hitter Andrew Stevenson in the seventh.

Gonzalez allowed three runs and four hits, struck out four and walked three in five innings.

In his only other start against Washington, Stratton threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts last Aug. 13.

Hunter Strickland, who brawled with Bryce Harper during Washington's last visit to AT&T Park in late May 2017, finished for his fourth save in six chances. Harper didn't bat in the ninth.

NATS TRADE COLE

Washington traded right-hander A.J. Cole to the New York Yankees for cash. The 26-year-old Cole was 1-1 with a 13.06 ERA in four games for the Nationals and was designated for assignment last week.

BAKER REUNION

Ex-Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who guided Washington to back-to-back NL East titles before his firing after last season, visited the ballpark to see his former club.

Did he plan the visit in advance?

"Maybe," Baker said, grinning.

Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg hustled out to give Baker a big hug behind the batting cage.

"What's up Dusty, how you doing?" Strasburg said.

Baker also visited with third base coach Bob Henley, the loan holdover from his coaching staff.

Baker is now working in an advisory role to Giants CEO Larry Baer while getting to watch son, Darren, play his freshman college season at California in Berkeley.

"I am good," Baker said. "How bad can it be between Cal, San Francisco and Sacramento?"

TRAINER'S ROOM

Nationals: OF Adam Eaton, on the disabled list retroactive to April 9 with a bone bruise in his left ankle, won't be rushed back until he is completely pain-free. "When you see him in the lineup he'll be ready," manager Dave Martinez said. "He's coming along. When we get him back this time we don't want any issues." ... OF Brian Goodwin remains in Florida with pain in his bruised left wrist.

Giants: LHP Will Smith is eagerly anticipating his return from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of last season, and he could come off the DL as soon as Tuesday. He pitched twice for Class-A San Jose and three times so far for Triple-A Sacramento. He is scheduled to throw consecutive days for Sacramento on Wednesday and Thursday then another short outing Sunday. "We're close. We're getting there," Smith said, noting it will be "awesome. I'm ready to go." ... RHP closer Mark Melancon (flexor strain in pitching elbow) is scheduled to play catch during Thursday's off day. There is no timetable for his return, manager Bruce Bochy said. ... LF Hunter Pence (sprained right thumb) did some hitting and is scheduled for early batting practice Tuesday.

UP NEXT

Giants lefty Ty Blach (1-3, 4.10 ERA) will face the Nationals for the first time in his career when he pitches the middle game of the series opposite right-hander Tanner Roark (1-1, 3.24).