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Mount Union to face newbie St. Thomas for D3 title

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Mount Union to face newbie St. Thomas for D3 title

The numbers are staggering, as if there must be a typo.

But there is none.

In 27 years as the head football coach at Mount Union, Larry Kehres' Purple Raiders have played 358 games and won 331. They've lost 24, and tied three. His winning percentage of .929 is easily the best in college football history, and five of his losses have come in the NCAA's Division III national championship game, a game his team has also won 10 times. All the appearances have come since 1993.

On Friday night in Salem, Va., the Purple Raiders (14-0) will play for the title again, meeting St. Thomas of Minnesota (14-0). It will be Mount Union's 15th title appearance in 17 years, and the Tommies' first.

For Mount Union safety Nick Driskill and 24 other seniors on the Purple Raiders, the game is much more than just another trip to Salem Stadium. It's also their last chance to finally win a championship.

For three seasons in a row heading into this one, Driskill's memory has been a long bus ride back to Alliance, Ohio, the Purple Raiders having been beaten by Wisconsin-Whitewater for the championship.

Since the Purple Raiders won their first title in 1993, no class at Mount Union has gone all four years without winning at least one national championship. Driskill's class could be the first.

It's why, he said, for all the awards he has won as an athlete and scholar, this game is the one that will determine whether he looks back on his college career in a positive light, or a negative one.

``This is why I came to Mount Union,'' said Driskill, from Wabash, Ind. ``It's not just to play in national championships. It's to win. As I look back on my career, whether I look back on it on a positive note or a negative note, personally for me, this is make-or-break. I wouldn't have it any other way.''

Kehres knows his players feel like they are supposed to win, and likes it that way. The Purple Raiders, after all, have 21 unbeaten regular seasons in Kehres' career, and have put together winning streaks of 54 and 55 games, which count as the two longest winning streaks in college football history.

``I think they feel that,'' Kehres said of high expectations. ``Call it pressure or (that) they're trying to achieve their goal, which it to make it to the Stagg Bowl and to win the game. It's a goal that they set, but they understand that there's a process that you must go through to get there and I think they've paid their dues this year and they've done the work. They've kind of earned their way to this game.''

The success all points to Kehres, Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III said. Shorts arrived at Mount Union as a quarterback in 2007, switched to wide receiver full-time as a sophomore and finished his career with 63 career touchdown catches. He got his Division III national championship ring in 2008.

``He does a good job of adjusting to his players, so he'll have the offense fit to what's best for the players, what fits the personnel best and every year he does that,'' Shorts said about Kehres.

It's also a culture of winning that persists, Washington Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon said. Garcon transferred to Mount Union as a sophomore and was part of two national champion teams, and nearly a third.

``It's the culture he creates, the atmosphere,'' he said. ``The whole school supports the football team and program, and helping the guys in any way needed, and the guys work hard, they believe in coach.''

This season, sophomore quarterback Kevin Burke said, is about getting the seniors their ring.

``It all starts with the seniors because last year didn't end the way we wanted it to,'' Burke said.

``Obviously we would have liked to have won a national championship, but it didn't happen, so these seniors really are hungry and they really want to get this done. These guys have been the leaders out here all summer and really all year long, and I can't see anything happening to not let that happen.''

Standing in the way is an up-and-comer in the Division III ranks. The Tommies have gotten closer in each of their five seasons under Glenn Caruso, and lost to Whitewater in the semifinals last season.

Caruso came to watch anyway.

``If that's where we really want to be, I felt like I needed to see it and feel it,'' he said.

During his stay in Salem, he had an opportunity to sit with Kehres for ``an hour, maybe more,'' in the hotel lobby on game day, talking football and life, a time he calls ``an absolute blessing for me.''

Last year's meeting between the Purple Raiders and Whitewater marked the seventh year in a row that those two teams met for the championship, and Caruso took something else away from the game, too.

``I was looking up at the scoreboard and, if you remember, they have the two helmets on each side, the Mount Union and the Whitewater helmet, and those helmets basically were plastered up there for seven years,'' he said this week. ``I'm just happy we're the team that forced someone to get a new logo.''

Caruso even agreed that it's special to get to face Kehres' team.

Driskill, Burke and the Purple Raiders hope it's not that special.

``The tradition here, it speaks for itself and people know exactly what you're talking about when you talk about Mount Union football,'' Burke, from Westlake, Ohio, said. ``They know that you win here and that's how things are done. People don't expect anything less than winning and national championships.''

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AP Sports Writers Mark Long in Jacksonville, Fla., and Joseph White in Ashburn, Va., contributed to this report.

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Follow Hank on twitter at:http://twitter.com/hankkurzjr

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 7 and advance to the Stanley Cup Final

It all comes down to this.

The Eastern Conference Championship is on the line Wednesday as the Capitals take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Tampa. Here are five keys for how the Caps can win and advance to face the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

Score first

Game 7 is in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are deeper offensively and defensively and have a goalie capable of shutting down an offense.

Oh, and the Lightning are 8-1 when scoring first this postseason.

The Capitals are at their best when they are dictating the play. They want to play physical, trap the blue line and counter against the Lightning. None of those are particularly great strategies for chasing a game.

That makes the first goal critical.

The Lightning fans have seen their team lose twice at home already this series and fail to close out the Caps in Game 6. They have watched their team reach the conference finals two straight years in 2015 and 2016, fail to win the Stanley Cup in either year and fail to even make the playoffs in 2017.

Not only does playing with a lead better suit their game plan, but if Washington scores first that crowd is going to get very uncomfortable very quickly.

Gauge the referees

The Caps were very physical in Game 6 and they found success with that game plan. You would expect them to have a similar approach to Game 7, but they need to be careful.

In Game 6, it was clear the referees had put away the whistles. There were a few questionable plays on both sides that the referees let go. In a Game 7, you would hope the referees take the same approach, but they may not.

Tampa Bay’s power play is very good and the Caps cannot afford to give them many opportunities, but Washington will still want to play a physical style. It’s a fine line to walk so the Caps will need to quickly figure out how strictly the referees are calling the game and adjust accordingly.

Win the goalie matchup

In this series, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had two bad games and four good ones. He lost both of his bad games and won three of his good ones. He did not win the fourth, however, because he was outplayed by Braden Holtby.

Vasilevskiy was great in Game 6, but Holtby matched him save for save as both teams battled to get on the board. When the Caps finally did, Holtby shut the door to make sure the Lightning could not climb back. Vasilevskiy allowed just two goals on 32 shots, but Holtby turned away all 24 of the shots he faced for the shutout.

This is Game 7. There is no Game 8 just because you run into a hot goalie. If Vasilevskiy is on his game again on Wednesday, Holtby will have to be just as good if not better to make sure the Caps win.

Beat the fourth line

Playing at home in Game 6 allowed the Caps to get away somewhat from the Alex Ovechkin vs. fourth line matchup the Lightning have found success with. At 5-on-5, Chris Kunitz played 6:55 against Ovechkin, Ryan Callahan played 6:22 and Cedric Paquette played 6:12, considerably less than the 13:04, 13:46 and 13:42 each respectively logged in Game 5.

With Game 7 in Tampa, Barry Trotz will not be able to get away from that matchup. That means Ovechkin will just have to beat it.

That does necessarily mean he has to score a hat-trick. Ovechkin was one of the team’s top performers in Game 6 despite not logging a point as he helped establish a physical tone that ignited the team. But he has to make sure at the very least that his line is not outscored by the fourth like it was in Game 5 when Paquette and Callahan each scored.

Have a short memory

If you have a bad game in Game 1, you know you can bounce back in the series. A Game 7, however, is winner take all. If there’s a bad bounce, a bad call by the referees, a bad play, a missed save, whatever it may be, the Caps have to be able to put it out of their minds quickly.

There is no room for the “here we go again” mentality on Wednesday. The fate of this season will be determined within 60 minutes. If Holtby is not on his game, the Caps will have to battle through it. If Ovechkin has a bad night, the Caps will have to battle through it. If the referees decide they are going to call everything down to the letter of the law, the Caps will have to battle through it.

If something goes against them, they cannot allow it to bog them down mentally as we have seen at times in Game 7s of the past.

Likewise, if things go well they need to put that out of their heads as well. Desperation will grow among the Lightning as the game goes on. This is not the time to sit on a lead or circle the wagons.

Washington can’t let mistakes or success go to their head until the clock hits 00:00.

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

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Need to Know: What to look for at Redskins OTAs

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, May 23, 65 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

What to look for at OTAs

Redskins OTAs started yesterday. The no-contact drills are the first time during the offseason program that the offense and defense are permitted to line up against each other. The-no pads aspect of it does take off a lot of the edge but the reality is that this will be the closest thing to football we will see until training camp starts in late July. 

Here are some things that I will be looking for during today’s practice.

Who’s in? Jay Gruden told us earlier that we should expect to see some injured key players not participating as they continue to recover from 2017 injuries. Specifically, OT Trent Williams (knee), OT Morgan Moses (ankles), and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring/toe) will only be spectators if they are at Redskins Park at all. Other players who may sit out or participate only in light drills are RB Chris Thompson (leg), and ILB Mason Foster (shoulder). The Redskins have been relatively healthy the past few offseasons so we will see how they deal with the aftermath of the injury scourge that hit the team last year. 

Seven-on-seven—Sure, it’s fun to watch the full team drills with 11 on each side but since blocking and tackling is limited by the rules about contact, there isn’t much to be gleaned from watching an off-tackle run. But when they eliminate the guards, tackles, and interior defensive linemen it’s all passing and then we can watch how well Alex Smith and his receivers are connecting. One thing I’ll keep in mind is that Smith decided not to get the receivers together for a “passing camp” before the offseason activities started. He said that he wanted to get to know the playbook first. Because of that they can be forgiven if they are not quite as sharp as they might be. Also, how natural does Derrius Guice look coming out of the backfield to catch passes? His primary job will be to carry the ball, but if he is a legitimate pass-catching threat, the whole offense will be harder to defend.

Rookies vs. pros—In rookie camp two weeks ago we saw Trey Quinn putting defensive backs on the ground with some moves and Troy Apke showing great makeup speed on some long passes. But those tryout defensive backs and quarterbacks are no longer around. How will Quinn look against veteran Orlando Scandrick or second-year corner Josh Holsey? Will Smith’s ball placement negate Apke’s speed? In the one-on-one pass blocking drills, which emphasize technique over power, can Daron Payne get past Brandon Scherff?

The big guys—With Williams and Moses out, who will line up along the offensive line? Does Payne line up at nose tackle or is he used more as an end with Tim Settle in the middle? Is Ziggy Hood in the middle or will he work outside? How is Phil Taylor looking after a quad injury ended his season in training camp? As noted, the rules make it hard to tell much about linemen before Richmond but we try to glean what we can. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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My reaction to this tweet from the NFL illustrating the changes to the kickoff rules:

Timeline  

Today’s schedule:Redskins OTA practice 11:30; Jay Gruden and Alex Smith press conferences, players available coming off the field, after practice, approx. 1:30

Days until:

—Minicamp (6/12) 20
—Training camp starts (7/26) 65
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 79

The Redskins last played a game 143 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 109 days. 

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