For three years, Gage Goble has gotten a front row seat to the Mount Union football dynasty.
Now, he's putting on the show.
Goble, a 2010 Clyde graduate, is the starting left tackle for the Purple Raiders (14-0), who play for the Division III national championship at 7 p.m. tonight vs. Wisconsin-Whitewater (14-0).
“It feels great to contribute to the No. 1 offense in the nation,” Goble said from Salem, Va., the site of tonight's Stagg Bowl. “It an honor to start for the Purple Raiders because it's something that isn't a given just by coming here. You really have to earn your way to the top.”
During a brilliant 20-year run of excellence not reached at any level of football, the Purple Raiders have often just stepped on the field and won games by four or five touchdowns. But with a coaching change, as well replacing more than a dozen starters from last year's championship team, this season has been far from the case.
Mount Union had wins of 30-27 and 44-34 in the regular season, and in just the last two weeks, survived playoff games by scores of 62-59 and 41-40. In last week's 1-point win over North Central (Ill.), the Raiders actually trailed in the final two minutes before eventually scoring the game-winning touchdown in a heavy snowstorm.
“We knew coming into this season with one returning starter that we weren't going to win every game by 50 like years past,” Goble said. “This season was going to come with challenges, and it has. A far as the last two games, they've been a thrill to compete in.
“It's an exciting change as a competitor to have to play down to the wire,” he added. “It also shows the composure this team has and our desire to win.”
At Clyde, Goble was a three-year player who earned All-Sandusky Bay Conference and Northwest District accolades. He blocked for former standout quarterback Alex Gillett on back-to-back playoff teams in 2007 and 2008.
“Playing offensive line at Clyde was definitely a plus heading into college,” Goble said. “Ryan Greenslade, our then-offensive line coach, preached being a tough, hard-nosed lineman. Those expectations really helped me here, because they expect the same.
“We're expected to run the ball and impose our will, even when the other team knows it's coming,” he added. “That attitude definitely started at Clyde.”
Goble's position coach and offensive coordinator at Mount Union is Geoff Dartt, a fellow SBC graduate from Port Clinton (2002).
“It's great to see guys from the SBC go on and succeed in the sports world,” Goble said. “I was excited to hear my new position coach was from Port Clinton. He's a great coach, and coming from the SBC, I know he has a strong passion for the game.”
Dartt said Goble saw an opportunity this season and took it.
“Gage was a backup for three years, but really put a lot of work into the offseason program,” Dartt said. “He saw he could be the starting left tackle, and really stepped up and became a leader with a lot of our young guys. He's a great player.”
The Purple Raiders have won 22 straight Ohio Athletic Conference championships, which includes 20 undefeated regular seasons in that span. In fact, Mount Union has lost just a single regular season game in the past 18 seasons, and entering tonight, are 195-7 overall since 2000 with seven national championships.
As someone who has lived that life for four years, Goble was asked how the program continues to do it.
“The first thought that comes to mind is, tradition never graduates,” he said. “The student-athletes come to Mount Union because they expect to win, and they settle for nothing less. Anything less than a national championship is considered a loss of season here.
“If you sit down and think about that, it really speaks volumes of what's expected here,” he added. “The coaches instill that in us from the day we show up here, and it never goes away.”