ALLIANCE, Ohio — Hanover football already knew the challenge that awaited against No. 1/2 Mount Union in Saturday’s NCAA Division III first round playoff game. Adding in injuries that didn’t allow three all-conference first team selections to play in the game just made the challenge even more difficult for the Panthers.

In the end, Mount Union did what was expected of a top-ranked team and group that has appeared in 16 of the last 17 national championship games. The Purple Raiders flexed their muscle for 60 minutes despite the Panthers’ best efforts, running away with a 65-14 victory at Mount Union Stadium.

“That’s the best offense I’ve ever seen and Mount Union certainly is something special to watch,” Hanover head coach Matt Theobald said. “Things didn’t go in our favor and it didn’t help that we had a couple key injuries but we were happy to be here. I wish it would have been closer but I was awfully proud of our guys.”

Hanover was hit bhy a lingering elbow injury to Heartland Conference Defensive Player of the Year Kyle Treber earlier in the week and a back injury to All-HCAC defensive lineman Devonte Hardiman. Adding to the setbacks quarterback Noah Wezensky had sustained a knee injury and was officially ruled out Friday afternoon, putting the Panthers in a tight spot and making adjustments to the game plan.

The three were certainly missed come game time when Mount Union went to work quickly on its first drive, striking on a 17-yard pass from D’Angelo Fulford to Derrick Harvey that was followed by a successful extra point by Cory Bennett. The next two drives saw Hanover’s defense put itself in position to make stops and keep the Purple Raiders out of the end zone. But two key penalties kept Mount on the field to cash in.

With a fourth down looming on back-to-back drives, two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties allowed Mount to sustain drives and score. Josh Petruccelli busted up the middle for a two-yard score and Fulford again found Harvey, this time on a 10-yard pass. The Purple Raiders led 21-0 with 3:06 left in the first quarter

“We gave them two penalties on third downs that extended drives and gave them 14 points,” Theobald said of the first period. “To beat the machine you’ve got to play perfect and that’s what they are, a machine. This whole Mount program is just special. We had some stuff we wanted to try and do but their offense just really made things challenging for our defense.”

Hanover managed to strike inside the red zone in the final minute of the first quarter for its first score when a punt return was fumbled and recovered by Ross Eckert. After a one-yard run by Shawn Coane, A.J. Breit — who replaced Wezensky at quarterback — hit Taylor Bleistein for a 15-yard touchdown pass that was followed by Austin Steurer’s extra point to trim the deficit to 21-7.

The momentum didn’t last long, however, and the Purple Raiders came back with a vengeance, using a 27-0 surge to span the second and third quarters.

Harvey caught his third touchdown pass of the afternoon from Fulford after the Hanover score and Petruccelli scored on runs of 55 yards and 5 yards as Mount led 41-7 at halftime. Justin Hill, the nation’s leading receiver, who had more than 100 yards in the first half, broke through in the third quarter with an 11-yard grab on a throw from Fulford, pushing the margin to 48-7.

The Panthers again used their defense to create a score, this time with 5:26 left in the third quarter. Carson Plessinger forced Mount’s third fumble — on a run by DeAndre Parker — that was recovered at the four-yard line and ran back by senior Dakota Manion for a touchdown. Hanover trailed 48-14 after Steurer’s second extra point.

“It’s all about just staying on this team and playing our game even with our backs up against the wall,” Manion said. “No matter what the scoreboard said, it was still 0-0 in my mind and that’s what I tried to preach to our guys. We just kept going and we weren’t going to stop hitting until the game was over.”

Mount Union finished the game with three more scores, including an 84-yard kickoff return by K.J. Redmon immediately after Manion’s touchdown. The final score, a 27-yard pass from Braxton Plunk to Jordan Lee, put an exclamation mark on the day for the Purple Raiders early in the fourth quarter en route to the 65-14 win.

Altogether, the Purple Raiders showed why their offense ranks among the top two in the nation, totaling 568 yards total offense.

Fulford, who leads the nation in pass efficiency, dazzled with 323 yards and four touchdowns on 21-of-28 passing. Hill, his top target, collected 175 yards and a score on 10 catches while Harvey’s three touchdowns paired with 54 yards and Wayne Ruby brought down five catches and 56 yards.

Petruccelli finished the day with 118 yards on 15 carries and three scores and caught 3 passes for 37 yards.

Perhaps even more impressive though was a Mount defense that suffocated Hanover to season lows in every offensive category, allowing the Panthers just 80 total yards on 57 plays.

Breit finished 9-of-23 passing for 88 yards with his touchdown pass to Bleistein, who was the top target with 52 yards on three catches. In the rushing department, the Panthers were devastated for a minus-11 rushing yards including HCAC Offensive Player of the Year Shawn Coane being held to seven yards on 13 carries.

Walt Ballinger and Jake Namisnak led Hanover with 10 yards each on the ground.

“I thought we might be able to run the ball a little better than what we did but we had an all-conference right tackle come out with an injury and we had two freshmen on the offensive line,” Theobald said. “I mean they’re just good, they know us just as well as we know ourselves. Had we had Noah (Wezensky) we would have been able to be more balanced but I thought A.J. stepped in and gave us his best. We knew what we were getting into. They’re just really good.”

Hanover finishes the season with a 9-2 mark and an unblemished 7-0 record in the HCAC that led to the school’s second-straight conference championship and back-to-back automatic bids to the NCAA Division III Playoffs.

Mount Union (11-0) faces No. 6 North Central (Ill.) in the second round next Saturday after the Cardinals defeated fellow Indiana school Wabash 51-15 in the first round this past weekend.