|UW-Whitewater's defense held
on three of four fourth-down attempts, as well as a third-down
Photo by Ryan Coleman, D3sports.com
By Ryan Tipps
SALEM -- One of the first words out of Ryan Ogrizovich's mouth was “wow.”
That was his summation of UW-Whitewater's 31-21 Stagg Bowl victory Saturday, as the rain taunted those in Salem Stadium, combining with a chill that lasted throughout the day and night.
And, Ogrizovich said, it never even entered his team's mind that
Mount Union was unbeatable, as so many had been alluding to.
“We were feeling really confident that we could play with them this year,” the defensive end and first-team All-American said. “We weren't thinking blowout. … We just played the best ball we could.”
It was that kind of defensive play that held MUC's stars in check. Pierre Garcon gained just 30 yards receiving. Nate Kmic averaged 4 yards per carry, down from almost 6.5 per carry during the rest of the year.
UW-W also made a goal line stand that kept MUC scoreless through the first quarter.
“To get a stop like that is definitely a confidence-builder,” coach Lance Leipold said after the game. “It was a great stand, and one (of the kinds) that we've been talking about to be physical.
From then on, the Warhawk faithful — animated and boisterous — had few moments of silence.
On both sides of the ball, UW-W zeroed in on MUC's strengths, doing what was needed to neutralize the Purple Raider dynasty.
“Our goal was to come out early and be physical, and I think we did that,” Leipold said. “We played aggressively. We thought we'd make it a four-quarter game. We needed to do that.”
Leipold, a rookie head coach, said he had never seen Mount Union play firsthand prior to Saturday night. But he finessed his team, a team laden with 23 seniors, into a national championship, which occurred in the presence of retired head coach Bob Berezowitz. Berezowitz, whose team fell the past two years to Mount Union, paced the sidelines, sharing his team's ups and downs.
“If you look a little bit on last year's game and this year's game,” Leipold said, “we didn't allow big plays. Yeah, we turned it over a little bit, but there weren't the explosive plays by them.”
The same success was shining through on offense, as well.
Aside from three fumbles that put a kink in Whitewater's offensive momentum, there were very few down moments for UWW — in part thanks to Stagg Bowl most valuable player Justin Beaver.
Beaver, who gained 256 yards, found the end zone only once, but he was crucial in setting up at least two other scores. And after the Warhawks' first seven points early in the first quarter, UWW never gave up the lead.
His total is even more impressive after Leipold revealed that Beaver had played the past five or six weeks with a fractured rib.
“That just shows once again the kind of competitor (Beaver is) and the heart and everything he gives to this football team,” Leipold said.
Despite the praise from his coach, Beaver was quick to put the spotlight on those around him.
“I've been saying that our O-line is the heart of our team, at least on offense,” the running back said. “Today they really stepped up.”
The offensive line was crucial to breaking open a hole for transfer quarterback Danny Jones, leading him into the end zone in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter, essentially sealing the victory.
As the touchdown was clear and rightfully unchallenged, Whitewater fans erupted in celebration. But the tone on the Mount Union side was punctuated by the actions of a young fan standing off the back of the end zone, repeatedly calling for “review, review, review.” Tears dripped down his cheeks, surprising visible amid the resurgent rain.
Nearby, slumped shoulders dominated the far sidelines — a proud, typically dominating Mount Union team being handed its first defeat of the season.
On the other side of the field, the Warhawks coop grew louder, swallowing the stadium in cheer and celebration.
Leipold said just after the game that things really hadn't sunk in, but he and his team overcame their growing pains together to reach the season pinnacle.
The players “believed in themselves. They had a lot of confidence. As I've said all along, it was kind of a blending more than anything else. They had to get used to a new coach and a new offensive coordinator. A couple different things did change on how we do things, but you have the work ethic and the desire, and, of course, the athleticism was there all along.”