December 21, 2013

Warhawks channel near perfection

More news about: UW-Whitewater

UW-Whitewater celebrates its fifth title, won in dominating fashion.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
More photos from Stagg Bowl XLI 

By Ryan Tipps
D3sports.com

SALEM -- O, my!

UW-Whitewater’s offense channeled near perfection on Division III’s biggest stage Friday evening, and Mount Union discovered just how unforgiving Warhawk momentum can be.

Stagg Bowl XLI closed 52-14, the most lopsided national championship game in more than a decade, and Whitewater re-established itself as the top of the pantheon just one year after a 7-3 season and missing the playoffs.

The Warhawks have spent the postseason defying opponents with their defense, yet it was the offense that set the tone early, marching 75 yards on seven plays in the game’s first drive. Capping it was a 17-yard touchdown pass to All-American Jake Kumerow.

“The goal is to win a national championship. And there’s no better feeling,” said Warhawk quarterback Matt Behrendt, who finished Friday by throwing four touchdowns and 40 total on the season. He has just one interception in 15 games.

Perhaps markedly different than previous offensive outings – especially in the postseason, which was labored by some slow starts by UW-W – was Behrendt’s legwork: Coming into the Stagg Bowl, he had minus-69 rushing yards on the year. Friday, he ran for 56 yards, which coupled with 249 passing yards, earning him the game’s most outstanding player honor.

“I saw some holes, and they were trying to double coverage our guys, and that opened up lanes for me,” Behrendt said.

Whitewater was making its eighth Stagg Bowl appearance, each of them being against Mount Union, starting in 2005. Friday night’s victory was the fifth championship in that span, the last coming in 2011.

The team capped the season beating Linfield, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Mount Union, the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 1 teams in the Top 25 poll, respectively.

“It feels better than it did in 2011 because it’s right now,” said defensive end Lou Minett after the game.

Players and coaches often say that they learn more from a loss than they do from a win. Minett said UW-W wouldn’t have made it to Salem this year if the struggles of 2012 never existed.

UW-W coach Lance Leipold is quick to say that from his 94-6 record over the past seven season, his losses stand out much more than his wins. It’s clear, though, that some wins deep in December make an impact.

“When you can play a game like that against a great program like Mount Union,” Leipold said, “that’s a pretty significant exclamation point on a very exciting season.”

And this season offered no guarantees.

“When we broke camp back in August,” he said, “I never thought we’d probably be sitting here. We were fighting our way back after last season, and this group was proud and determined.”

Wide receiver Tyler Huber was coming off a broken leg from last year, and doubts about the team from outsiders were certainly present.

Toward the end of the season, Leipold said he was particularly happy to have Kumerow and Huber on the field at the same time. They combined for 168 yards Friday and all four UW-W receiving touchdowns. Perhaps one of the most dramatic moments of the night was a touchdown grab by Kumerow, dragging his toes as he pulled in the pass nearly out of bounds in the front corner of the end zone.

Over the course of the evening, the tide also turned on interceptions. Brady Grayvold set a program record with his ninth interception, including a pick-6 that wrapped up the game’s scoring midway through the fourth quarter.

Both Whitewater and Mount Union had fumble recoveries that gave them great field position and on which they both used to reach the end zone.

The Whitewater defense consistently snuffed any momentum that Mount Union attempted to build, including a forced fumble by Marshall Rutherford in the first minute of the third quarter. Rutherford ripped the ball from Mount Union running back Bradley Mitchell’s arms and gave Mount little opportunity to put its halftime adjustments into play.

Whitewater poured it on from there, turning a 21-14 score at the break into the 38 point lead behind five scoring efforts that gave us the final. It was a dominating performance that showed how far a team can climb over 12 months. And it earned Leipold D3football.com Coach of the Year honors.

“I think what it really shows,” Leipold said, “is some of the things that were accomplished before and again today. You have to go out and earn it … and we didn’t earn it last year."

This year, they certainly did.

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