A battle of unbeatens lived up to its billing as top-ranked Linfield and No. 2 Wisconsin-Whitewater went toe-to-toe in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III West Region final Saturday at Maxwell Field.
Justin Beaver's 1-yard run with 42 seconds to play gave Wisconsin-Whitewater (13-0) a hard-fought 44-41 victory over defending national champion Linfield, which ended its season at 10-1. The Wildcats saw their 23-game winning streak come to and end.
Beaver rushed 34 times for 197 yards and scored three touchdowns in the epic battle that featured 10 lead changes and 1,069 yards of total offense.
Wisconsin-Whitewater extended its school record 13-game winning streak and advances to play Wesley (Del.), a 46-7 winner over Bridgewater (Va.) in the South Region final.
The Warhawks drew first blood, marching 73 yards in 14 plays on their opening series. Mike Chaulk's 27-yard field goal put the visitors in front 3-0 wiht 8:58 left in the first quarter.
Linfield marched down the field and into the end zone on its first offensive possession as Elliott found Casey Allen in the left corner. Elliott completed 6 of 8 passes on the drive, which covered 66 yards.
Whitewater answered with a 78-yard scoring march, capped by Justin Beaver's 2-yard run with 3:14 left in the quarter. On the next possession, Elliott picked apart the Whitewater defense with seven completions to the Warhawks 1. Mordechai Kotler gave Linfield the lead, slashing over from the left side two minutes into the second quarter. The extra point was blocked by Victor Wipperfurth, but Linfield led 13-10.
The Warhawks capitalized on a Linfield turnover when linebacker A.J. Raebel picked off Elliott at the Linfield 34 and returned the ball for a Whitewater touchdown. Chaulk's kick made it 17-13 in favor of the Warhawks.
The teams traded touchdowns as Allen caught his second TD pass of the half from the Whitewater 3, giving the the Wildcats a 20-17 advantage. Three plays later, Warhawks Derek Stanley made an acrobatic 61-yard touchdown catch from Justin Jacobs, racing untouched into the end zone.
Linfield cashed in 3-yard TD pass to Brandon Hazenberg from Elliott with 1:14 left. But Jacobs fired 54-yard bomb to Stanley that ended at the Linfield 1. Linfield took the momentum into the halftime locker after Hazenberg intercepted Jacobs in the end zone.
The Wildcats led 27-24, but trailed in total yards, 306-281. Elliott tossed three first-half touchdowns, completing 29 of 35 attempts, including 11 to Allen. Beaver totaled 79 yards rushing and Jacobs had 204 yards passing in the first half.
Early in the third quarter, Elliott was intercepted by Robb Widich at the Linfield 31. Four plays later, Jacobs fired a 16-yard touchdown to Jim Leszczynski. Chaulk's extra point was wide right and the Warhawks clung to a 30-27 lead.
Following a Linfield punt, Beaver capped a seven-play drive with a 26-yard TD run. Down by 10 for the first time all season, the Wildcats answered with Tyler Kaluza's tiptoe catch in the end zone that made it 37-34.
Linfield faced a fourth-and-1 play at the Whitewater 23 when Elliott found Brad McKechnie over the middle, giving the Wildcats a 41-37 advantage.
The Warhawks faced fourth and 8 at the Linfield 26, but Jacobs was intercepted by Hazenberg at the 11.
With 5:20 remaining, tackle Ryan Ogrizovich rumbled 33 yards with an Elliott fumble to the Linfield 4 but McKechnie caught Ogrizovich from behind, saving what would have been a sure touchdown. Hazenberg sacked Jacobs on second down for a loss of 6, then his third-down pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage. A fourth-down pass to Leszczynski was broken up by Chris Boock.
Linfield punted from its own end zone with 3:21 left and the Warhawks moved to the the Wildcats' 1. Beaver scooted in for the go-ahead touchdown with 42 seconds left, giving the Warhawks a 44-41 lead.
Linfield got the ball back at their own 31, and Elliott completed four straight passes to Hazenberg, but a holding penalty spotted the ball at the 48. With 3.4 seconds left, Elliott's hail mary down the right sideline fell incomplete.
Elliott passed for a school-record 528 yards, completing 47 of 66 for five touchdowns. Hazenberg caught 14 passes for 171 yards, Allen had 13 receptions for 139, and McKechnie pulled in 10 passes for 145 yards. The Wildcats outgained the Warhawks
Beaver carried 34 times for 197 yards. Jacobs completed 22 of 42 for 302 yards. Leszczynski caught nine passes for 115 yards.
EXTRA POINTS - The game featured a matchup of Gagliardi Trophy finalists Elliott and Beaver. . . Beaver entered the leading Division III in rushing while Elliott was the nation's most efficient passer. . . Jacobs set the Whitewater single-season record for touchdown passes with his long bomb to Stanley in the second quarter, breaking the mark held by current Warhawks coach Bob Berezowitz.