Belton, Texas – The game was billed as a defensive showdown with a berth in the Division III National Championship Game on the line and this one certainly lived up to the hype as Wisconsin-Whitewater took the lead with a 16-0 run in the middle of the game and the Warhawks held on for a 16-15 victory over the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in a National Semifinal Saturday evening in Belton. UWW improves to 14-0 and moves on to the Stagg Bowl while the loss ends the Cru's season at 13-1.
UMHB took a 3-0 lead when Chad Peevey capped an eight-play, 55-yard drive with a 30-yard field goal with 6:57 left in the first quarter. A bad snap in the Wildcat formation by Wisconsin-Whitewater led to a Cru safety to make it 5-0 UMHB at the end of the first quarter. The Cru would drive the ball 70 yards in nine plays and Elijah Hudson scored on a 10-yard run to stretch the lead to 12-0 with 5:47 left in the first half. The Warhawks answered with an eight-play, 70-yard drive and Jordan Ratliffe walked in from three yards out to cut the lead to 12-7 with 2:05 left in the half. Whitewater had a chance to cut it to 12-10, but Eric Kindler missed a 42-yard field goal as time expired to leave it 12-7 UMHB at the break.
UWW would force a UMHB three-and-out on the opening possession of the second half and marched 60 yards in 12 plays before Ratliffe scored again, this time on a five-yard run to give the Warhawks their first lead of the game at 13-12. A two-point conversion attempt was thwarted by the Cru to hold it at that margin with 6:57 remaining in the third quarter. Kindler added a 31-yard field goal with 38 seconds left to play in the third and it would stay 16-12 late into the fourth quarter. UMHB's defense came up with a big stop on third down and Cody Jones returned the ensuing punt to the Warhawk 20-yard line to set the Cru up in the red zone with 6:19 to go. Three Malcolm Miller runs gave UMHB a first-and-goal at the Whitewater four-yard line, but a false start penalty backed the ball up to the nine. Hudson carried twice to set up third-and-goal from the Warhawks three-yard line. Zach Anderson then rolled out and found a wide-open Kolby Kelley in the corner of the end zone, but Kelley was unable to hold on. Peevey hit a 21-yard field goal to close the gap to 16-15, but Whitewater used all but one second of the clock before punting the ball away. UMHB's last second lateral play would be stopped as Whitewater celebrated a return trip to the Stagg Bowl.
The UMHB defense held the Warhawks to just 97 rushing yards and 294 yards of total offense on 71 plays in the game. The Whitewater defense allowed just 241 yards of total offense to the Cru with 188 of those coming on the ground. UMHB turned the ball over twice and was penalized four times for 19 yards. The Warhawks committed one turnover but were not penalized in the game.
Hudson finished with 106 yards and a TD on 19 carries to lead the UMHB offense and Anderson was 6-10 for 47 yards while being picked off twice. Jones and Deshon Kinsey led the Cru defense with 12 tackles apiece and Andy McAteer added 10 more and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Ratliffe ran for 100 yards and two scores on 28 carries for the Warhawks and Matt Behrendt was 21-29 through the air for 197 yards. Justin Howard had eight catches for 46 yards. Josh Williams had a team-best eight tackle and three other players chipped in seven stops apiece for Whitewater.
The Warhawks will now advance to face Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl for the eighth time in the last nine years when the two teams face off for the national title Friday night in Salem, Virginia. Wisconsin-Whitewater also improved to 5-0 all-time against the Cru with three of those victories coming in the Semifinals.
The loss ends UMHB's season in the National Semifinals for the second straight year. The Cru will lose 23 seniors from this year's team and that group posted a 50-4 overall record, won four American Southwest Conference Championships and did not lose a regular season game in four years. UMHB lost twice in the National Quarterfinals and twice in the National Semifinals with this group of seniors.