Whitewater stands alone in first
WHITEWATER—John Kelly and the Platteville Pioneers hadn’t dealt with a 6-foot-4, 240-pound linebacker like Cole Klotz.
And it was hard to anticipate the athleticism of outside linebacker Josh Williams, as well.
UW-Whitewater never allowed Kelly to get comfortable, forcing the steady senior into four interceptions as the No. 6 Warhawks made a statement with their second victory over a top-10 opponent in a row. They rallied from a nine-point early deficit to beat No. 8 UW-P 35-16 in front of 12,028 at Perkins Stadium on Saturday.
“The theme of the whole week was to make sure at the end of this week that we’re in control of our own destiny,” Klotz said. “I haven’t been a part of a team that’s come together like we have in these past weeks. It’s really good to see, and I think it’s reflecting on our games.”
The Warhawks improved to 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, where they control their own fate when it comes to a conference title. UW-P is 7-1 and 4-1.
Credit UW-W for not panicking when down 9-0 in the first quarter and for a pair of interceptions from Williams and Klotz that stifled any momentum the Pioneers were building.
Platteville built its lead thanks to an interception—the first of the year for Whitewater quarterback Matt Behrendt—returned for a touchdown and a field goal. The Pioneers had run just seven offensive plays in the first eight-plus minutes, but had a two-score lead.
“There was definitely no panic,” said Behrendt, who threw for 193 yards and four touchdowns, “because we knew we were moving the ball really well on them.”
The Warhawks responded with an eight-play, 60-yard drive that ended with an 11-yard pass to Joe Worth for the first of his three touchdowns.
By midway through the second quarter, Whitewater was in full control. It scored on back-to-back drives to take a 22-9 lead with 4:11 left in the half, and the defense had allowed just 36 yards of total offense.
But the Pioneers gained some traction on their final drive of the half. Having driven to the Warhawks’ 4-yard line, they could have pulled back within one touchdown and knew they’d get the ball to open the second half.
“We’re very good, in the second half, of coming out with the first possession and scoring,” Platteville coach Mike Emendorfer said. “Even if we kicked a field goal, it was crucial we came away with points.”
Instead, Williams baited Kelly into a frustrating interception. Playing a spy technique on the quarterback, Williams gave the impression that he’d blitz, but back-pedaled when running back Andy Puccinni snuck out of the backfield to run a route.
Williams leaped to make what was likely a touchdown-saving interception.
“He made a great play,” said Kelly, who completed 22 of 46 pass attempts for 256 yards, one touchdown and the four picks. “It was a bad read. I thought I saw something, and he made a great play on it.”
“Earlier in my career, I always wanted to make big plays, and it kind of hurt me,” Williams said. “So I kind of just want to do my job. Plays are going to come, so I just wanted to stay patient.”
Platteville did end up showing its prowess for scoring out of halftime, going 72 yards in seven plays to make it 22-16.
And after forcing Whitewater to punt, the Pioneers hoped to keep the surge going. But on third-and-long, Kelly threw down the middle of the field and Klotz jumped to tip the pass, which deflected right to sophomore Ryan Winske for an interception.
“It’s the perk of being 6-4,” Klotz said. “We weren’t running the same defense on any given play. We kind of confused the looks and made the quarterback make some plays.”
“Most linebackers in this league do not tip a ball like that,” Emendorfer said. “Trevor Whitehead was open for a big-time play.
“That was crucial, too, because it gave them a short field.”
The Warhawks converted the turnover into an Eric Kindler field goal to go back up by two possessions, and their lead never appeared in doubt the rest of the way.
It was a long day for Kelly, who said the game’s biggest plays came down to a matter of inches. He entered Saturday averaging more than 300 yards per game and had thrown 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions.
The Warhawks kept him on his toes with timely blitzes and an effective defensive front. Kelly had been sacked just four times, but was taken down twice against UW-W and took post-pass hits more than a handful of times.
“Our defensive ends, we feel, are as quick as anyone at this level,” UW-W coach Lance Leipold said. “Getting some outside pressure and making him step up (was key), and then you’ve got to be able to mix it up. You can’t just sit in one thing with an experienced quarterback in that system.”
The Warhawks will go on the road on Saturday to UW-Stevens Point, looking to avenge a loss last season while clinching at least a share of the WIAC crown. They close with a home game against UW-River Falls on Nov. 16.