Warhawks head back to playoffs

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Tim Wester, Special to The Gazette
Saturday, November 16, 2013

WHITEWATER—After winning four national championships in the last six years, it seemed unlikely that a mere conference championship and a 10-0 record could exceed UW-Whitewater head coach Lance Leipold’s expectations this season.

But that’s exactly what the Warhawks have done.

After blowing past UW-River Falls 43-6 here Saturday afternoon to clinch its 8th WIAC championship in 9 years, Leipold said his team has exceeded his expectations.

“The way our schedule was set up this year, I can’t tell you I expected to be 10-0,” Leipold said. “But that’s what’s part of the fun is when you see a group of guys like this overachieve.”

Overachievers or not, Whitewater (10-0) has earned the satisfaction of avenging last season’s disappointing 7-3 season with a return trip to the NCAA playoffs as a likely No. 1 seed.

“I think the difference between this year and the past couple years was that we had a chip on our shoulder,” Tyler Huber said. “Last couple years, we’ve been successful with momentum carrying us into the next year, but this year, we had an us-against-the-world type deal.”

River Falls certainly had a chip on its shoulder in the first quarter against Whitewater.

After Matt Behrendt’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Christensen gave Whitewater the early lead, the Falcons put together a 9-minute, 74-yard scoring drive capped by Tyler Ledbeter’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Christianson late in the first. That made it 7-6 Whitewater.

But the Falcons’ momentum didn’t last too long after that.

Warhawk linebacker Josh Williams turned the game in Whitewater’s favor for good early in the second when he recovered a Ledbeter option toss at the Falcon 8-yard line.

Two plays later, Booker Ross crashed into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown run to make it 14-6.

Loussaint Minett later made it 16-6 after blocking Will Jensen’s punt that resulted in the ball rolling out of the end zone for a safety.

“I tried to run as fast as I could to land on the ball before it rolled out the end zone, but I couldn’t get there,” Minett said. “I felt that play was a big momentum shift, but there was still plenty of game to play.”

The rest of the game saw plenty of Whitewater scoring.

The Warhawks added two more second-quarter scores, including Jordan Ratliff’s 6-yard touchdown run and Behrendt’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Huber to put Whitewater up 29-6 at half.

Ryan Givens’ 67-yard touchdown run and Chris Nelson’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Zach Howard rounded out the Warhawk scoring in the second half, helping Whitewater get ready for another playoff run.

“I don’t know how far this group will go,” Leipold said “But as long as keep working hard, we’ll enjoy it.”

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