Warhawks lack usual luster in first-round win
WHITEWATER—Did UW-Whitewater get caught looking past its first-round playoff opponent Saturday afternoon or was St. Norbert better than advertised?
While there isn't a definitive answer to that question, it was clear Whitewater was not at its best.
The Warhawks, nevertheless, overcame a sloppy effort and finished off feisty St. Norbert 31-7 in an NCAA Division III opening-round game that was closer than the final score indicated.
Warhawk quarterback Matt Behrendt fired three touchdown passes, while running back Ryan Givens ran for 125 yards and one touchdown to propel Whitewater into the second round against Franklin.
Whitewater will certainly need to step its game next week to keep its season alive.
“I'm going to go ahead and say it. I think we were looking past this team (St. Norbert),” Warhawk linebacker Cole Klotz said. “I think it was good we got this check in the first round and hopefully get it corrected next week.”
The Warhawks' gut check came courtesy of an aggressive Green Knights defense that held Whitewater to just 10 first-half points, including a couple impressive stops deep in St. Norbert territory.
After Eric Kindler booted a 39-yard field goal early in the first, Whitewater was poised to build its lead after recovering a fumble at the Green Knight 21.
St. Norbert, however, stood its ground and stuffed Jordan Ratliffe on fourth down at the 2-yard line.
The Green Knights' defense stood tough again later in the half after the Warhawks started a drive at the St. Norbert 32. Whitewater drove to the 19 before being pushed back outside the 30, leading to a short punt.
“Was it our sharpest game today? Probably not,” Warhawk coach Lance Leipold said. “We left some opportunities out there today.”
Whitewater finally made the most out of an opportunity late in the second quarter when Klotz intercepted a tipped pass at the Green Knight 48. Six plays later, Behrendt scrambled right to left before finding Tyler Huber in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with 11 seconds left in the half. That made it 10-0 Whitewater.
The Warhawks later it made it 17-0 in the third following a 9-play 99-yard scoring drive that was capped by Givens' 12-yard touchdown run.
The feisty Green Knights immediately responded with a James Tringali 7-yard touchdown pass to Brian Fliess to cut the lead to 17-7.
“We were fighting our tails off to stay in the football game,” St. Norbert coach Jim Purtill said. “From my end, we felt pretty good that we just stood toe-to-toe with Whitewater.”
The Green Knights' proud stance finally softened in the fourth quarter when Behrendt drilled Jake Kumerow on a 33-yard touchdown pass to rebuild the lead to 24-7.
Whitewater later put the finishing touches on the victory with Behrendt's 4-yard touchdown pass to Derric Junakin with 36 seconds to play.
Despite the 24-point margin of victory, Leipold said his team must fix its mistakes against Franklin.
“To be in the final 16 group of teams playing next week feels good,” Leipold said. “But we have to improve and we can improve.”