Warhawks get defensive in title run
After a one-year break, the UW-Whitewater football team is out to create a new chapter of championship football.
After not making the playoffs last season after seven straight championship game runs, the Warhawks once again have advanced to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl where they play Mount Union (Ohio) at 6 p.m. Friday for the national championship.
UW-Whitewater and Mount Union both have purple in their school colors and purple has been prevalent in this game since 2005.
This will be the eighth meeting between the teams in the championship game in the past nine seasons.
The Warhawks have won four title games, including three straight (2009-2011).
After missing the playoffs last season, the Warhawks are back despite a young offensive line that has one junior, three sophomores and a freshman starting.
Without a standout running back that has been the staple during the Warhawks' title streak, the Warhawks have depended the entire roster.
“I'm really proud of this team,” Coach Lance Leipold said. “They just keep finding ways of getting things done.”
The defense has been the backbone of this championship game run.
Led by middle linebacker Cole Klotz, the Warhawks have allowed an average of just 8.5 points a game.
Klotz, who was a finalist for the Gagliardi Award that was won by Mount Union quarterback Kevin Burke on Wednesday night, has 50 solo and 46 assisted tackles.
He is joined by linebackers Kyle Wismer, 14 tackles for losses and Josh Williams, 10.5 TFL, to present an imposing wall for offenses.
Cornerback Brady Grayvold leads the team with eight interceptions.
Quarterback Matt Behrendt has had an outstanding season. The junior has completed 282 of 432 passes for 3,041 yards and 36 touchdowns. He has thrown just one interception.
Jordan Ratliff has emerged as the Warhawks top back, gaining 1,113 yards.
Jake Kumerow is Behrendt's go-to receiver. Kumerow has 70 receptions for 1,228 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Kicker Eric Kindler leads the special teams. He has converted 17 of 23 field goals and 60 of 62 extra-point attempts for 111 points.
Justin Howard is a threat on returns, averaging 11 yards per punt return and 28.5 yards per kickoff return.
“For some of us we'll appreciate it more when we land than probably any other time that we have done this,” Leipold said in an interview with WKCH, 106.5 FM earlier this week.
The defining strength of the team might be the type of players Leipold and his staff have assembled. That came through on trip to Belton, Texas last weekend for the semifinal game against Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Leipold said three different people that came in contact with the team complimented the behavior of the Warhawk contingent.
Leipold shared that with the team Sunday morning after they had returned to Whitewater.
“I'm very proud of what you've done on the field,” Leipold said. “As corny as it sounds as a head coach, not far behind that victory is to hear them say is what kind of men you are and how you conduct yourselves.”
And after some adversity—if a 7-3 season a year ago can be classified as adversity—Leipold and his staff put together another team that will end its season playing in the national championship game on national television (ESPNU).
“You're seeing a group that has really come together in so many different ways,” Leipold said in the WKCH interview. “This one is really rewarding.”
Leipold reflected how far the team had come from a year ago, when some people questioned whether the Warhawks could return to the top.
“(They thought) maybe our runs were done,” Leipold said. “That those were going to be stories and memories from the past.
“We were able to create some new ones,” he said.