Warhawks trample Mount Union for D-III title
Special to The Gazette
SALEM, Va.--This act has been seen before in the Stagg Bowl. A game that with all the hype allotted to a national championship fizzles in a one-sided blowout.
The script that’s been played before had Mount Union drubbing an overmatched foe.
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team turned that storyline around Friday night, trouncing Mount Union 52-14 to earn the Warhawks’ fifth national title in the last nine years. All five have come over the Purple Raiders.
Unlike pervious Stagg Bowl victories, which were by margins of 10 or less, this one was not close.
Loussaint Minett, the Whitewater native who was the game’s MVP in 2011 and finished this title game with four tackles and half a sack from the defensive end position, said the opponent didn’t matter.
“We played our game and we earned the right to be in this game,” Minett said. “We just played the way we know to play. We trusted what our coaches told us and trusted our techniques.”
Minnett and company held the Raiders scoreless after halftime, a feat that had not happened this season.
As the game wore on, the Warhawks’ defense got stronger.
“You see us get a lot of guys in there,” said head coach Lance Leipold. “I think you start to see us wearing them down.”
Leading 21-14 at halftime, the Warhawks played a rubber-band defense, giving up the occassional big play and yielding yards but denying the Raiders any chance to mount a comeback.
Whitewater forced four turnovers, all in the second half, and stuffed Mount Union’s best scoring chance by sacking quarterback Kevin Burke—the Gagliardi Trophy winner as Division III’s top player—on a fourth-down play from the Warhawks’ 13-yard line.
Junior defensive tackle Mykael Bratchett smothered Burke for a six-yard loss and the Raiders never threatened again.
Once the defense was able to pin their ears back and go after Burke, the secondary became ball hawks. Burke threw threw a deep ball that was intercepted by Dylan Morang. The ensuing possession resulted in a touchdown.
On the ensuing Raider drive, Brady Grayvold stepped in front of a Burke attempt on the right sideline and raced untouched 36 yards for a pick-six. His theft was the ninth of the season.
There was 8:36 left on the clock, but the game was essentially over.
As impressive as the defense was against a team averaging 49 points, the offensive efficiency turned heads. Quarterback Matt Behrendt showed great marksmanship, completing 20 of 28 for 249 yards and four touchdowns. For the season, Behrendt had 40 TDs against a single interception.
“To have one interception in 15 games—to go through the teams we’ve gone through—is truly amazing,” Leipold said. “The best thing about him, he’s a junior.”
Receiver Jake Kumerow had seven grabs for 103 yards and two touchdowns, including one toe-tapper at the pylon that he called a “perfect throw—outside, where only I could get it.”
Behrendt was second on the team in rushing with 56 yards, a new wrinkle to his game. Mount Union players said they had not seen him run on film and didn’t expect him to be a threat in that area, but Behrendt said the running lanes were open.
Jordan Ratliffe paced the rushing attack with 147 yards on 28 carries and two scores. Whitewater is now 5-3 in Stagg Bowls, including a streak of four straight in which they’ve played.
And in a common script—though the tradition took a year off—the Warhawks will celebrate with a parade in Whitewater today at 2 p.m.
Losses a gain
What difference does losing make?
After failing to make the playoffs last year, Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said that losing season is the reason his team was hoisting the championship trophy again.
“You learn more from losing than from winning,” Leipold said.
Senior defensive end Lou Minett agreed.
“Does this feel better than winning in 2011?” he asked of himself. “Yes, because this is now.”
Leipold is now 94-6 in seven years as the Warhawks’ head coach.
“I can tell you a lot more about the six than I can about the 94,” he said when presented with that statistic. Asked if he was that good of a coach to sport a gaudy .940 winning percentage, Leipold answered, “No,” vehemently, deflecting credit to his players.
Odds and ends
• In the last 10 seasons, Mount Union is 3-5 against Whitewater. If that statistic seems mundane, consider the Raiders are 140-0 against all other teams in that time.
• All eight times the Warhawks and the Raiders have played have been in the Stagg Bowl. The teams met eight of the last nine seasons in the NCAA Division III championship game.
• Cornerback Brady Grayvold’s fourth-quarter interception was his ninth of the season, setting a new Whitewater single-season record for picks.
• Jordan Ratliffe ran for 147 yards, the only back to break the century mark against the Raiders this season.
• Whitewater is the third team to score more than 50 points in a Stagg Bowl. The other two were Mount Union in consecutive years, 1996-97.
• The 38-point margin of victory was the widest in the Stagg Bowl since 2002, when the Raiders beat Trinity, 48-7. The margin was also the largest margin of defeat for the Raiders in any game since 1974.