Whitewater respects Mount Union
That’s how UW-Whitewater players and coaches are handling the Mount Union mystique.
The Warhawks are well aware of the Purple Raider juggernaut. Their opponent in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on Saturday at Salem, Va., is in the midst of another dominating season.
Mount Union has won the last two Stagg Bowl games over Whitewater and is riding a 37-game winning streak. The Purple Raiders have outscored opponents 757-73 this season, including a stretch of six straight shutouts.
Despite their opponent’s gaudy numbers, the Warhawks believe they can win the NCAA Division III national title game. Whitewater has played six teams that made the postseason, including Division II opponent St. Cloud State.
“We know they’re a great team, but we’re not putting them on a pedestal or anything,” Whitewater quarterback Danny Jones said of Mount Union. “We think we’ve got a pretty good football team, too.
“We’re going down to Virginia to win the game. We’re playing our best football right now, and hopefully, all the hard work we’ve put in will pay off.”
Both teams were expected to return to the Stagg Bowl. Mount Union returned 14 starters, led by two of Division III’s best players in tailback Nate Kmic and receiver Pierre Garcon.
Whitewater brought back 11 starters, including star tailback Justin Beaver, the 2007 Gagliardi Trophy winner.
The high expectations brought plenty of added pressure to both schools. Mount Union coach Larry Kehres has the highest winning percentage in the history of college football at .920, but he said being overconfident is not allowed.
“I don’t like arrogant football players, and that’s not what we’re about at Mount Union,” Kehres said. “We teach our men to respect the game of football and their opponent.
“All you have to do is start acting like things are easy, and you’ll quickly find out that you’re not going to get too far. Working hard and being disciplined are what we believe in.”
While the Warhawks believe they can win, they’re also realistic. Whitewater has played teams that are similar in speed or size to Mount Union, but nobody with the complete package the Purple Raiders offer.
It’s tough to find a weakness on a team that has so thoroughly dominated every opponent. Mount Union has not trailed this season and has topped the 50-mark barrier in 10 of 14 games. The Raiders’ closest game was 42-18 over Ithaca College of New York in the first round of the playoffs.
First-year Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said the Purple Raiders are as good as advertised but not invincible.
“Obviously, we have great respect for coach Kehres and Mount Union,” Leipold said. “But I don’t worry too much about stats. That’s why you play the game.
“We played the toughest schedule in the country in Division III, and there’s a reason for that. Our kids are well-prepared.”
Saturday, a nationwide television audience on ESPN gets a first-hand look at the two best football programs in Division III.
Will the Mount Union dynasty continue? Or is Whitewater set to take over the throne?
The Warhawks think they know the answer.
Beaver named All-American
The awards keep coming to Justin Beaver like snowflakes on a December day.
The UW-Whitewater senior tailback earned the top All-America honor available Wednesday, being named to the American Football Coaches Association team.
The honor is special because coaches select it and only 11 players are voted on offense and defense and three players are named to the special teams.
Beaver started out this week by being named the Gagliardi Trophy winner. The award honors the most outstanding player in NCAA Division III. He will be formally awarded the trophy during ceremonies tonight in Salem, Va., where the Warhawks are preparing for the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
Beaver has helped the Warhawks advance to the Division III title game three straight seasons.
He owns the UW-Whitewater and Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference single-season and career rushing records.
The Palmyra-Eagle High graduate also earned the WIAC’s Max Sparger Scholar Athlete Award for football, and ESPN The Magazine second-team Academic All-America honors from the College Sports Information Directors of America.