Title search: Warhawks can clinch WIAC crown
If the UW-Whitewater football coaching staff was concerned about getting its team back down to earth this week, the rest of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference took care of it.
The Warhawks are coming off a 41-14 bashing of then-No. 2-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) last Saturday at Perkins Stadium. Mary Hardin-Baylor entered the game with some incredible offensive statistics, but the Warhawks stopped the Crusaders cold.
The impressive victory solidified the Warhawks’ reputation as an elite NCAA Division III program.
Now the Warhawks travel to Menomonie on Saturday to play UW-Stout. What’s on the line? A win would give Whitewater a third straight outright WIAC title and the conference’s automatic playoff bid.
Coach Lance Leipold addressed his Warhawks about the situation before last Saturday’s nonconference game.
“We told them that, no matter what the outcome of the game, our focus was on the conference schedule,” Leipold said Wednesday morning.
Whitewater is 5-0 in the WIAC, two games ahead of Stout, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stevens Point with two conference games remaining. Since the Warhawks already have defeated Eau Claire and Stevens Point, only Stout could shove the Warhawks out of the playoffs.
Not only would the Blue Devils have to win Saturday, but the Warhawks would have to lose at home to UW-Platteville (1-4) on Saturday, Nov. 10, and Stout would have to beat Eau Claire that day.
“This is a championship game,” Leipold said.
He is confident the strong group of seniors, which has been to the NCAA Division III championship game the past two seasons, has the team focused on the Blue Devils.
Stout is coming off a major victory as well. The Blue Devils went on the road and beat UW-La Crosse last Saturday, 31-28, after taking a 31-7 lead.
“They keep getting better as the year progresses,” Leipold said.
The Blue Devils’ increased confidence, plus playing on their artificial-turfed field, makes this game tougher than what it appeared to be a few weeks ago.
Stout’s senior quarterback Tanner Kattre has thrown for 1,108 yards and four TDs and rushed for 420 yards and six TDs.
Leipold said the Blue Devils run out of several different looks and multiple sets.
“Defending their quarterback is the big thing,” he said.
The Warhawk defense showed it was were up for last week’s challenge against the speed of Mary Hardin-Baylor. The Crusaders entered the game with the nation’s leading rush offense, averaging 379 yards a game, but they managed just 162 yards rushing and 275 yards.
Senior linebacker A.J. Raebel led the way for Whitewater with 14 tackles, including 11 solo, and a fumble recovery.
The Warhawks turned several turnovers into points—including interception returns for touchdowns by linebacker Tristan Borzick and cornerback Matt Blaziewske—which turned the game into a rout.
“It was a nice win, a big win at home,” Leipold said. “But we have to keep moving forward.”
If the Warhawks do that, they will be hauling another WIAC title back with them to Whitewater late Saturday afternoon.