UW-Whitewater football plans to go full bore
It will be business as usual for the UW-Whitewater football team Saturday.
Yes, the Warhawks already have locked up the WIAC title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs that start next week.
But Whitewater can ill afford to stumble in its regular-season finale against UW-Platteville.
In fact, much more is riding on Saturday’s 1 p.m. game than the Warhawks’ 20-game league winning streak or their 20-game winning streak at Perkins Stadium.
This game will provide the Warhawks one last chance to impress the NCAA’s selection committee and earn a home game for the first round of the playoffs—and beyond.
“We have a lot at stake if we want to keep playing at Perkins Stadium,” Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said. “We’d like to stay focused on our task at hand because there’s a lot riding on this game.”
That means the Warhawks (8-1 overall, 6-0 WIAC) aren’t likely to be resting their starters—unless they’re able to build a big lead against the scrappy Pioneers (2-7, 1-5).
“Bob Berezowitz has been in my office the last few days educating me on these things,” Leipold said of the Warhawks’ former coach. “It’s hard to get into that guessing game about playoff pairings.
“In the early rounds, a lot of things might be based on locality and distance of travel. I don’t want to be looking too far ahead. Why should I get into all these hypotheticals?”
Leipold is familiar with the vagaries of the playoff system. While he has was an assistant at Nebraska-Omaha, the Mavericks tied for a conference title but were snubbed when the Division II playoff pairings came out.
Platteville has outgained its opponents this year, but the Pioneers have been on the short end of several close games, losing by six points to River Falls, seven to Eau Claire, and three to La Crosse and Stevens Point.
“They had some close games that could have gone either way for them. You could take a handful of plays and they’d be sitting there in the upper half of our league,” Leipold said.
Saturday’s game will be played in the memory of George Chryst, the Pioneer coach from 1979 until his sudden death in 1992 at age 55. Chryst guided Platteville to a 79-60-2 mark, with winning records in nine of his 14 seasons. He led the Pioneers to their last league title in 1980. The WIAC coaches named the league’s Coach of the Year award in his honor.
After the game, Chryst’s widow, Patty, will present offensive and defensive players of the game awards to individuals from both teams.
Keeping Chryst’s memory alive is important to both schools. Berezowitz was one of Chryst’s closest coaching friends.
“When I was in high school, I was recruited by George Chryst,” Leipold said. “What he epitomized in the coaching world and in this state should never be forgotten.”
Nor will the college career of Whitewater tailback Justin Beaver.
The Warhawks’ workhorse lugged the football 44 times last week for a hard-fought 194 yards in a 26-10 victory over UW-Stout. Beaver pushed his season total to 1,589 yards and needs 282 this week to reach 6,000 for his career. He needs one rushing TD to tie Chad Wurth’s school record (37).
Leipold said Beaver bounced back from Saturday’s taxing day in good shape.
“Justin takes great care of himself,” Leipold said. “He was back out there Tuesday in practice and practicing well. He gears up for the games, and he understands what’s at hand.
“Obviously we’d like to cut that back. It would be nice if Justin Beaver didn’t have to carry the ball 44 times and we could give some time to players who have given time to the program.”
Meanwhile, the Pioneers are seeking consistency at quarterback where injuries have forced Platteville to use four players. Sophomore Terry Belleville started his first game last week. He completed nine of 20 passes for 71 yards and a TD. His first-ever collegiate pass gained 48 yards on a flea-flicker.
The Whitewater defense might be the biggest key in Saurday’s game. The Warhawks lead the league in scoring defense (13.9 ppg), rushing defense (84.1 ypg), total defense (257 ypg), first downs allowed (115) and sacks (30).
“We’re playing pretty well on defense right now,” Leipold said.
And that’s a trend coaches like to see at playoff time.
What: UW-Platteville (2-7, 1-5) at UW-Whitewater (8-1, 6-0).
Where: Perkins Field (15,000), Whitewater.
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
TV/Radio: Charter Channel (Channel 20 on Janesville cable); WKCH (106.5 FM).