Second season begins
On Saturday, the Warhawks (9-1) host Capital University (8-2) of Columbus, Ohio, in a NCAA Division III playoff opener, starting at noon.
The Crusaders bring in the No. 3-ranked Division III defense in rushing yards allowed and total yards allowed.
Capital has given up just 11.2 points per game, which ranks sixth in the nation in Division III. If you take away the 37-0 loss to two-time defending NCAA Division III Mount Union, the Crusaders allowed just 85 points to nine other opponents.
“They’ve been in big ballgames against excellent competition,” Warhawk coach Lance Leipold said.
The Crusaders play in the Ohio Athletic Conference, which includes Mount Union. Capital is 29-7 the past three seasons, with five of those defeats coming against Mount Union. Two of those losses were by just three points.
The Warhawks know the Crusaders’ pain, having lost to Mount Union in the past two Division III championship games.
Leipold has his own strong defense, plus an offense that has shown it has the weapons to move the ball against any defense.
Whitewater has allowed an average of 13.2 points and 270 total yards per game. Despite the loss of linebacker Josh Jackson for the season two games ago, the Warhawks still have a superb group of linebackers.
The group includes All-WIAC first-team picks A.J. Raebel and Tristan Borzick and honorable-mention pick Jace Rindahl.
Raebel, a unanimous all-conference selection, is tied with Rindahl in total tackles with 64 each. Raebel missed one game due to an injury.
Raebel has 36 solo tackles and 8.5 tackles for losses. Rindahl has 31 solos and 4.5 tackles for losses.
Borzick, who also missed the opener due to an injury, has 28 solo tackles and ranks fourth on the team in tackles.
The Warhawk defense will be facing a Crusader offense that has been stripped of its two top performers.
Capital lost preseason All-America wide receiver Derick Alexander in the season opener to a foot injury. In the fourth game, starting quarterback Marty Assmann injured his knee and was gone for the rest of the year.
Assmann was leading the OAC in passing and total offense at the time.
“Coach (Jim) Collins has done a good job of holding that team together,” Leipold said.
Leipold said the Capital defense is the reason the Crusaders got to the playoffs.
“They are very, very athletic in the secondary,” Leipold said. “They are really quick off the ball. They have an impressive front four.”
The Warhawks again will use WIAC Player of the Year Justin Beaver to soften up that defense. The senior running back has 1,640 yards rushing this season.
“He’s practiced more this year than ever,” Leipold said of the Palmyra-Eagle High graduate. “He’s held up nicely. He’s been a workhorse.”
The Warhawks are looking to make a third straight appearance in the NCAA Division III championship game. They will be going against a different set of opponents than the first two years after being moved to a different region.
For Leipold, in his first season as Warhawk head coach, the playoff bid was just another accomplished goal for the team.
“This group has worked so hard,” he said. “I’m glad we had a good run. We’re in the middle of it and want to keep moving forward.”