UW-Whitewater gears up for Wabash
You won’t find many teams with a better nickname than the Little Giants.
The Little Giants will be at Perkins Stadium on Saturday, and UW-Whitewater coach Lance Leipold says his opponent doesn’t live up to its nickname.
“The first thing that catches your eye is their size,” Leipold said. “They’re probably the biggest team physically that we’ve seen since September.”
Wabash (11-1) enters the NCAA Division III quarterfinal game off an impressive 38-23 second-round victory over previously undefeated Case Western last week. Wabash quarterback Matt Hudson completed 33 passes to nine receivers for 308 yards and five touchdowns.
The Little Giant defense had five sacks and 13 tackles for losses totaling 54 yards.
Wabash’s offensive line is led by All-North Coast Athletic Conference picks Brian Hilts and Jeremy Morris. Hilts is a 6-foot-7, 274-pound senior left tackle, while Morris is a 6-6, 302-pound junior right tackle.
Skip Tokar is a 6-6, 310-pound sophomore right guard.
Hudson is a 6-6 sophomore who has thrown for 2,603 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 207 of 300 attempts.
His favorite targets have been sophomore Brock Graham (64 catches, 561 yards and 5 TDs) and senior Mike Russell (61, 760, 5). Senior Bart Banach has seven touchdowns among his 39 catches and senior Gabe Guerrero has six TDs in just 25 receptions.
Leipold said the Warhawk defense will be out to prevent big plays. Wabash has averaged 6.3 yards per play, including 12.3 yards per pass reception.
“They do have great weapons on the outside and do a good job of getting them the ball,” Leipold said.
Wabash has averaged 31.7 points a game. The Warhawk defense has limited opponents to 14.5 points and 273 yards per game.
One of the keys for the Warhawk defense since the team’s only loss to Division II St. Cloud State has been turnovers. Whitewater’s veteran defensive secondary and linebackers have 27 interceptions, which has helped the Warhawks (11-1) earn a plus-19 turnover advantage.
Ben Farley has six picks, Matt Blaziewske has five and Tristan Borzick and Andy Murray have four each.
Even defensive end Ryan Orgizovich has gotten into the turnover act, returning both a fumble and an interception for a touchdown in the playoffs.
“Our defense has been carrying us for the last few weeks,” Leipold said. “We’ve been very opportunistic the last month or so.”
Linebacker Adi Pynenberg leads the Wabash defense. The 5-11, 213-pound senior was the conference Defensive Player of the year and like Whitewater running back Justin Beaver,is a Gagliardi Trophy finalist.
Pynenberg has 86 solo and 72 assisted tackles, 25.5 tackles for losses, eight sacks, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Beaver and the Warhawk offense are averaging 32.9 points and 391 total yards per game.
The 5-foot-9 senior back out of Palmyra has rushed for 2,001 yards and scored 13 TDs this year, running his career total past the 6,000-yard mark.
“He’s an extraordinary player,” Leipold said. “We don’t fool anybody with Justin. He gets his share of carries.”
And that has been enough to again get to the Elite Eight.