Warhawks answer all questions
When the UW-Whitewater football team started this season, it had about as many question marks as a defending NCAA Division III champion could have.
Four games into the season, most of those questions have positive answers.
The Warhawk defense, going with an entirely new secondary, has held four opponents to an average of 7.5 points and 241 total yards a game.
The offensive line, with four new starters, has sparked a rushing attack that is averaging 206 yards per game.
And Levell Coppage, a freshman who has replaced All-America tailback Justin Beaver, has become the go-to guy, averaging 141 yards per game and leading the WIAC in yards gained.
All that has added up to a 4-0 overall mark and a WIAC-leading 2-0 record—highlighted by last week's dominating 31-0 victory over UW-La Crosse.
"We've made good progress," said Warhawk coach Lance Leipold, who is 18-1 with the Warhawks. "Our running game has come together. (Quarterback) Jeff Donovan is managing the game well."
The Warhawks, ranked No. 2 nationally, shut out the Eagles before a school- and WIAC-record crowd of 11,028 at Perkins Field. This week, the Warhawks get another road test when they travel to River Falls to take on the Falcons.
River Falls also had an early-season confidence builder last weekend when it handled UW-Stevens Point, 36-30. The Pointers entered that game undefeated.
The Falcons (2-2, 1-0) have used a balanced offense, but the combination of quarterback Storm Harmon and sophomore receiver Michael Zweifel has stood out.
Zweifel, a Whitewater High graduate, caught 16 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Stevens Point. The performance earned him WIAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
"He plays beyond his years," Leipold said of Zweifel. "He plays like a senior."
And the Falcons have played like a contender this year, after several down years followed the decision to scrap the wishbone offense.
River Falls opened the season by sticking with Division III power St. John's (Minn.) in a 22-6 defeat.
"They have weapons," Leipold said. "They like to mix things up. They use three-step drops, making it hard to get to the quarterback."
That quarterback, Harmon, has completed 78 of 116 passes for 785 yards, four TDs with just one interception.
Leipold said the Warhawk defensive linemen will have to get their hands up to attempt to deflect Harmon's passes.
The Warhawks will use their ball-control offense to keep the Falcons off the field. River Falls is allowing an average of 347 yards a game, which fits into the Warhawks' offensive average of 365 yards a game.
In the last three wins, Coppage has rushed for 498 yards in 87 carries. He has scored seven of his eight TDs in the past two games.
Leipold said sophomore Antwan Anderson has earned added time in the backfield. The Madison Memorial graduate has gained 128 yards in the past two games.
The success running the ball is due to the development of the offensive line. Leipold commended the work of left tackle Mike Sherman—the lone returning starter—right tackle Robby Gilbreath, left guard Robbie Ustruck, right guard Matt Weber and center Garth Coats for their work.
"Coach Steve Dinkel has done an excellent job," Leipold said. "They're starting to jell. They're starting to think as one."
What: UW-Whitewater (4-0, 2-0) at UW-River Falls (2-2, 1-0).
Where: Ramer Field (4,800), River Falls.
When: Noon, Saturday.
Radio: WKCH (106.5 FM).
Last updated: 10:45 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012