Whitewater, Mount Union again look like Division III elite

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Imagine if the Packers played the Broncos in the past five Super Bowls, and they appeared to be headed for a sixth straight meeting this year.

Pro football fans outside of Wisconsin and Colorado would sigh and roll their eyes, while muttering, “Not again.”

That is the current state of NCAA Division III football.

UW-Whitewater and Mount Union (Ohio) have played in the Division III national championship game the last five seasons.

It would surprise nobody if the Warhawks and Purple Raiders meet again in the 2010 Stagg Bowl on Dec. 18 in Salem, Va. The only surprising thing would be if Salem and much of the area were hit with another blinding snowstorm before this year’s title game.

Last year’s blizzard, which kept many Whitewater fans, the cheerleaders and the band from making it to the game, was about the only thing that delayed the Warhawks’ ride to the national title. Coach Lance Leipold’s Warhawks defeated Mount Union, 38-28, to deliver the school’s second national title in three seasons.

Guess what? All the preseason national polls have the Warhawks and Purple Raiders ranked 1-2.

Typical of most head coaches, Leipold just about puts his fingers in his ears and goes “la-la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you” when a question comes up about making it back to the national title game.

Like Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort, it is “The-Game-That-Must-Not-Be-Discussed.”

Leipold says the team will concentrate on its season opener at home against Adrian (Mich.) College on Sept. 4, and the only team goal discussed thus far is winning the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title, which provides an automatic berth in the NCAA playoffs.

Even though Whitewater has to replace two-year starter Jeff Donovan at quarterback and four-time All-America kicker Jeff Schebler, the team has enough returning talent to earn the No. 1 preseason ranking from d3football.com and The Sporting News. The Warhawks also are a unanimous choice by the conference’s sports information directors to win a sixth straight WIAC title

Whitewater has played 15 games a season the past five years. That gives the Warhawks a huge advantage over the other conference schools, which collect equipment and turn out the stadium lights after 10 games.

Warhawk junior running back Levell Coppage already has rushed for 3,500 yards and has scored 56 touchdowns in two seasons. He has played in 28 games, which is one more than seniors at most other schools.

Backup running back Antwan Anderson rushed for 603 yards and nine touchdowns last season. The backfield is so loaded, in fact, that former University of Wisconsin starter Booker Stanley is just one of the guys.

The backs will be running behind a line that returns four of five starters, including All-America candidates Robbie Ustruck and Matt Weber. Aaron Rusch, who caught 72 passes and scored eight touchdowns, returns at wide receiver.

That abundance of talent should take the pressure off junior Matt Blanchard, who is expected to replace Donovan at quarterback.

The defense’s only question mark is the secondary, where three of four starters are gone. Matt McCulloch, a 6-foot-2 senior out of Janesville Parker, will be that unit’s leader.

Replacing Schebler, who set nine school, WIAC and NCAA kicking records while scoring 470 points in his four seasons, will be the biggest challenge.

Leipold said that might force the Warhawks to go for it on fourth down instead of trying a long field goal when they are in opponents’ territory.

That just might give opponents more headaches.

The Warhawks have sent opposing coaches to the medicine cabinet many times in the past five seasons.

And while Whitewater and Mount Union might create groans among Division III fans, Leipold can poke a little fun at having the same two teams on top of polls.

“As long as we’re one of those two, I’m not going to complain,” Leipold said.

Last updated: 2:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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