Whitewater returns to Stagg Bowl
After all, his UW-Whitewater football team is headed to the Stagg Bowl for the sixth straight season.
The Warhawks earned their ticket to the NCAA Division III national championship game with a 27-7 victory over top-seeded Wesley in the semifinals here Saturday in Miller Stadium.
But Leipold believes that to say there was nothing to Whitewater making a sixth consecutive trip to Salem, Va., for the finals would be selling his players short.
He said the same thing about Mount Union (13-0), which also will be facing the Warhawks (14-0) in the Stagg Bowl for the sixth year in a row. The Purple Raiders downed Bethel (Minn.), 34-14, in their semifinal.
“Those of us who have been part of it know that it’s not as easy as sometimes it may appear,” said Leipold, whose team extended its winning streak to 29 straight games, currently the longest in the nation at any level of NCAA football. “Just to have the opportunity to compete in the Stagg Bowl is a great honor.
“To have a chance to compete again against Mount Union is an extreme challenge and one that our guys are ready for,’’ he said. “The one thing about it is it isn’t anything we take for granted. That’s the way these guys have worked since last off-season.”
This time Wesley (12-1) made Whitewater work a lot harder for its victory than it did in the two previous semifinal meetings. The Warhawks won those two games, in 2005 and ’06, by a combined score of 102-13.
But the Wolverines held a 7-3 lead in the second quarter this time. Whitewater then held just a 10-7 advantage at halftime and until late in third period.
The Warhawks, though, used interceptions on three straight Wesley possessions to score a pair of quick touchdowns and take control for good.
The first of those interceptions, by Steven McCollom, changed the field position. The second interception, by Janesville Parker High School graduate Matt McCulloch, set up Whitewater at the Wolverines’ 24.
The Warhawks then used eight straight running plays, all to Levell Coppage, and the junior standout finally scored on a 1-yard run with 3:25 left in the third quarter as Whitewater made it 17-7.
But the Warhawks weren’t finished in the third quarter.
On Wesley’s next play from scrimmage, Whitewater linebacker Greg Arnold dropped back into coverage, intercepted a pass and returned it 63 yards down the sideline to the Wolverines’ 1.
Coppage then got his second 1-yard TD run in a span of only 24 seconds to stretch the Warhawks’ lead to 24-7 with 3:01 left in the third period. Coppage finished with 146 yards on 27 carries.
Whitewater pulled in five interceptions, tying a school record.
“It was two good football teams,” said Leipold. “And what you expect when you have two good football teams on the field is that it comes down to turnovers many times. I think that played a huge part.”
“That six-minute mark in the third quarter got us,” said Wesley coach Mike Drass. “We had a major hiccup there, and they punched right through that. That’s what great teams do.”
Jared Kiesow finished with two of Whitewater’s interceptions. The Warhawks’ defense limited the Wolverines to minus-7 yards rushing while sacking quarterback Justin Sottilaire (24-of-43 for 256 yards) four times for 37 yards in losses.
While Whitewater finished with only a 316-249 advantage in total yards, the Warhawks took advantage of good field position. They also drove the ball on the Wolverines in the second half.
“We love driving the ball, keeping our defense off the field and just pounding it,” said Coppage. “You could definitely tell, too. When you’re out there longer on the field, they’re getting tired and making more mistakes. You can really take advantage of that.”
Injured junior quarterback Matt Blanchard warmed up before the game, but Lee Brekke again played the entire game. He completed 13 of 19 passes for 144 yards with two interceptions.
In the second quarter, Whitewater took advantage of a blown Wesley coverage as Brekke hit wide open receiver Adam Brandes for a 35-yard touchdown pass. Brandes caught the ball along the sidelines at the 10 and dove past a Wolverine defender to get to the pylon.
The TD, with 13:24 left before halftime, gave the Warhawks a 10-7 advantage and the lead for good.
In the end, Whitewater didn’t let the fact that the NCAA playoff committee awarded the No. 1 seed to Wesley stop it. The Warhawks won on the road two weeks in a row to earn one another trip—this one back to Salem for next Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. (CST) rematch.
“You still have to go out and prove yourself every Saturday,” said Leipold. “It’s tough to get road wins. And when you get them, you need to be awful proud, no matter where they’re at.
“To come out this far and win by this margin, I’m extremely proud of our assistant coaches and our football players.”
WHITEWATER 52, WESLEY
First downs 16 15
Rushing-yards 41-172 19/-7
Yards passing 144 256
Passes 13-19-2 24-44-5
Punts-avg. 4-37.2 4-29.5
Fumbles-lost 0-0 4-0
Penalties-yards 9-80 2-10
Time of poss. 31:00 29:00
UW-Whitewater 3 7 14 3—27
Wesley 7 0 0 0—7
Whi—FG, Eric Kindler, 19, 8:01. Wes—Matt Barlie, 38 pass from Justin Sottilare (Dan Tryon kick), 1:08.
Whi—Adam Brandes, 35 pass from Lee Brekke (Kindler kick), 13:24.
Whi—Levell Coppage, 1 run (Kindler kick), 3:25. Whi—Coppage, 1 run (Kindler kick), 3:01.
Whi—FG, Kindler, 28, 10:01.
RUSHING—Whitewater: Levell Coppage 27-146, Booker Stanley 9-27, Lee Brekke 3-1. Wesley: Brandon Wright 9-14, Jeremiah Howe 1-6, Burgess 1-5, Cummings 2-3, Justin Sottilare 6/-35.
PASSING—Whitewater: Lee Brekke 13-19-2-144. Wesley: Justin Sottilare 24-43-1-256, Chris Cummings 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Whitewater: Aaron Rusch 6-64, Adam Brandes 2-39, Booker Stanley 2-9, John Novak 1-12, Luke Menzel 1-11, Levell Coppage 1-9. Wesley Brandon Wright 5-62, Leonard Stevenson 5-58, Matt Barile 4-70, Jeremiah Howe 4-30, Marcus Wilson 1-17, Brian Snell 1-11, Hassan Alston 1-10, Sean Hopkins 1-4, Garrett Burgess 1-1, Justin Sottilare 1/-7.
MOUNT UNION 34, BETHEL 14
First downs 11 14
Rushing-yards 42-118 32-101
Yards passing 107 339
Passes 10-19-0 18-35-1
Punts-avg. 9-39.1 7-42.3
Fumbles-lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties-yards 1-15 4-50
Time of poss. 31:19 28:41
Bethel (Minn.) 7 0 0 7—14
Mount Union 0 24 10 0—34
B—Aakre, 1 run (Wetherell kick), 10:25.
MU—Kyle Miller, 25 pass from Matt Piloto (Tyler Almeida kick), 13:02. MU—Cecil Shorts, 80 pass from Piloto (Almeida kick), 7:43. MU—FG, Almeida, 24, 3:13. MU—Jasper Collins, 25 pass from Piloto (Almeida kick), 1:15.
MU—FG, Almeida, 23, 12:30. MU—Collins, 7 pass from Piloto (Almeida kick), 8:54.
B—Flannery, 5 run (Wetherell kick), 1:37.
RUSHING—Bethel: Flannery 25-60, Aakre 11-36, Lindh 4-13, Phenow 2-9. Mount Union: Cecil Shorts 3/-2, Piloto 4-49, Jeremy Murray 19-66, Wes Ryder 2-8.
PASSING—Bethel: Aakre 10-19-0-107. Mount Union: Neal Seamon 1-3-1-4; Matt Piloto 17-32-0-335.
RECEIVING—Bethel: Flannery 3-13, Wright 1-6, Lindh 1-2, Hallstrom 4-71, Duinick 1-15. Mount Union: Jasper Collins 7-82, Cecil Shorts 4-165, Kyle Miller 4-73, Jeremy Murray 3-19.