Round 7: Warhawks, Purple Raiders do it again
Wisconsin-Whitewater and Mount Union have dominated Division III college football over the past seven seasons and when it comes time to determine the national champion: The Warhawks have been on one sideline and the Purple Raiders on the other.
The two-time defending champion Warhawks (14-0) and Mount Union (14-0) will meet for an unprecedented seventh consecutive time in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl tonight at Salem Stadium. The teams have split the six meetings, with Whitewater winning three of the last four.
The Warhawks have also won 44 in a row, last losing to Mount Union in the 2008 game. But running back Levell Coppage said Mount Union remains the standard of Division III excellence.
"The amount of times that they've been here and been through this and done this is tremendous for their program, and Whitewater is a growing program right now. It's going through a great process," the senior said. "The coaches and the athletes that we're bringing in are doing a great thing here, and for us to be recognized on a level as Mount Union is a great thing.
"We're just really trying take over the face of D-III."
In Alliance, Ohio, home to Mount Union, UW-Whitewater may already have that title.
"Whitewater is the team that Mount Union fans talk about and have seen," said Purple Raiders coach Larry Kehres, who is in his 26th season. "The Mount Union fans, the best team that they've seen is Whitewater. So Whitewater has moved into the position of being the team that is the standard-bearer for, ‘What's the best team like?' Well, it's like Whitewater's team."
Coppage has had a huge hand in that. He's been the MVP of the last two championship games and figures the Purple Raiders will arrive in Salem eager to stop him.
"I can imagine how hungry they are," Coppage said. "I know they are going to be ready to stop the run at any cost from what I've done, especially in the past two years. They're going to look forward to stopping me and it's going to be a great game. We're not going to worry about that, though. We've got a lot of athletes on the field, a lot of weapons we can throw at them."
Coppage would be a good place for the Purple Raiders to start, even though they arrive with the nation's top-ranked defense, allowing just 202 yards per game. Nine opponents have been limited to 200 yards or fewer, and Mount Union has allowed just 34 first-half points.
But Mount Union was even better last year, allowing just 197 yards per game, until it got to Salem. There, Coppage ran for 299 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yard scoring burst in the final minutes to seal the Warhawks' 31-21 victory.
The year before, he ran for 111 yards and three scores, including a 31-yard TD that broke a 28-all tie in Whitewater's 38-28 victory.
"He's hard to tackle," Kehres said. "He's just got a great lateral move, a jump step right out of a tackle. We have to try to tackle better, but that's easier said than done."
Kehres will bring a stunning career record of 317-23-3 into the game, and has guided the Purple Raiders to 15 Stagg Bowls, winning 10. It's a mark that virtually no one can approach, except, of course, for Whitewater coach Lance Leipold. In his five seasons, he's 71-3.
Kehres said the key to the game comes down to the basics. Fundamentals.
"I think regardless of schemes and plays, I think our men need to concentrate on what their assignment is," he said, "and generally, it always involves blocking and tackling."
Especially, it would seem, when the Warhawks' Coppage has the ball.
DON'T I KNOW YOU?
UW-Whitewater and Mount Union play for the NCAA Division III football title for the seventh straight season at 6:05 p.m. today. Here are the results of the previous six games:
2005—MU 35, UWW 28
2006—MU 35, UWW 16
2007—UWW 31, MU 21
2008—MU 31, UWW 26
2009—UWW 38, MU 28
2010—UWW 31, MU 21