Warhawks advance to quarterfinals

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Tim Wester/Special to The Gazette
November 27, 2011
— After dropping two painful losses to Whitewater in the last 52 weeks, Franklin (Ind.) College coach Mike Leonard showed the movies “Rocky” and “Miracle” to inspire his team in its third attempt to pull the Hollywood-style upset against Whitewater.

But once again, the two-time defending national champion Whitewater made sure there was an anticlimactic ending against the Grizzlies.

Levell Coppage rolled up three touchdown runs, while senior linebacker Greg Arnold added two interceptions and fumble recovery to help top-ranked Whitewater roll to a 41-14 victory over Franklin in an NCAA Division III second round playoff battle at Perkins Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Whitewater (12-0), which extended its NCAA all-division best winning streak to 42, hosts Salisbury (Md.) College here at noon next Saturday in an NCAA Division III third-round game.

The Sea Gulls punched their ticket to the quarterfinal round by outlasting Kean, 49-47, in triple overtime Saturday.

Salisbury’s triple-option offensive attack will have to do better than Franklin’s minus-11-yard rushing effort against Whitewater. The Warhawks have held Franklin to just 24 total rushing yards in three games that stretch back to last season’s 52-21 NCAA first-round playoff victory over the Grizzlies.

“We’re just not as physical as we need to be in the run game right now against a type of team like Whitewater,” Leonard said. “We’ve had to rely on the passing game in all three games against them, and it’s just not enough firepower.”

Turnovers didn’t help the Grizzlies’ cause either. Arnold’s fumble recovery and interception in the first half sparked two Coppage touchdown runs of 8 and 6 yards to help the Warhawks jump out to a 14-0 lead in first half.

Coppage finished with another dazzling afternoon of 221 yards on 26 carries.

Matt Blanchard later made it 21-0 with a pinpoint 43-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown pass to Corey Robinson midway through the second quarter.

With the game quickly slipping away, the Grizzlies finally scored on their ensuing drive capped by quarterback Johnny West’s 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal.

After Coppage answered with a 27-yard touchdown run on the ensuing Warhawk drive, Franklin closed out the first half with a Keith Cunningham 10-yard touchdown catch to draw within 28-14 at halftime.

But the Warhawks quickly derailed the Grizzlies’ passing attack in the second half, allowing just two total yards after halftime. Arnold once again led the charge with his second interception early in the second half that proved to be the icing on the cake.

“Greg Arnold was outstanding today,” Warhawk coach Lance Leipold said. “He missed four ballgames this year, and you can see what he does for our team and defense when he’s on the field.”

Whitewater’s offense took care of the rest. Eric Kindler kicked field goals of 23 and 30 yards, and Blanchard threw a 26-yard scoring pass to Tyler Huber to cap the scoring late in the third period.

Franklin didn’t have an answer the rest of the way and walked off the field once again on the losing end of a Whitewater lopsided victory.

“We aspire to be where Whitewater has been and where they are probably going, and that’s a national champion,” Leonard said. “Maybe we’ll get there and maybe we won’t, but we’re sure going to try.”

Meanwhile, Whitewater just carries on, working toward its own movie, “National Championship III.”

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