Whitewater has seven straight wins over former top rival La Crosse
WHITEWATER UW-Whitewater and UW-La Crosse used to have a bitter football rivalry in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
There were controversial finishes. A yearly conference title for one of the two schools was the norm, along with some occasional bad blood.
The Warhawks have put an end to that. The heated rivalry is now a thing of the past.
Two-time defending NCAA Division III champion Whitewater has beaten La Crosse seven straight times with the average margin of victory 20.42. Those two teams open up the 2011 season Saturday at La Crosse in a nonconference game. The schools will play each other in a WIAC game Nov. 12 at Whitewater.
Whitewater has won six straight WIAC titles, and with nine starters returning, including All-America running back Levell Coppage, the Warhawks figure to be on a collision course toward a seventh straight conference title and Stagg Bowl appearance.
Coach Lance Leipold said the team is itching to get started.
“I think everyone is tired of competing against each other,” Leipold said. “They’re ready to hit someone else.
“And what a great way to kick off the season by having the two most dominating programs in our league play each other. There’s a lot of history between these programs.”
La Crosse, now under first-year coach Joel Detwiler, was 3-7 last season.
Coppage again figures to be the focal point of the Warhawk offense. The 5-foot-8 senior rushed for 2,107 yards and scored 25 touchdowns, including a staggering 299 yards in Whitewater’s Stagg Bowl win over Mount Union. Coppage will likely end his career as the WIAC’s all-time leading rusher.
“Levell put on about 10 pounds in the off-season, and at a little over 190 pounds now, is going to be even a more physical runner than he has been,” Leipold said. “He also seems to have found that extra gear that will allow him to get away from people in the open field.”
Matt Blanchard will start at quarterback for Whitewater after leading the team to a 10-0 regular season a year ago. Blanchard was hurt in the final regular-seson game, but Sun Prairie High School graduate Lee Brekke stepped in and led the Warhawks to the national title.
Whitewater returns every starter in the secondary, except Janesville Parker graduate Matt McCulloch, who led the team with eight interceptions a year ago. Three other starters return on defense, but several other players saw significant playing time as back-ups.
“We are who we are,” Leipold said of his team. “I kind of look at it like if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We had to replace some personnel on both sides of the ball, but I think the pieces are in place to do that.”