Hut, hut ... huh???
That final word was likely the expression many NCAA Division III football fans reacted with when they saw perennial powerhouse UW-Whitewater had lost its season-opening game, 17-10, at Illinois Wesleyan on Saturday.
It’s also a likely reaction from some of the Warhawks, themselves, during a game in which they saw three different possessions get within six feet of the goal line only to come away with three total points. Two of those possessions ended with botched snaps at the 1-yard line.
“We feel confident we should have won had we played the game in the manner that we expect ourselves to,” Warhawks coach Kevin Bullis said in a teleconference Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s game at Concordia (Minnesota). “Giving away the football is not an option.”
That’s just what the Warhawks did in losing their first season opener since 2003. They lost three fumbles total, including the two while knocking on the doorstep, and squandered half of their trips to the red zone in a one-possession game.
The second of the three fumbles came early in the fourth quarter, just after UW-W had converted on fourth down to get to Wesleyan’s 27 during a 10-10 tie game. Wesleyan turned around and marched the other way, scoring the eventual game-winning touchdown.
The other two fumbles came as part of the Warhawks’ three miscues at the goal line.
Twice in the second quarter they couldn’t cash in. In a scoreless tie, they had first-and-goal from the 2 but rushed for one yard, no gain and no gain before settling for a field goal. One drive later, Whitewater hit on a 46-yard pass play down to the 1 but then immediately fumbled a snap.
In the fourth quarter, down 17-10 with just over a minute left, UW-W converted on third-and-11 to get back to the 1-yard line. The team suffered a bungled snap once again and saw its comeback bid come to an end.
“I’ve coached for 29 years, and for that to happen was an unbelievable scenario—being three times on the doorstep and coming away with three points,” Bullis said. “That’s not what we do and not what we’ve done. It was an amazing experience, to be honest with you.
“But that’s the key thing, for our guys to learn to kind of fight through that experience.”
Making the situation even more bizarre, Bullis said, is that the errant snaps were not the result of a recurring mistake and had not been a problem in practices leading up to the start of the season.
“It wasn’t one person, wasn’t one position,” Bullis said. “It hasn’t been an issue in camp or anything like that. Obviously it’s something that we’re putting extra time in just to make sure and build that confidence in our guys in preparation for this game.”
Bullis credited his 11 seniors with rallying the Warhawks together after the surprising early-season loss. He said he’s been pleased with the energy the players have brought back to the practice field ahead of another tough nonconference tilt.
Concordia beat Nebraska Wesleyan in its season opener last weekend, scoring the first 27 points in a 34-14 victory.
Concordia’s triple-option offense produced nearly 240 yards rushing, and its 3-4 defense forced six turnovers.
“They’re going to try to control the clock,” Bullis said.”Where our offense, we typically try to go fast and snap the ball and keep the tempo of the game up, they’re more so trying to slow the game down.
“Our preseason schedule is as tough as it’s been in many years. We like that, though. To be able to be challenged and know what we’ve got to work on, the ultimate goal is preparation.