With a stifling defense and a vaunted power-running game, UW-Whitewater looked like a team poised to make its customary playoff run.
But after losing three of its first four games this season, Whitewater has seemingly been playing for pride the last six weeks.
The Warhawks have certainly showed plenty of it, winning their last six games, including a commanding 36-3 victory over UW-Eau Claire Saturday afternoon at Perkins Stadium.
Warhawks running back Drew Patterson ran for 174 yards and three touchdowns, while Delavan-Darien graduate Marcus Hudson added a 53-yard touchdown catch to help Whitewater roll to victory.
Despite ending on a winning note, Whitewater (7-3, 6-1 WIAC) ends the regular season with a faint chance of gaining an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs. The playoff bracket will be announced today at 4:30 p.m.
“I won’t be holding my breath on getting an at-large big” said Warhawks coach Kevin Bullis, whose team is likely to miss the playoffs for just the second time since 2005. “For a three-loss team to get into the playoffs would set a precedent.”
The Warhawks certainly have made a case for setting a precedent, winning six straight games in the WIAC.
“I truly think that if we get a bid, we’ll make a playoff run,” Warhawks senior Tony Gumina said. “We’re a playoff program and if we get (in), just watch out.”
The Blugolds (1-9, 0-7 WIAC) might agree with Gumina’s prediction after getting steamrolled by the streaking Warhawks.
Quarterback Cole Wilber started the onslaught with a pinpoint 53-yard touchdown pass to Hudson to make it 10-0 in the first quarter.
“I was in the slot and the safety was guarding me and he’s not the best at it and I made just a little move and hit up the seam and Cole threw a perfect ball to me,” said Hudson, who racked up 101 receiving yards in his final regular -season game. “After I made my final catch later in the game, I was really grateful for the opportunity to play here and to go out with a catch. (It) meant a lot.”
Whitewater tacked on two Wojciech Gasienica field goals and a one-yard Patterson run to open a 23-0 lead at halftime.
Patterson then blew the game open in the second half with touchdown runs of 23 and 82 yards to give Whitewater a 36-3 lead.
The Blugolds never had a response after that as the Warhawk defense closed out the finishing touches on the victory.
“To win six in a row is a launching pad for next year,” Bullis said. “After the Oshkosh game, I told the kids I’m not going to talk about the playoffs or a conference championships, but we have to take care of our end of the deal and that’s what those guys did.”
The Warhawks indeed took care of their end, but now it’s up to NCAA tournament selection committee to determine if they did enough to make the postseason.
WHITEWATER 36, EAU CLAIRE 3
Eau Claire 0 0 3 0—3
Whitewater 10 13 7 6—36
Scoring summary: WW—Wojciech Gasienica 19 field goal. WW—Marcus Hudson 53 pass from Cole Wilbur (Gasienica kick). WW—Gasienica 26 field goal. WW—Gasienica 41 field goal. WW—Drew Patterson 1 run (Gasienica kick). WW—Patterson 23 run (Gasienica kick). EC—Brad Goetsch 30 field goal. WW—Patterson 82 run (Gasienica kick).
Statistics: First downs—EC 18, WW 15. Rushes—WW 33-197, EC 43-98. Yards passing—WW 195, EC 161. Passes—WW 24-11-2, EC 42-23-3. Fumbles—WW 0-0, EC 0-0. Penalties—WW 7-76, EC 4-20.