First-round playoff games can be a bit of a wild card for a football team—especially against an opponent it has never seen before.
But the nationally third-ranked UW-Whitewater football team played all its cards right Saturday afternoon in its NCAA Division III first-round contest against visiting Greenville University.
The Warhawks (11-0) scored 28 first-quarter points and rode a ferocious defense and opportunistic offense all the way to a 69-7 victory over the Panthers at Perkins Stadium.
The Warhawks, who earned runner-up honors in the 2019 NCAA D-III playoffs before sitting out the 2020 season, advanced to the second round with the win.
They’ll play host to DePauw University of Greencastle, Indiana, at noon Saturday with a berth in the national quarterfinals on the line.
DePauw (9-2) took a 26-21 victory over Rose-Hulman on Saturday, intercepting five passes and stopping the Fightin’ Engineers on a goal-line stand.
Whitewater senior running back Alex Peete paced the offense with 93 yards rushing and four touchdowns, one of them on a pass reception. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season for the third time in his career.
Whitewater senior quarterback Max Meylor threw for 239 yards and three touchdowns, and senior Ryan Wisniewski led the receiving corps with five catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Hawk Heffner led the defense with 11 tackles and Luke Nelson totaled eight stops.
Whitewater limited the Panthers (8-3) to 72 yards rushing—more than 175 yards below their season average.
The Warhawks tallied four touchdowns in the first 15 minutes. Meylor hit Peete for a 27-yard catch-and-run on third-and-16 for the first score of the game. After Whitewater recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Meylor found Wisniewski for a 5-yard score.
Greenville drove into Warhawks territory on the next drive, but the defense produced a fourth-down stop and the offense embarked on an eight-play, 69-yard drive capped by Peete’s 1-yard touchdown for a 21-0 lead with 2:18 on the first-quarter clock.
On the next drive, Thomas Wojnowski stepped in front of Chase Butterfield’s pass at the 25-yard line, made the interception and returned it for a touchdown.
The Panthers found the end zone with just over three minutes to play in the second quarter to cut their deficit to 28-7 before halftime.
Following a three-and-out by Greenville on the opening possession of the second half, Peete zig-zagged his way through the defense for a 32-yard touchdown run at the 11:22 mark of the third quarter to bring the UW-W lead to 35-7.
A 13-yard touchdown pass from Meylor to Tyler Holte, set up by Wisniewski’s 49-yard reception, made it 41-7 with 9:20 remaining in the quarter. Peete posted a 10-yard touchdown run, and reserve quarterback Evan Lewandowski tossed a 12-yard score to Michael Berentes as UW-Whitewater closed the third quarter with a 55-7 advantage.
Early in the fourth, Lewandowski avoided pressure to his right and found Dain Hudson near the goal line for a 34-yard touchdown, and Ryan Ponick completed the scoring a little more than three minutes later with an 11-yard touchdown run.
UW-Whitewater’s offensive scoring output Saturday was its highest in the NCAA playoffs since 2009, when it defeated Lakeland 70-7 in the first round.
Also on Saturday, UW-La Crosse advanced to the second round with a 58-23 victory over Albion (Mich.).
UW-WHITEWATER 69, GREENVILLE 7
Greenville 0 7 0 0 — 7
UW-Whitewater 28 0 27 14 — 69
W—Alex Peete 27 pass from Max Meylor (Matt Maldonado kick).
W—Ryan Wisniewski 5 pass from Meylor (Maldonado kick).
W—Peete 1 run (Maldonado kick).
W—Thomas Wojnowski 25 interception return (Maldonado kick).
G—Delrey Crowder 2 pass from Chase Butterfield (Hermo kick).
W—Peete 32 run (Maldonado kick).
W—Tyler Holte 13 pass from Meylor (kick failed).
W—Peete 10 run (Maldonado kick).
W—Michael Berentes 12 pass from Evan Lewandowski (Maldonado kick).
W—Dain Hudson 34 pass from Lewandowski (Maldonado kick).
W—Ryan Ponick 11 run (Maldonado kick).
First downs—G 15, W 25. Rushes-yards—W 46-71; W 29-166. Passing yards—G 155; W 316. Passes (Att.-Comp.-Int)—G28-15-3; W 25-19-0. Fumbles-lost—G 3-2, W 2-2. Penalties-yards—G 4-35, W 7-65. Punts-avg.—G 4-32.8, W 2-40.0. Third-down conversions—G 4-16, W 2-5. Fourth-down conversions—G 3-7, W 1-1.
RUSHING—G: Paul Garrett 23-54; W: Peete 13-93, Tamir Thomas 3-32.
PASSING—G: Butterfield 25-15-1-155; W: Meylor 21-15-0-239, Lewandowski 3-3-0-59, Jackson Chryst 1-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—G: Garrett 6-56, Matthew Tiger 2-54, Terrance Brown 5-38; W: Wisniewski 5-98, Holte 6-67, Zach Sherman 2-42, Hudson 1-34.