Max Meylor walked off the field visibly yelling at himself.
The junior quarterback had just overthrown receiver Nathaniel Osterloo on the sideline on a third and 6.
“I wanted that one because he’s my boy,” said Meylor.
Both Meylor and Osterloo graduated from Mount Horeb High.
What he might have missed with his arm, Meylor made up with his legs. He led the team in rushing with 85 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown run.
Wojciech Gasienica made the decisive 37-yard field goal to earn a 35-32 victory over St. John’s in an NCAA Division III semifinal at Perkins Stadium on Saturday.
Meylor bounced back from his first-half misfire. He carried three times for 37 yards in a nine-play, 45-yard drive that Meylor finished with a touchdown pass to Derek Kumerow, which gave the Warhawks a 22-21 lead before the end of the half.
“I’m not really known as a runner,” Meylor said. “I don’t really have the get-up speed like some of the guys that we have. The opportunity came, and I took advantage of the opportunity.”
The Warhawks were successful despite the Johnnies stacking players at the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
Meylor countered early in the game with passes to junior Ryan Wisniewski.
Trailing 7-0, Wisniewski got lost behind cornerback Chris Harris for a 41-yard gain. The Warhawks had to settle for a 31-yard Gasienica field goal.
Meylor connected later with Wisniewski for 26 yards. Meylor and Wisniewski ran a similar play against man-to-man defense on the next play completing a 37-yard pass only to have it called back because of a player illegally downfield.
Meylor was intercepted by Harris on the next play.
Meylor recovered and made enough plays to send the Warhawks to their first berth in the Stagg Bowl since Kevin Bullis took over as head coach in 2015.
“We felt going into the game that we wanted to run the ball in a manner that was fitting with our tradition,” Bullis said. “We were fortunate because we didn’t run it in that manner.
“Max Meylor had a fantastic game running the football and throwing the ball extremely well.
“He showed himself as an all-around quarterback. He seems to get better every time he plays the game.”
Since Gary Fasching started coaching St. John’s in 2013, the Johnnies were 52-0 when scoring more than 30 points and 57-3 when scoring the first points of the game.
Both streaks ended Saturday.
Jordan Brand had three sacks, Justin Hansen and Nico Lemke each had two sacks for the UW-Whitewater defense, but St. John’s quarterback Jackson Erdmann still managed to throw for 342 yards.
“I guess that’s why there’s more to the game than statistics,” said senior linebacker Matt Anderson who ripped the ball out of the hands of SJU running back Kai Barber to seal the game. “Our defensive line was relentless. Nico, JB, all those guys just stayed after it and were relentless.
“It would be easy sometimes to get frustrated if they can’t get it, but that’s not the case with our D line.”
There were series where it seemed like UW-Whitewater figured something out and was able to force Erdmann out of the pocket with ease.
Bullis credited the Warhawks defensive linemen.
“It’s a chess game, especially with defensive linemen and offensive linemen,” Bullis said. “It’s kind of like 1 on 1 basketball. You know what a guy has for a move and what he has for defense and it’s a constant state of chess game with them. We talk to our defensive line about recalculating. If they do this, then we need to counter with that.
“There were times where we weren’t as disciplined with our finishing of moves. There were times where we were beautiful with it.”
It’s simple math.
If the Warhawks only needed to rush four guys to create pressure, more players could be dropped in coverage. If the Warhawks have a weakness it is having to straight-up cover one-on-one with five guys across the field.
Erdmann had success Saturday, completing 29 of 50 passes for 342 yards.
Despite Erdmann’s constant throws, the Warhawks stuck with a four-man rush.
“Jackson Erdmann does such a great job of throwing the ball on time,” Bullis said. “Quarterbacks that throw the ball on time, it’s tough to sack them. To get seven sacks in this game, I’m shocked by that number. I have a lot of confidence in our pass rush ability.”
First Stagg Bowl after Leipold
The Warhawks were in two other national semifinals since Bullis took over for Lance Leipold in 2015.
The previous two resulted in lopsided losses.
After Leipold won six national titles in eight years, he went to Buffalo and took most of his taff with him.
Bullis denied he felt any added pressure to get a Warhawks team back to the national championship game.
“No,” Bullis said as he broke down film in his office Saturday night. “The only pressure that exists is what you put on yourself. Nothing else matters.”