Division-III Football Playoffs: Round 2 Preview: Wisconsin-Whitewater vs. Wabash
Match-Up: On Saturday at 1 P.M. Eastern Time the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks will play host to the Wabash College Little Giants in the second round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. Whitewater entered the playoffs as the No. 1 team in the final regular season D3Football poll, while Wabash was ranked No. 14.
How They Got Here:
The Wabash Little Giants went to break at the end of the first half barely leading over Franklin College 9-7. They then rolled in the second half, scoring 24 points to the Grizzlies seven on route to a 33-14 win.
Franklin was actually winning in this game 7-0, before giving up 19 unanswered points. The Little Giants’ defense was especially stout on the day. They got the team on the scoreboard by sacking QB Grant Welp on consecutive plays, the second of which was for a safety, and made the score 7-2. The defense finished with 6 sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles.
On offense the Little Giants put up 205 yards on the ground, and two scores. Tyler Holmes rushed for 107 yards on 15-carries with a touchdown. Mason Zurek had 91 yards on 7-carries and a score of his own.
Meanwhile, the Whitewater Warhawks were crushing poor Macalester College. The Warhawks were leading 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and 34-0 at the half on their way to a 55-2 win. Macalester’s only two points came on a safety from a muffed punt.
While the defense did not allow any points, they did allow 354 yards to the Scots, including 232 through the air. They bent but did not break.
Whitewater got a very workman-like day out of their offense. QB Matt Behrendt passed for 213 yards on 17-21 passing with three touchdowns. Jordan Ratliffe had 13 carries for 100 yards and 3 scores. Ryan Givens added two more touchdowns and 97 yards on just 8-carries.
There is a reason the Warhawks are ranked No. 1 and it starts with 42.1 points per game and 8 points per game allowed. Those are incredible numbers that demonstrate how dominating this team is. They gave up double-digits only three times all season, and had two shutouts. Meanwhile the team’s offense had at least 30 points in all but three games this season.
The Warhawks have four backs who gained at least 431 yards rushing this year, led by Dennis Moore who has 105-carries for 706-yards and 3 touchdowns. Jordan Ratliffe is second on the team with 595 yards, but he leads in rushing TDs with 9, and Nick Patterson has 536 more yards and 7 scores.
Behrendt ranked in the top 1o in the country in passer efficiency at 173.6, and his 69.4 percent completion rating with just 2 interceptions shows how deadly accurate he is. The Whitewater QB has 2472 yards passing and 28 TDs this season. Justin Howard has been his primary target with 60 catches for 825 yards and 6 touchdowns, and Jake Kumerow led the team in touchdown receptions with 10, to go along with 707 yards receiving.
This is a defense that can go two and three deep at virtually any position and not show any drop-off. The defensive line is just ridiculously good, with six guys able to start. As a unit the defense recorded 31 sacks, 17 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.
The Wabash Little Giants have the numbers to match up against Whitewater. They have averaged 40.6 points per game, and given up 11.8 points per game. While they have a dynamic passing game, their run-game is just brutal. They have gained 2654 yards, with Tyler Holmes leading the way with 1116 yards and 10 touchdowns. A perfect complement to Holmes is Mason Zurek, who has 758 yards rushing and 11 scores. The two are just beasts to try to stop.
Speaking of beasts, QB Michale Putko is making a name for himself as well. He has gained 234 yards and 4 touchdowns rushing, and is pretty good as a passer as well, throwing for 1745 yards and 21 touchdowns. Putko has thrown just 3 interceptions this season, and has an outstanding 63.9 percent completion rate. Drake Christen continues to be his favorite target, catching 71 balls for 935 yards and 9 scores. Houston Hodges has 49 catches for 651 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Wabash may not have the best defense in the country, but if there is one thing they can do it is get after the quarterback. With the 6 sacks they recorded last Saturday, they now have 54 on the season. Outside linebacker brothers Cody and Ethan Buresh continue to be absolute beasts at attacking the line of scrimmage, and have a real flair for chasing down quarterbacks, each with 11 sacks.
These are two teams that both know how to play defense and have very strong offenses. Behrendt is such a good quarterback, but the Whitewater Warhawks running game has me worried a bit. I love the pass rush of the Wabash Little Giants, and they will get pressure on Whitewater, but what concerns me is that they don’t turn pressure into turnovers. Love the sacks, not thrilled about the takeaways. I have anguished over this one because I can smell an upset, but I think Whitewater pulls this out. Take the Warhawks in a game closer than many may have thought, 31-21.
By Robert Pannier