NCAA Division-III Championship: Wisconsin-Whitewater vs. Mount Union
Matchup: On Friday night at Salem Stadium in Salem, VA, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks will take on the Mount Union University Purple Raiders in the Stagg Bowl to determine the NCAA Division-III Football championship. The Warhawks finished No. 1 in the final regular season D3Football poll, with the Purple Raiders finishing No. 3.
It is getting to the point that this game may need to be renamed the Whitewater-Mount Union classic as these two teams are meeting in the championship game for the ninth time in the last 10 years. The Warhawks have won five of these meetings, including the last four. Last year UWW won 52-14 to win the championship.
Clearly these two have a close familiarity with each other and that would cause most to think that this should be an outstanding game, however, only three of the previous eight championship games between these two have been decided by seven points or less.
How They Got Here:
Wisconsin-Whitewater rolled through the regular season, going 10-0, 7-0 within the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC). They won eight games by at least two touchdowns, and posted two shutouts.
In the playoffs, the Warhawks have struggled to maintain the dominance that they showed early in the season. After defeating Macalester College in the first round 55-2, UWW found themselves in a close battle with Wabash before pulling away in the second half to win 38-14. In the third round, the Warhawks looked like they were going to be upset as they trailed 33-16 entering the fourth quarter, but a 21-point outburst in the final quarter gave them the 37-33 victory, sending them to the semifinals. Last week, the No. 1 team jumped out in front of Linfield 14-0, only to watch the Wildcats battle back to tie the game. Early in the fourth quarter Whitewater retook the lead on a touchdown by Dennis Moore, and held on for the 20-14 win.
Mount Union won the Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC), after posting a 10-o regular season record, going 9-0 in the OAC. They rolled over their opponents, scoring at least 58 in each of their first nine games, before beating arch-rival John Carroll 31-24 in the conference championship.
In the playoffs the Purple Raiders are continuing to prove that they have an offense that cannot be stopped. Their first round opponent, Adrian, was obliterated 63-3, then Mount Union crushed Washington and Jefferson 67-0 in their second round matchup. Two weeks ago the Purple Raiders faced John Carroll again, and the OAC champs came out on top again, winning 36-28. Last week they took on No. 4 Wesley, completely dominating them, 70-21. As lopsided as that score was, the game was not even that close.
Coaches Comparison: Lance Leipold vs. Vince Kehres
This will be Coach Leipold’s last game at the helm of the Warhawks, as he will be moving on to become the head coach at Buffalo of the FBS. With the kind of career that Leipold has had it is easy to see how he would be in demand. This is the Whitewater head coach’s eighth season and he has an unbelievable career record of 108-6. No doubt that he will be pulling out all the stops to get No. 109. He has five national championships, and is looking for his fifth 15-0 season. Coach Leipold is a coach who gets the most of his players, and he has shown in this post-season that his team has incredible heart.
Mount Union is known for winning, and the Purple Raiders Coach has continued that tradition well. Coach Kehres is finishing his second season with the team, and a 28-1 record proves that he as good as it gets. His only loss was last year to UWW, so there is no doubt that he will be looking for a little payback.
Analysis: These are two of the very best coaches in college football, and so the chess match between the two will be exciting. Edge: Even.
Quarterbacks: Matt Behrendt vs. Kevin Burke
Both of these quarterbacks are absolutely outstanding. These two are in the top 10 in virtually every quarterback category, with Burke having the edge in each one. Last weekend Behrendt struggled against Linfield, but still managed to get the job done against a very talented Wildcats defense, throwing for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the post-season, Behrendt has been hot one week, cold the next. Fortunately for the Warhawks, this is the week he is scheduled to be hot. He has had a great season with 3305 yards passing, 38 touchdowns, a 67.2 percent completion rating, and a 171.5 passer efficiency.
Burke continues to be ungodly good in these playoffs. He threw for 415 yards and 7 touchdowns last weekend, with six of those touchdown passes coming in the first half. The Purple Raiders QB is a national player of the year winner and has shown that he is as cool in the pocket as it gets. He is No. 1 in the country in yards passing (4089) and passer efficiency (187.7). Add in the fact that he has 49 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions and it is easy to see why he is difficult to stop.
Analysis: No disrespect to Behrendt, but Burke is the class of Division-III football, and he has shown during these playoffs that he will not be stopped on his quest for a national title. Edge: Mount Union.
Damion Moore showed last weekend that he is a difference maker. His 30-yard scamper was the game winner for Wisconsin-Whitewater, and he put up an impressive 112 yards rushing on just 19 carries against a very good Linfield defense. Moore has 1050 yards rushing this season and 5 TDs, and his backup, Jordan Ratliffe, is dangerous as well, rushing for 834 yards and 9 touchdowns. If the Purple Raiders do not respect the running game of the Warhawks they will get burned.
Bradley Mitchell had 93 yards rushing off of just 12 carries last weekend. With the team up 56-0 at half, and Burke having an incredible day throwing the ball, the team did not lean on their sophomore running back, but he proved all season long that he can carry the rock. Gaining 1144 yards and 19 touchdowns is impressive, but his 7.8 yards per carry average is just outstanding. Logan Nemeth is an excellent backup (737 yards rushing, 8 TDs), and Jamal Johnson (580, 6), Burke (520, 10), and Brandon Williams (411, 8) all gained at least 411 yards rushing this season.
Analysis: UWW has a good attack with Moore leading the way, but Mount Union is incredible. Edge: Mount Union
Both of these teams have an outstanding pair of wide outs. Wisconsin-Whitewater has Justin Howard (76 catches, 1089 yards, 11 TDs) and Jake Kumerow (58, 986, 13), and Mount Union has Taurice Scott (75, 1047, 11) and Roman Namdar (63, 1152, 17). Each of these four young men are game changers, and so it is likely that all four will find double teams whenever they take the field. What that means is that the other guys are going to have to make their presence known. That works in the favor of UWW.
Behrendt will use his entire complement of receivers. Nine players on this team have at least 10 catches this season. Joe Worth made 46 catches for 513 yards and Ricky Finco made 20 catches for 226 yards. Only four other Purple Raiders had double-digit catches, but two of those four players put up huge numbers. Luc Meacham (44, 652, 8) and Sherman Wilkinson (41, 690, 8) are outstanding talents. These two combined for 11 catches, 147 yards and 4 touchdowns last weekend against Wesley College. If Scott and Namdar are being double-teamed, this duo will make them pay.
Analysis: This is a deep group of receivers for both teams. They each have real playmakers at this position. The depth of UWW is just a little better. Edge: Slight Edge to Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The Warhawks have a very young offensive line, but they have delivered the goods in these playoffs. There is good size in this group, and they keep their quarterback upright.
When Mount Union last Matt Keith it was a big loss, but the rest of the line has stepped up. They have great size and skill, led by Alex Goff.
Analysis: Both of these teams have outstanding offense lines. Edge: Slight Edge to Mount Union.
The Warhawks have outstanding cornerbacks, led by Brady Grayvold. Most teams are afraid to challenge the senior, but when they do he makes them regret their choice. Marcus McLin and Dylan Morang play corner as well, and both are outstanding. Ryan Winske is a very good safety, who had a big interception against Linfield. He tackles well and seems to always be involved in plays. The other safety, Zach Nellis, also had an interception last weekend. This is a very good secondary.
Junior safety Alecx Kocheff leads the Mount Union secondary, and he is the kind of play-making safety that coaches love. He can sack the quarterback (4), defend passes, force fumbles (3), and make plays when the ball is in the air (3 picks). Tre Jones leads the team in interceptions with 6, and he had a huge interception that he turned into an 85-yard return for a touchdown last weekend. Cody Pogorelc and Wil Hiteshue also had interceptions last weekend. This is a very focused group, who have speed and great instincts.
Analysis: The Purple Raiders have a great group of defensive backs, but the secondary of Wisconsin-Whitewater has been a big reason why the team has kept moving toward the championship game. Edge: Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Jordan Dischler is a high-motor guy who can do it all. He leads the team in tackles, plus he has 2.5 sacks, an interception, 6 forced fumbles and 11 pass defenses/breakups. He leads by example, and always has his hat in the play. Paul Foster and Matt Seitz join Dischler to form an outstanding group of linebackers.
Mount Union has a quality group of linebackers as well. Hank Spencer is the best all-around defender in the group, and Jonathan Gonell is the big hitter. Leshawn Luke fills out the group.
Analysis: Dischler is a difference maker. Edge: Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The Warhawks have six guys who could start for virtually any other team in the country. Mykaell Bratchett, Zach Franz, Tim Regan, John Flood, Ben Threloff and Brandon Tamsett are relentless pass rushers, who can stop the run and hold the point of attack. Tamsett leads this group in tackles with 41, plus he has 3.5 sacks. Bratchett leads the team in sacks with 8.5 including two against the Wildcats last Saturday, and Franz is second with 7.0. He also had a sack last weekend.
Tom Lally, Josh Butler, Charlie Avilla, and Mike Furda combine to make an outstanding defensive line. Furda leads the Purple Raiders in sacks with 9, followed closely behind by Butler with 6. Lally has 5. This group is very active and can play both the run and pass very well. Both Furda and Butler had 1.5 sacks in last week’s win over Wesley.
Analysis: Both teams have great speed, skill, and tenacity at this position. I like UWW’s depth a little more here, but Mount Union’s starters are very difficult to stop. Edge: Even.
The Warhawks have a good special teams unit, but no one player stands out. Will Meyer has made 9-13 field goals, with a long of 38. Lake Bachar is the team’s punter. He has a 38.6 average, and has dropped 19 punts inside the 20. Justin Howard is the team’s primary kickoff specialist, posting a 23.0 yards per return average, and Marcus McLin has a punt return average of 14.5 yards.
Mount Union has a couple of gems in their special teams in kick return man Taurice Scott and kicker Edward Ruhnke. Scott is averaging 38.6 yards per return and his long is a 97-yard return for a touchdown. Ruhnke handles both kicks and punts. His punt average is 33.8, but he has dropped 21 inside the 2o yard line. He has looked good on field goal attempts, making 25 of 30, with a long of 47. Tim Kennedy handles most of the punt returns, averaging 14.4 yards per return.
Analysis: Mount Union has the edge is each area of special teams. Edge: Mount Union.
Outlook: These are the two best teams in the country, not only this year, but over the last 10 years. Mount Union is looking for their 12th title and Wisconsin-Whitewater their sixth. In the last ten years, these two have played for the title nine times, so there is going to be a lot of familiarity with each other’s teams.
There is no doubt that the Warhawks will be wanting to send Coach Leipold out with a title, and that would be a great Hollywood ending. However, this is not Hollywood. Mount Union has looked incredible all season, and has really stepped up their game in the playoffs. Only one team (John Carroll University) has even shown any ability to get within three touchdowns of the Purple Raiders. UWW may have a slightly better defense, but their offense is simply not going to be able to put up enough points to get the job done. Take Mount Union, 52-24.
By Robert Pannier