NCAA Division-III Football Playoffs Semifinals: Wisconsin-Whitewater vs. Linfield
Matchup: On Saturday at 3:30 P.M. Eastern Time, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks will host the Linfield College Wildcats at Perkins Stadium in Whitewater, WI in the semifinals of the NCAA Division-III Football playoffs. Whitewater finished No. 1 in the final regular season D3Football poll, while Linfield finished N0. 10.
This is a rematch of last year’s playoff contest. In that game Linfield jumped out to a 17-0, but then gave up 28 unanswered points, losing 28-17. The Wildcats outplayed the Warhawks for the most part, but three turnovers turned the tide.
Wisconsin-Whitewater finished 10-0 in the regular season, 7-0 in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, where they were conference champions. The Warhawks dominated Macalester College in the first round of the playoffs, winning 55-2. In the second round, Wabash was able to keep the game close at half before falling 38-14. Last weekend Whitewater looked like they were going to be upset by Wartburg, but a furious fourth quarter comeback led to 21-points and the 37-33 victory.
Linfield wen 8-1 during the regular season, 6-1 in the Northwest Conference, where they won the conference title. They rolled over Chapman 55-24 in the first round, before defeating No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor 31-28 the next weekend. Last Saturday, the Wildcats crushed Widener 45-7 to reach the semifinals.
Wisconsin-Whitewater Offense vs. Linfield Defense
Wisconsin-Whitewater Offense: 41.4 points per game, 221.2 yards rushing per game, 268.7 yards passing per game.
Linfield Defense: 12.6 points allowed per game, 92.0 yards rushing allowed per game, 130.6 yards passing allowed per game.
Linfield Offense vs. Wisconsin-Whitewater Defense
Linfield Offense: 47.7 points per game, 211.0 yards per game rushing, 251.2 yards per game passing.
Wisconsin-Whitewater Defense: 10.4 points allowed per game, 88.2 yards rushing allowed per game, 190.8 yards passing allowed per game.
Quarterback: Matt Behrendt vs. Sam Riddle
What is there to not like about Behrendt? Top five quarterback in passer efficiency (175.5), 3121 yards passing, 36 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions, an outstanding 68.6 percent completion rating. This young man is a sniper with the ball in his hands, and he has all the intangibles that a coach loves. He has a national championship under his belt, so pressure is not getting to him, and he has shown an incredible amount of poise, rallying his team from a 17-point deficit last weekend with 21 fourth quarter points.
Riddle is the Rodney Dangerfield of these playoffs. In comparison to Behrendt, Joe Callahan (Wesley’s QB), and Kevin Burke (the Mount Union QB), his numbers do not look as impressive as theirs, but no one should be fooled by that. Riddle is a dual threat quarterback who is as dangerous as any QB remaining in the post-season. The Linfield signal-caller has thrown for 2638 yards, with 33 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He has a top 10 passer efficiency at 169.5, and has completed 62.1 percent of his passes. In addition, he can run, gaining 479 yards to lead his team, and he has 12 rushing touchdowns.
Analysis: Behrendt may have the better passing numbers, but overall Riddle has proven that he is the Whitewater QB’s equal. Edge: Even.
Running Backs: Dennis Moore, Jordan Ratliffe, Nick Patterson, Ryan Givens vs. Spencer Payne, Tavon Willis
Moore is the leading rusher for the Warhawks, and at 5-9, 190 he has proven to be a load to bring down. The junior has rushed for 921 yards and 4 touchdowns on 139 carries, with an outstanding 6.6 yards per carry average. Ratliffe is 5-10, 212 and has the power to break tackles and the speed to outrun most defenders. He has gained 734 yards and leads the team with 9 touchdowns. Patterson might be the quickest of the group. He put up a gaudy 6.9 yards per carry average, rushing 78 times for 548 yards and 7 TDs. Givens added 416 yards and 5 scores.
Eight players on the Wildcats have at least 127 yards rushing this season, led by Riddle. Second on the team is sophomore running back Spencer Payne. The 5-8, 208 pound back is a beast with the ball in his hands, gaining 154 yards in the first two games of this post-season, but he struggled in a torrential downpour last weekend against Widener.
Analysis: Wisconsin-Whitewater has an outstanding corral of rushers, and any of the four can make big plays or move the pile to get an extra yard or two. Linfield simply can’t measure up to that. Edge: Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Receivers: Justin Howard, Jake Kumerow, Joe Worth vs. Charlie Poppen, Evan Peterson, Erick Douglas
Seven different Warhawks receivers had at least 14 catches, led by Howard who has 74 catches for 1050 yards and 11 TDs. Kumerow is 6-5, 205 pounds and is a great red zone target. He has 53 catches for 928 yards and 12 touchdowns. Worth has 46 catches for 513 yards and 4 TDs.
Seven different Wildcats players have at least 11 catches, led by Charlie Poppen, who has 62 catches for 1027 yards and 15 TDs. Poppen is the guy that Riddle is most often looking for, but Peterson is a target he likes as well. The 6-1, 185 senior has 33 receptions for 503 yards and 9 touchdowns, and Douglas has 25 catches and 3 TDs
Analysis: Both teams have one primary receiver that their quarterbacks like to throw to, but are deep enough that they can spread the ball around as well. UWW is just deeper at this position and Kumerow, in particular, is a challenge to defend. Edge: Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The Warhawks have a young offensive line, with no seniors and three juniors manning the position. That should not give anyone the impression that this is not a quality group. They have size and a great amount of skill. Sophomores Spencer Shier and Pat Costello and freshmen Ricardo Ramos and Ben McFall are all over 6-0, 300 pounds. They give Behrendt time to throw and their running backs holes to run through.
Linfield has an outstanding offensive line led by 6-5, 300 pound OT Steven Schultz. There is a great deal of talent and experience for the Wildcats. Seniors Kyle Jones and Owen Fritz are quality linemen who adjust to defensive schemes well.
Analysis: Both teams have outstanding offensive lines, but I do like the experience of Linfield a little better here. Edge: Slight edge to Linfield.
Brady Grayvold is an outstanding shutdown corner, who has 7 interceptions and 23 pass breakups/defenses. At 5-11, 200 the senior has great size and speed and his matchup with Poppen should be a good one. Marcus McLin and Dylan Morang are quality cornerbacks to complement Grayvold. Morang has 15 pass defenses/breakups to go along with an interception. Ryan Winske and Zach Nellis are outstanding safeties who can cover and defend the run well.
Jordan Giza plays a roving position, but has the size and speed to play safety, so we will put him here. The senior is a heavy hitter, who covers well. Keanu Yamamoto augments Giza well and Mikey Arkans adds to a very quality group of hitters and playmakers in this secondary. Kennedy Johnson, Kyle Belcher, and Dylan Lewis are the primary cornerbacks, and they are very good. Belcher has a pick and 11 pass breakups.
Analysis: One of the things that makes Linfield so good is that their corners have good size, and can make plays with the ball in their air. Edge: Linfield.
Jordan Dischler is a relentless pursuer of the football, who can cover (1 interception, 11 pass breakups/defenses), chase the quarterback (2.5 sacks), and who simply makes plays (85 tackles leads the team). Paul Foster joins him and is also a versatile linebacker who can handle any defensive assignment well. Matt Seitz is a freshman, but he is already proving he is going to be an outstanding linebacker.
The Wildcats don’t have a linebacker like Dischler, but Mike Nardoni is an outstanding defender. Eli Biondine is a high-motor player, and along with Westly Meng this is fine group of linebackers.
Analysis: While Linfield has some quality at this position, Whitewater has an outstanding group which has great speed and skill. Edge: Wisconsin-Whitewater
The Warhawks go six deep on their defensive line, and there is no drop-off when any one of them enters the game. Mykaell Bratchett, Zach Franz, Tim Regan, John Flood, Ben Threloff and Brandon Tamsett all having great skill and speed. Brachett leads the team with 6.5 sacks and Franz is right behind him with 6.0. Threloff adds 4.5 sacks. Tamsett has 3.5 and leads the defensive linemen in tackles.
This defense is led by defensive lineman Alex Hoff, who at 6-4, 240 has good speed and size. Hoff is a major challenge for any offense to figure out how to stop. He entered last week’s game with 12 sacks, and left with 17. He was a major reason that the Wildcats were able to disrupt the entire offensive game plan of the Widener Pride. Joining Hoff is Jeremy Girod, who also has good size and speed. He has 5.0 sacks as does Trey Farber. The Wildcats are incredibly deep at this position as well, with ends Curtis Terry, Asa Schwartz, and Marq Randall have all recorded 4.0 sacks each.
Analysis: The Warhawks have such a great group of linemen, and it is really difficult to imagine that any group could be better, but Linfield is just that. Hoff is a complete beast, and if he is not slowed down Behrendt is going to spend a lot of the afternoon on his back. Edge: Linfield.
Will Meyer isn’t called upon to kick field goals very often, but he has done a good enough job, making 9-13, with a 38-yarder being his long. Lake Bachar is an outstanding punter, averaging 40.1 yards per punt, and dropping 16 inside the 20. McLin leads UWW with a 14.5 yards per return average. Howard has a 23.0 kick return average.
Michael Metter made 13 of 19 field goals, with his long being 49-yards. Kevin McLean averages 38.7 yards per punt and has 23 downed inside the 20. Bryan Cassill averaged 22.0 yards per kickoff return, and Giza averages 12.0 yards per punt return with one returned for a touchdown.
Analysis: Neither team has a special teams unit that is going to change the tide of games, but Bachar is an outstanding punter who does give his defense better field position. Edge: Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Coaches: Lance Leipold vs. Mike Drass
What can you say about a coach that is 107-6 in eight seasons? It is hard to think up enough adjectives to describe a guy that has five national championships in that time, while working on his fifth 15-0 season. That is the job that Lance Leipold has done at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He has arguably had the best run that college football has ever seen.
Joseph Smith is in his ninth season at Linfield, and he is now 82-16. This is the team’s sixth straight trip to the playoffs, and his first trip to the semifinals. Smith gets the most out of his players, and is able to adjust to the talent he has.
Analysis: No disrespect to Coach Smith at all, but it is hard to go against a guy with five national championships and a .900-plus winning percentage. Edge: Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Outlook: A 4-0 prediction in the quarterfinals makes me 24-4 for these playoffs. Both of these teams are on a roll. UWW has not lost in two seasons, and they have proven that they are never out of a game. Last week’s comeback is one that will not be forgotten anytime soon. They have great skill at all positions. Linfield is looking like a team of destiny. They already knocked off the No. 2 team, and now shoot for No. 1. I really like the Wildcats defense in this contest, and the Warhawks look vulnerable. Linfield let last season’s game get away. I don’t see that happening this year. Take Linfield 38-31.
By Robert Pannier