The No. 1 ranked University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks will take on the No. 20 ranked Wittenberg Tigers on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. The Warhawks finished 10-0 in the regular season, winning the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) and then defeating Lakeland in the first round of the playoffs last Saturday. Wittenberg went 9-1 in a season that saw them win the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC). They defeated Thomas More to advance.
How They Got Here
UW-Whitewater opened the season with three straight non-conference wins. The Warhawks scored 110 points in the first games of the season, before defeating Morningside 35-21. UW-Whitewater opened their conference play with three very close wins, defeating UW-Platteville 30-24, UW-Oshkosh 17-14, and then UW-LaCrosse 32-22. Three weeks later they would squeak by UW-River Falls 27-20, and close the season off with a 34-16 victory over UW-Stout.
The Warhawks would down Lakeland in the first round of the playoffs, 45-27. UWW jumped out to a 28-0 lead before Lakeland would get on the board. Josh Ringelberg scored the first two touchdowns of the game and Chris Nelson added two touchdown passes. Heading into the half it was 31-7, and the Warhawks extended their lead to 38-7 on another Nelson TD toss early in the third quarter. Lakeland would score 20 of the game’s final 27 points but would fall short.
Nelson made just 15 pass attempts, completing 10 of them for 214-yards and 3-TDs. Ringelberg rushed for 150-yards and 3-TDs. Yuri Pogosyan had 2-sacks. Bryce Lezczynski led the team with 8-tackles.
Wittenberg started out the season 5-0, with their biggest win coming over Wabash, last season’s NCAC champs. They would fall to Denison, 24-21, but won the last four in decisive fashion. That included a 40-0 win over Hiram, a 35-3 victory over Oberlin, and a 64-17 crushing of Kenyon. They closed with a 45-8 victory over Allegheny.
The Tigers traveled to Thomas More in their first round matchup and came away with a 33-30 triple overtime victory. The Tigers jumped out to a 17-0 lead on two touchdown runs by Jake Kennedy and a 48-yard field goal by Will Gingery. Thomas More battled back with 17 unanswered points of their own to tie the score, and then took the lead on CT Tarrant’s second straight TD run. Jake Kennedy’s 13-yard TD pass to Luke Landis tied the score late in the fourth quarter and sent the game to overtime. Both teams settled for field goals through the first two OTs. In the third TO, Cole Mathias missed a 40-yard field goal, but Gingery hit a 37-yarder to give his team the victory.
Kennedy threw for 237-yards and a TD. He also gained 56-yards on the ground and rushed for 2-touchdowns. Gingery made 4 of 5 field goals, including a 48-yarder. Terrance Crowe and Dustin Holmes each made 16-tackles. Jack Kayser made 12.
UW-Whitewater PPG: 36.5, Rushing YDs/Game: 203.9, Passing YDs/Game: 216.8, Total YDs Game: 420.7
Wittenberg PPG: 35.5, Rushing YDs/Game: 185.3, Passing YDs/Game: 225.3, Total YDs Game: 410.5
UW-Whitewater PPG: 15.3, Rushing YDs/Game: 78.6, Passing YDs/Game: 299.2, Total YDs Game: 377.8
Wittenberg PPG: 11.5, Rushing YDs/Game: 90.3, Passing YDs/Game: 225.5, Total YDs Game: 315.8
Why UW-Whitewater Will Win
- This is the top ranked team in the nation for good reason. One of those reasons is that they never panic. They have been in a lot of close games and won them all. Poise is a big reason why they will advance.
- With Wittenberg not being able to run the ball, Whitewater will focus on the QB and will cause some mistakes.
- Colin Buck is a dominant shutdown corner and will give Kennedy only half the field to throw to.
Why Wittenberg Will Win
- Last week, we said that the reason Wittenberg would defeat Thomas More was because of Will Gingery. He is an incredible talent and he was the difference in that game, kicking four field goals, three in OT to send his team to victory. If this is a close game, Gingery will be the difference.
- The Tigers get a lot of pressure on the quarterback from many different players. They could easily rattle the two sophomore QBs.
- Wittenberg doesn’t have a dominant running back, but they have three guys who are all really good. They can put a fresh body out there who has skill and energy, really challenging this Whitewater run defense.
This is no offense to Wittenberg in anyway. They are a good team that has played well all season. They are just facing a team that knows how to win and go all the way, being just a year removed from being NCAA Division-III Champions. It will be a close one early on, but expect the Warhawks to pull away after the half. Take UW-Whitewater, 38-20.
By Robert Pannier