On Saturday, the No. 1 ranked University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks will welcome the Lakeland Muskies in the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. UW-Whitewater won the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) after going 10-0, 7-0 in the conference. They were ranked No. 2 in the nation for much of the season, but a loss by Mount Union on the final weekend gave them the top ranking. Lakeland finished first in the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference (NACC) after going 5-1, 7-3 overall. Their 55-25 victory over Aurora made them conference champions, as both teams went 5-1.
How They Got Here:
A year from being removed as national champions, the Warhawks find themselves in familiar territory, atop the nation in the rankings. They opened the season with a 51-3 drubbing of TCNJ and never looked back. Their closest contest this season was a 17-14 victory over No. 5 UW-Oshkosh. Only three times this season did UW-Wisconsin fail to score at least 30-points in a game.
Lakeland opened up the season with a big 27-24 win over Carroll and then beat Albion by two. Following a 56-0 loss to fellow playoff entrant UW-Platteville, the team beat Concordia (WI) before falling to Adrian 28-21. They would split their next two games before winning the final three games of the season. The win over Aurora on November 5 gave them the title, and they would have back-to-back 50-plus point games against Aurora and Rockford (52-30) to finish the season.
UW-Wisconsin: 35.7 PPG, 198.0 Rushing/Game, 216.3 Passing/Game, 414.3 Yards/Game
Lakeland: 31.9 PPG, 160.1 Rushing/Game, 257.7 Passing/Game, 417.8 Yards/Game
UW-Wisconsin: 14.1 PPG, 83.8 Rushing/Game, 295.2 Passing/Game, 379.0 Yards/Game
Lakeland: 30.1 PPG, 175.1 Rushing/Game, 209.4 Passing/Game, 384.5 Yards/Game
Players to Watch
Drew Patterson leads the UW-Whitewater offense, rushing for 974-yards and 13-TDs. Jarrod Ware and Cam Maly are excellent backups, combining for 709-yards and 9-touchdowns. Cole Wilber usually gets the second half off with his team up so much, so his numbers are not impressive, but he is a quality starter, throwing for 10-TDs and 1,515-yards in 201-attempts. Marcus Hudson is the top receiver, making 38-catches for 611-yards and 3-scores.
It is true that the Warhawks don’t have a particularly flashy offense, but the defense is just unreal. It starts with a shutdown secondary led by Bennett Young, who led the team with 7-interceptions, including one for a touchdown. Vince Mason added 5-picks. Brandon Tamsett led the team with 4.5-sacks.
Michael Whitley is the starting quarterback for Lakeland and he is as good one. The QB threw for 2,318-yards and 19-touchdowns. His two favorite targets are Dezmen Morse (43-catches, 691-yards, 5-TDs) and Kezlow Smith (33, 729, 9), but four other players had at least 18-receptions. Whitley also rushed for 387-yards and 9-touchdowns. He is the real deal. Dezmon Eddie leads the team with 651-yards rushing and he scored 7-TDs.
The Lakeland defense is led by Airiss Hargrow who made 92-tackles, including 3-sacks. Kevyn Lewis was third on the team in tackles (70) and led in sacks (3.5). Mason Ross, Dujuan Darling, and Chris Dickson each made 3-interceptions.
The Lakeland Muskies are a good team, but they are facing the best team in the nation. While the UW-Whitewater offense is not overwhelming, their defense is ridiculously good, and they are able to score a touchdown or two on their own. It was a great season for the Muskies but their playoff run will end early. Warhawks win, 59-3.
By Robert Pannier