NCAA Division-III Semi-Finals: Warhawks vs. Purple Raiders

Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks Mount Union Purple RaidersNCAA Division Football Playoffs

No. 8 Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks (12-1)
No. 1 Mount Union Purple Raiders (13-0)

For the third straight season, and the ninth time in the last 10 years, the Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks and the Mount Union Purple Raiders will square off in the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. This one will be a little different, however, as this is not for the championship. The previous nine meetings were all in the title game, while this contest will determine who heads to the championship.

In those nine meetings the Warhawks are 6-3, including winning the last five. Last season Wisconsin-Whitewater won 43-34 in a game where the UWW defense intercepted four passes and QB Matt Behrendt threw for four touchdowns.

This is a different game. Behrendt graduated. Head Coach Lance Leipold took the job at the University of Buffalo, and it is Mount Union that enters the contest as the No. 1 team. This looks like the Purple Raiders have a shot at getting a little sweet revenge.

How They Got Here:

The Warhawks finished second in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, suffering their only loss to Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the conference champions. They still finished the season 9-1 and gained an at-large bid into the NCAA Division-III football playoffs.

In the first round, the Warhawks took on No. 17 St. Norbert and dominated the game from start to finish. Six different UWW players scored touchdowns in the 48-0 victory, and Jordan Ratliffe had 159-yards rushing and a touchdown on just 17-carries to lead the way.

In their Round 2 matchup, Wisconsin-Whitewater took on No. 4 Wheaton. It was tied at seven after the first quarter, but a 24-point second frame put the Warhawks ahead for good and they finished it off, winning 31-17. Ratliffe was impressive again, rushing for 192-yards and 3 TDs on 38-carries.

Last weekend UWW had a chance for a little sweet revenge as they took on the Titans looking to avenge their loss from earlier in the season. The Warhawks jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, only to see Wisconsin-Oshkosh come back with 10 of their own in the second to send it to half-time tied. In the third quarter UWW dominated, scoring three touchdowns to take a 31-16 lead. Marcus Hudson caught two touchdown passes from Chris Nelson, and Ratliffe’s five-yard touchdown run accounted for the other score. The Titans were not done, however. They rallied with two late scores, but their two-point conversion failed, and the Warhawks held on for the win, 31-29. Ratliffe came up big again, rushing for 165-yards and 2-touchdowns, and Hudson had 106-yards receiving and 2 TDs of his own.

Mount Union won the Ohio Athletic Conference after recording another undefeated campaign. The 10-0 Purple Raiders had the most impressive defense in the country, allowing just 31 total points during the regular season. Their offense was equally impressive, scoring at least 51-points in seven of those games.

In the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs Mount Union dominated St. Lawrence, winning 55-23. The Purple Raiders jumped out to a 41-0 lead as Logan Nemeth rushed for three touchdowns and 130-yards. QB Taurice Scott was impressive on the ground as well, rushing for 171-yards on 9-carries with a touchdown.

In the second round the Purple Raiders took on No. 18 Albright. Again, Mount Union grabbed the early lead, getting two touchdowns from Nemeth and a blocked punt they recovered for a score that aided the team to grab a 28-0 lead. The Mount Union defense was completely dominant, sacking the Albright QB 11 times and holding their offense to 172-yards. Mike Vidal, Mike Furda, and Tom Lally each had 2.5-sacks.

Last week the Purple Raiders defeated the No. 12 Wesley Wolverines. Mount Union grabbed the early lead once again, scoring three first-quarter touchdowns. The Wolverines responded with two scores to cut the deficit to seven, but four straight touchdowns by the Purple Raiders staked them to a 49-14 lead, and they rolled to the 56-35 win.

Team Comparison

Rankings: (National Rankings in Each Category Are in Parenthesis)

Mount Union Purple Raiders
Offense: Passing: 246.2 (62) Rushing: 318.5 (3) Total Offense: 564.7 (2) Points Per Game: 55.0 (1)
Defense: Passing: 143.5 (6) Rushing: 39.8 (1) Total Defense: 183.3 (1) Points Allowed Per Game: 7.6 (1)

Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks
Offense: Passing: 215.9 (117) Rushing: 231.9 (32) Total Offense: 447.8 (43) Points Per Game: 40.6 (22)
Defense: Passing: 209.5 (108) Rushing: 98.1 (15) Total Defense: 307.6 (36) Points Allowed Per Game: 12.4 (11)

Note: The Purple Raiders players are listed first in each comparison

Quarterbacks:  Taurice Scott vs. Chris Nelson

Scott is one of the most dynamic players in all of Division-III. With 3,004 passing yards and 755-yards on the ground he has clearly shown that he can beat opponents in a variety of ways. That has been on display in these playoffs and he is a huge key for the Purple Raiders success. He can make time for himself to throw, and when on the run he is the most dangerous player at this level.

Nelson is replacing a legend and has built quite a resume of his own. The junior has passed for 2,381-yards and 20-touchdowns this season, plus he has not hurt his team (just 2 interceptions). He is very accurate (66.3 completion percentage) and is smart with the football.

Advantage: Mount Union

Runnings Backs: Logan Nemeth vs. Jordan Ratliffe

While others may get a few carries in this game, this a true heavyweight matchup and so fans should expect to see a lot of these two beasts. Nemeth is No. 11 in the country in rushing with 1,523-yards and he has scored 25-touchdowns. He has simply come alive in this post-season run, running as an unstoppable force.

Ratliffe has a lot of experience leading the Warhawks to championships and there is no better back in the country to lean on when you need to move the chains. The senior has rushed for 1,615 yards, No. 7 in the country, and he has scored 23 TDs. He has to have a big game to take the pressure off of Nelson.

Advantage: Even

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: Roman Namdar, Jordan Hargrove, Tim Kennedy, Lane Clark vs. Marcus Hudson, Coelton Hrgich, Joe Worth, Tony Gumina

Mount Union likes to challenge opponents with four wide receiver sets, and it works well for them because no one can match their talent, at least not to this point.  Both Kennedy and Namdar are top flight receivers. Both went over 900-yards receiving, with Kennedy gaining 917 and Namdar 951. Kennedy is the possession guy, making 75-receptions, while Namdar is the guy that Scott looks for when he wants a big play. The senior has an impressive 16.6 yards per catch average and he is third in the country with 18-touchdown catches. As if those two aren’t enough of a challenge, Hargrove is tough to matchup against as well (675-yards, 7 TDs) and Clark has good hands and blocks exceptionally well.

Hudson is the big play receiver for the Warhawks, leading the team in yards (942), receptions (54) and TDs (9). Worth and Gumina are solid with great hands, and they complement Hudson well.

Advantage: Mount Union

Offensive Line: Mitch Doraty, Brooks Jenkins, Tyler Baker, Matt Fitchet vs. Tony Koepnick, Austin Jones, Jordan Mueller, Mitchell Schauer, Spencer Shier

If you like size and skill on the offensive line, then you have to love the Mount Union Purple Raiders. All their starters are over 6-1 and they all weigh in at least at 260. While not huge, they hold the line and are very athletic. With two sophomores starting they are a little young, but both Fitchet and Doherty are hogs when it comes to blocking.

The Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks also have a relatively young offensive line with three juniors and two sophomores starting, but this is a great line as well. They all have solid technique and block as well as any group you will find. This is one of the top five groups in the country.

Advantage: Wisconsin-Whitewater

Defensive Line: Durum Alarms, Mike Furda, Tom Lally, Mike Vidal vs. Brandon Tamsett, Zach Franz, John Flood, Trevor Boyle

The Purple Raiders have the best defensive line in the country, hands down. Lally is just a sack machine, recording 17 this season, including 2.5 last Saturday. When a big play is needed he comes through. Furda is used in a variety of different ways depending upon the formation, but he is outstanding no matter where he lines up. The senior has 11.5-sacks and is outstanding against the run and pass. Vidal and Alarms are both outstanding lineman, who aid their two ends in dominating the line of scrimmage, and both to get to the quarterback as well.

The Warhawks do not have nearly the defensive line that Mount Union does, but it is a good one. Flood leads the group with 5-sacks, with Franz coming in close behind with 4.5. All of them have great technique and are relentless in their pursuit of the ball carrier.

Advantage: Mount Union

Linebackers: Hank Spencer, Jonathan Gonell vs. Matt Seitz, Justin Dischler, Paul Foster

Furda will lineup at the linebacker position at times, but Spencer and Gonell are the two primary linebackers for Mount Union. Gonell is great near the line. He has great skills to attack the quarterback or stuff the run. Spencer can take on a running back or go out into pass coverage. Both have great instincts.

Dischler and Foster have as good of instincts as one can find. Dischler can track down the quarterback, or make plays in the passing game. He always seems to be around the ball, and is not afraid to get his hat into the fray. This can also be said about Foster, who leads the team in tackles and adds 4-sacks and 2 picks. Seitz complements these two well and is a playmaker in his own right.

Advantage: Wisconsin-Whitewater

Defensive Backs: Tre Jones, Louis Berry, Will Hiteshue, Nick Rodriguez, Alex Kocheff vs. Shawn Shillcox, Ryan Winske, Vince Mason, Dyland Morang

Kocheff is a not only a great player but a great leader. He has incredible instincts and his technique is as solid as it gets. Rodriguez is an outstanding cover guy, and Hiteshue can move around and play just about anywhere.

Winske is a great playmaker as well, whose best asset is his pass coverage. He is tied for the team lead in interceptions (5) and is second in tackles. Mason is an outstanding cover corner and Shillcox is also a great safety.

Advantage: Wisconsin-Whitewater

Special Teams:

The special teams units for Mount Union are solid but not spectacular. The one exception is place-kicker Jake Antel, who is 11-15 on field goal attempts and 9o-95 on extra-points. If this game is close, he is a difference maker.

The same can be said for Wisconsin-Whitewater. They are a solid group but no one stands out.

Advantage: Even

Coaches: Vince Kehres vs. Kevin Bullis

This is Coach Kehres’ third season as the Head Coach at Mount Union, and he boasts a 41-2 record during that time. He has taken this team to the title game twice and is one more win from his third straight title appearance. He is continuing the tradition of greatness at the school, and it is easy to see why Coach Kehres is having so much success. He is a brilliant Xs and Os guy, who knows how to motivate and lead.

Coach Bullis is in his first season as the head coach of the Warhawks, and has proven he was the right choice to succeed Coach Leipold. At 12-1 so far in his first year, he has the team in position for a third straight national championship. Coach Bullis is impressive in all ways that he leads this team with brilliance.

Advantage: Mount Union

Outlook: Ah, the classic grudge match. Wisconsin-Whitewater has restocked well and is ready to contend for another national title, but not this year. They are a year away from being truly elite again. Mount Union has lost the last five to the Warhawks, but that streak is about to come to an end. The Purple Raiders are awesome in every way. Take Mount Union to comfortably win this one, 48-27.

By Robert Pannier