Wisconsin-Whitewater Advances to NCAA Division-III Championship
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks do not make it easy, but one thing they do is win. For the 31st time in a row, the Warhawks came out on top, this time over Linfield College, sending UWW to the championship game for the second year in a row, and the ninth time in the last 10 years.
The game started out as a defensive struggle, with neither team being able to maintain possession for much of the first quarter. Finally, a tipped ball on a pass by Linfield QB Sam Riddle was picked off by Ryan Winske and returned to Wildcats 32. Three plays later, Warhawks QB Matt Behrendt passed to Jake Kumerow for an 8-yard touchdown giving his team the lead.
The scored remained 7-0 until Whitewater got the ball on their first possession of the second quarter. The Warhawks started at their own 34, and gained moved the ball to the Linfield 43 after a pass interference call. The drive seemed to stall after Behrendt was sacked on first down and second down produced no gain, making it third and 13. On the next play, the Warhawks dialed up a little swing pass to running back Dennis Moore, who took the ball 46-yards for the score to make it 14-0, and heading into half UWW looked like they were in complete control of this game.
The Warhawks defense was completely dominating the contest, allowing just 120 yards of total offense to the Wildcats and creating two turnovers. Riddle had just 1 yard rushing and was 6-14 passing for 64 yards. Meanwhile Behrendt was efficiently moving his team. He had 122 yards passing and 2 touchdown tosses.
Last weekend the Warhawks were down 17 heading into the fourth quarter, before mounting a feverish comeback, scoring 21 in the fourth quarter to win 37-33. This week it was the Warhawks opponent that came out of the half fired up and tied the score.
On the Warhawks second possession of the half, All-American Alex Hoff forced a fumble that was recovered by Jordan Giza for the Wildcats. Six plays later Riddle hit Levi Altringer for a 14-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to seven.
On their next possession, Linfield began at their own 12, and used an 11-play drive to tie the game. Riddle was finally finding some room to run, gaining 13-yards and 31-yards on two different second and 10 plays, and adding 17 more on the final play of the drive for the touchdown.
The score was tied and momentum had clearly shifted. UWW needed their offense to take the team on their backs and carry them to the championship.
With 8:54 left in the game, the Warhawks offense took possession of the ball at their own 20. The Linfield defense stepped up creating a third and 8, but Behrendt found Jordan Ratliffe for 11-yards and a first down. Two plays later it was third and 5, and again the Warhawks QB connected for another first down, this time for 9-yards to Jake Kumerow. Two rushes by Ratliffe gained 20 yards, and set up a second and 1 at the Wildcats 33. The ball was handed to Moore, who made a key cutback and then sped the distance for the touchdown, giving his team the lead. The extra point was missed making it 20-14, and giving the Wildcats an opportunity to pull this out.
There was 4:55 left in the game, and Riddle and the Wildcats were 73-yards for the end zone. Spencer Payne gained 5-yards on first down, and Riddle followed with an 11-yard scamper for the first down at the Linfield 43. Riddle then made a huge pass to Altringer for 30-yards, putting the ball at the UWW 27. The tension was mounting. Could the Warhawks defense hold them? Were the Wildcats going to score and win on an extra point?
From the 27, Riddle was held to no gain on a first down run. On the next play his pass went incomplete setting up third and 10. The Wildcats set up a screen to Atringer, who looked like he would be tackled in the backfield, but he was able to make a move and use his speed to get seven yards, creating a fourth and 3. Twenty yards away from tying the game Riddle went back to pass. The Warhawks decided to send pressure, and John Flood bull rushed his way into Riddle, causing him to fumble, and giving the ball back to UWW.
With 1;51 left in the game and Linfield only having two timeouts left, UWW just needed one first down to win the game. On their second play, Ratliffe refused to go down and eventually made a move to free himself for 23-yards clinching the game. Three plays later the game was over and Whitewater was on their way back to the title game.
Ratliffe and Moore both finished with 100 yards rushing (Moore with 112 and Ratliffe 100). Behrendt did not have a huge day, but played well enough to help his team win. The senior was 14-28 for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns. Moore also added 59 yards receiving.
The Warhawks defense came up huge all game long. They held the dangerous Riddle to 17-37 for 190 yards and just 83 yards on the ground. They also intercepted two of his passes and forced two fumbles. It was an outstanding effort.
Friday night will see a rematch of last season’s Division-III title game, which saw the Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks dominate Mount Union 52-14. This should be an exciting rematch, and will continue a trend that has seen one of these two teams win the title for the last nine years. Wednesday the Minor League Sports Report will have a preview of this game.
By Robert Pannier