NCAA Division-III Football Playoffs, Round 3: Wisconsin-Whitewater vs. Wartburg
Matchup: On Saturday at 1 P.M. Eastern Time the University of Wisconsin Whitewater Warhawks will welcome the Wartburg Knights in the third round of the NCAA Division-III Football playoffs. This game is a matchup of two of the top five teams in Division-III football. The Warhawks were No. 1 in the last regular season D3Football poll and the Knights were No. 5.
How They Got Here:
Wartburg finished the regular season 10-0, 7-0 in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference where they were crowned champions. They had big non-conference wins over Bethel University and Augsburg College.
The Knights first round matchup was against Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) foe St. Thomas. Wartburg jumped on top 13-0, but the Tommies took the lead 14-13 in the second quarter. Brandon Domeyer scored from 3-yards out to put the Knights on top 20-14 just before the half.
The second half began with Wartburg getting a field goal to increase their lead to 23-14. St. Thomas scored to make the game 23-21, but the Knights responded with another touchdown by Domeyer to make the game 30-21. Again the Tommies responded, but QB Logan Schrader camr right back, passing to Will Ebert for a 10-yard score, and it was 37-28. St. Thomas kicked a field goal and recovered the onside kick to give them one last chance. Into Wartburg territory they moved but Logan Pitz made a huge interception in the closing seconds to seal the victory, 37-31.
Domeyer led the offense with 138 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. The defense recorded 3 sacks and had three takeaways (2 interceptions and a fumble).
Next up for Wartburg was the St. John’s Johnnies, another MIAC foe. The Johnnies all-American running back, Sam Sura, was hurt in the first series of the game, and after that the Knights defense dominated the contest.
The game was scoreless at half, but on the Knights second drive of the second half they would finally break the tie. Schrader capped off an 82-yard drive with a 4-yard strike to Taylor Jacobsmeier for the touchdown. St. John’s scored on their next drive and just like that a scoreless tie was 7-7 in back-to-back drives.
In the fourth quarter Alexi Johnson’s 15-yard field goal made it 10-7 St. John’s. It was time for the Knights to respond and they did, going 61-yards in 6-plays to retake the lead on a 1-yard run by Domeyer for the 14-10 lead. Now it was time for the defense to come up big. St. John’s moved to the Wartburg 12 and looked like they would take the lead, but on third and 10, Nick Martin was sacked by Miguel Lozan and Spencer Capitan, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Drew Kool. Seven-plays later the Knights were in the end zone when Schrader took the ball on a quarterback keeper and ran virtually untouched for 56-yards and the score. The game ended 21-10.
Schrader had another tough game in the air, passing for just 87 yards, but he rushed for 119 and a score. Domeyer was the hero of the game with 109 yards and a touchdown. The Knights defense recovered two key fumbles and sacked the St. John’s quarterback six times.
The Warhawks were also 10-0 in the regular season and 7-0 in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. They won the conference title for the second straight year and finished undefeated in conference play for the eighth time in the last 10 years.
Their first round match was against the Macalester Scots, who were making their first NCAA playoff appearance. The Warhawks jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead, and led 34-0 at half on their way to a 55-2 victory. The running game was especially prolific, with Jordan Ratliffe gaining 100 yards on 13 carries, scoring three times, and Ryan Givens had 97 yards rushing and 2 TDs on just 8 carries.
Next up came Wabash and the Little Giants were looking like they were going to come up with a big upset. UWW led 7-0 after the first quarter on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Matt Behrendt to Justin Howard. In the second quarter Wabash evened the score on a beautiful 79-yard punt return by Ethan Buresh. A 27-yard field goal by Will Meyer made it 10-7 Warhawks at half, and some appeared a little worried that they were going to see an upset. Those thoughts didn’t last long.
Four second half touchdowns put UWW on top 38-7, and the game would end 38-14. Behrendt threw three second half touchdowns, two to Justin Howard, and Brady Grayvold returned an interception 34-yards for another score. Optimism was soon crushed.
Behrendt struggled early, throwing 2 interceptions, but had an impressive second half, finishing the day 19-30 for 299 and 4 touchdowns. Dennis Moore ran for 107 yards on 22 carries, and Howard had 6 catches for 126 yards and 3 TDs. The defense also delivered, recording 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and an interception.
Wartburg Offense vs. Wisconsin-Whitewater Defense
Wartburg Offense: 42.6 points per game, 224.7 yards rushing per game, 247.6 yards passing per game.
Wisconsin-Whitewater Defense: 8.5 points allowed per game, 83.7 yards rushing allowed per game, 176.9 yards passing allowed per game.
The Wartburg Knights have one of the most balanced attacks in these playoffs. This has enabled them to advance despite QB Logan Schrader struggling in the first two games. RB Brandon Domeyer has delivered for the team all season, gaining 1101 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns. He has rushed for 247 yards in the playoffs so far, and is a key to the success of this team. He has proven that as long as he can move the ball his team can win.
Schrader has been a key cog to this offense despite the recent struggles he has had. No one can fault him for his performance against St. John’s. They do have one of the best secondaries in Division-III and he proved that he can make plays with his legs as well. His 174.4 passer efficiency ranks him sixth in the country, and he has thrown 29 touchdowns while being intercepted just five times. This season he has a solid 62.2 percent completion rating and has passed for 2829 yards.
Taylor Jacobsmeier has continued to be Schrader’s favorite target and with good reason. The senior has good size (6-2, 185), and he makes plays. He has 60 catches for 985 yards and 8 touchdowns. Robbie Anstoett has only 34 catches, but he has made the most of them, scoring 10 times and gaining 538 yards. While these two are Schrader’s favorite targets, he has spread the ball around. Six different players made at least 10 catches, and all six had at least 232 yards receiving. They all had at least 2 touchdown receptions as well.
The Warhawks have a defense that doesn’t have huge individual numbers by any one player. That is because lots of guys play, and there is no drop off when a person is replaced. This defense is deep, and it begins with their defensive line. This line goes six deep with Mykaell Bratchett, Zach Franz, Tim Regan, John Flood, Ben Threloff and Brandon Tamsett all having great skill and speed. Bratchett led the team with 5.5 sacks and Franz was right behind him with 5.
The Knights have a quick and physical offensive line, that all weigh around 280. If they can make blocks and give Schrader time, Wartburg has a real shot here. The play of the lines is going to be a key to the game.
Behind that stout defensive line is a solid group of linebackers led by Justin Dischler. The junior is always around the ball, and when he gets there he makes plays. He has 2.5 sacks, 11 pass breakups/defenses, a pick and 6 forced fumbles. If he is not controlled this is going to be a long day for Wartburg. Sophomore Paul Foster and freshman Matt Seitz are also outstanding talents.
If Schrader can find time to throw he still has to deal with one of the more talented secondaries in the playoffs. Brady Grayvold is an outstanding cover corner, who has 7 interceptions and 20 pass breakups/defenses. Marcus McLin plays the other corner and doesn’t have the numbers of Grayvold, but that is primarily because teams do not like to throw his way. Safeties Ryan Winske and Zach Nellis have experience and read plays well. Combined the two have 4 interceptions 22 pass breakups/defenses, 103 tackles, and 3 fumble recoveries.
Analysis: This is going to be a great matchup all the way around. Can the Warhawks pressure Schrader enough to force him into some bad decisions? Can the offensive line make holes for Domeyer. How will Schrader attack this secondary? This is going to be a great game, and in this matchup is where the game will likely be won. The play of Schrader the last two weeks is a concern. Edge: Slight edge to Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Wisconsin-Whitewater Offense vs. Wartburg Defense
Wisconsin-Whitewater Offense: 41.8 points per game, 220.4 yards per game rushing, 262.3 yards per game passing.
Wartburg Defense: 13.1 points allowed per game, 125.4 yards rushing allowed per game, 149.6 yards passing allowed per game.
QB Matt Behrendt has not had a huge playoffs, but he has not had to. His team jumped out to a big lead on Macalester, and the team was content to just run out the clock. However, last week he was needed big time, and after struggling in the first half, he came out on fire in the second and was the difference in the game. His 173.4 passer efficiency is just behind Schrader’s and he is as good as any quarterback in these playoffs. The senior has thrown for 2776 yards and 32 touchdowns, while being intercepted just 4 times. It is not just the numbers that this young man has either. He already led his team to one national championship and has them looking like they are on track for another.
The receiving corps for this team should be called the “Flying J’s,” as Justin Howard, Jake Kumerow and Joe Worth lead the team in receiving. Each has at least 44 catches, with Howard leads the team with 67. He also leads with 956 yards. Kumerow was hurt for 4 games this year, and with him back in the lineup the team is flying high. He finished the season with 782 yards on 47 catches and led the team with 11 touchdowns. Worth has 497 yards receiving and 4 TDs.
The running back by committee is working at UWW. Ratliffe and Givens came up big in the first playoff game, and Dennis Moore delivered last weekend. Moore is the leading rusher on the team with 815 yards and three touchdowns on 127 carries. Ratliffe leads the team with 9 rushing touchdowns and is second in rushing with 654 yards. Nick Patterson has 539 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The Wartburg defense generates a great deal of pressure. They had 32 sacks led by LB/DL hybrid Zach Twedt who had 10 and Cole Hinders who had 6. Throw in linebacker Gunner Tranel who led the team with 114 tackles and Drew Kooi who had 85 tackles and the Knights have a great front seven. They can force plays and make things happen.
A problem is that they don’t generate turnovers well. They have just 11 interceptions and 8 fumble recoveries, although they did get two against both St. John’s (2 fumble recoveries) and St. Thomas (2 interceptions). They will need at least two in this contest if they are going to win this game.
They do have two absolutely outstanding defensive backs in Spencer Capitan and Logan Pitz. Between them the two only have 2 interceptions, but have 59 pass breakups/defenses, led by Pitz’s 34. They can cover well and hold down pass attacks, so Behrendt is going to have to be at his best to make some plays.
Analysis: The Knights get great pressure up front, but they don’t have the players to hold the Warhawks back for long. Edge: Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Outlook: In these playoffs I am 20-4 in my predictions. Two of my losses have been Wartburg wins. It should be no surprise that I am not selecting them in this game either, but they should see that as a good sign for their team. They love proving me wrong. I am not going to be wrong in this one, however. I thought Wabash was a better matchup against the Warhawks, and they still won by 24. The Knights will keep it a close game at the half, but in the end the Warhawks win 42-20.
By Robert Pannier