Story and photo courtesy of Wisconsin-Whitewater Athletics
Levell Coppage (Oak Park, IL/Oak Park)'s record-tying four touchdowns and fourth 200+ rushing game of the season, and a UW-Whitewater defense that held the number one scoring team 34 points under its season average keyed the Warhawks' 34-14 win over Salisbury University in a NCAA III playoff quarterfinal game at Perkins Stadium in Whitewater, Wisconsin Saturday. UW-W, 13-0, will host the University of Saint Thomas, 13-0 and 45-10 winner of Saint John Fisher in a quarterfinal played in Saint Paul, Minnesota Saturday, December 10 at a time to be announced later.
Whitewater's first possession began at their own 30. Nine plays later Coppage, the second leading rusher in NCAA III history with 7,594 yards, scored on a ten yard run at 5:44 to put Whitewater up 7-0.
The second time UW-W got the ball was late in the first quarter. The drive spilled over into the second quarter, senior quarterback Matt Blanchard (Lake Zurich, IL/Lake Zurich) connecting with junior wideout Tyler Huber (Mukwonago/North Prairie) on a 41 yard pass that put the ball on the Salisbury four. Coppage ended the drive with a one yard run, to up the score to 14-0 with 12:00 in the second.
The Warhawks made it three-for-three, covering 71 yards in 11 plays for an Eric Kindler (Germantown/Germantown) 26 yard field goal with 1:54 left in the half.
Salisbury made a bid to put some points on the board in the time remaining, but Eric Hart's 48 yard attempt, just his fifth of the season (1-5) was blocked by senior linebacker Greg Arnold (Big Bend/Mukwonago) and Whitewater went into the lockerroom with a 17-0 lead.
Blanchard went 8-8 for 116 yards in the first half, and contributed 35 yards rushing. Salisbury, which came into the game averaging 6.6 yards per rush as a team, was limited to 67 yards on 21 carries (3.2/rush) in the first half.
Salisbury junior wide receiver Juma Richards set up the Sea Gulls first score with a 64 yard end around that put the ball at the Whitewater 10. Three plays later junior quarterback Dan Griffin rushed for nine yards to put Salisbury on the scoreboard, trailing 17-7 with 8:27 left in the third.
After an exchange of punts, Whitewater started on its 11. After two plays gained nine yards, Coppage broke up the middle and out-raced Salisbury defenders for an 80 yard score, the longest run from scrimmage in his career, topping a 75 yard run in the 2010 Stagg Bowl against Mount Union. His previous long this season was 60 yards September 17 against Campbellsville. Whitewater led 24-7 with 3:46 in the third quarter.
Warhawk Junior defensive back Chris Pendergast (Hartland/Arrowhead) ended the Sea Gulls' next drive with an interception, his first of the year, at the UW-W 12.
The UW-W defense came up with another turnover the next time SU had the ball, with junior DB Ryan Wenkman (Wisconsin Dells/Wisconsin Dells) forcing a Griffin fumble that sophomore defensive end Loussaint Minett (Whitewater/Whitewater) recovered at the Whitewater 29.
Whitewater's offense followed that up with a ten play drive that included back to back 20+ yard rushes by Blanchard and Coppage to set up Kindler's 37 yard field goal with 8:43 left in the game, putting Whitewater ahead 27-7.
Salisbury's next drive lasted two plays, the second a pick of a Griffin pass by junior defensive back Noah Timm (Two Rivers/Two Rivers), his team-leading seventh, which gave UW-W the ball at the Sea Gulls' 16. Three Coppage runs, the last for six yards, put UW-W in front 34-7 at the 6:19 mark.
The Sea Gulls mounted their best drive of the day as the clock wore down. They covered 80 yards in ten plays, 50 of them coming on four Tyler Curley rushes, the last of them a six yard score to make the final margin 34-14.
Salisbury came into the game leading Division III in scoring at 47.5 points per game, and with the top rushing average at 364.8 per game. They finished Saturday with 244 yards on 45 attempts, 5.2 per carry. Sixty of those yards came on the last drive. Senior running back Randal Smedley came in averaging 91.0 per game and 6.8 per carry, and he wound up with 27 yards on 9 carries (3.0). The Sea Gulls were also averaging 23.8 yards per reception, on just eight attempts per game, but Griffin completed just 2-7 for 49 yards -- and his first two interceptions of the season. Junior DB Chris Everett topped Salisbury with nine tackles.
Coppage carried the ball 31 times for 213 yards, the ninth time in his career he's gone over 200 yards, including four times in postseason play, twice in 2010 and twice this year. Blanchard finished 11-17 for 134 yards, and Huber led both teams with five receptions for 67 yards. Arnold topped Warhawk defenders with eight tackles.
The win increased Whitewater's college football (all divisions) leading win streak to 43 games. That is the fifth longest in NCAA football history, four short of Oklahoma's 47 game streak under Bud Wilkinson (1953-57). UW-W is 30-6 in NCAA in ten postseason runs, with 2011 the seventh in a row that the Warhawks have advanced to the NCAA III playoff semifinal round.
The Warhawks will face the University of Saint Thomas in the NCAA Division III Championship semifinal match-up on Saturday, December 10, at Perkins Stadium, time TBA.