Story courtesy of Wisconsin-Whitewater Athletics
Photo courtesy of the NCAA
In real estate its location, location, location. In the 2011 Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl it was field position, field position, field position as UW-Whitewater defeated the University of Mount Union 13-10 Stagg Bowl XXIX at Salem Stadium in Salem, Virginia Friday night as the Warhawks won their third consecutive NCAA III championship and fourth in five years.
The Warhawks ran out of the tunnel surrounded by a smoke machine and fireworks overhead, unveiling new uniforms, black tops with silver numbers, but it was the same old result as the silver looked more like gold when the clock turned to 00:00.
Whitewater moved the ball on its opening drive, taking the ball from its 30 into Mount Union territory. With a third and three at the Mount 14, Matt Blanchard (Lake Zurich, IL/Lake Zurich)'s pass was picked off in the end zone by Chaz Jordan, his second of the season. The pick was just the fourth of the season for Blanchard, and his first since the third quarter of the October 22 game at UW-Oshkosh. It was just the fourth time this season that UW-W did not score on its first possession of the game.
That was the most offense either team managed in the first quarter, with Mount gaining just 25 yards on two possessions in the quarter, and the Warhawks 79, 52 of those through the air on Blanchard's 5-7 passing.
Whitewater's third opportunity on offense began with the last play in the first quarter at their own 28. A key play on the drive was a pass interference penalty on Jordan that put the ball on the Mount 32. On the fourth play after the penalty Eric Kindler (Germantown/Germantown) booted a 44 yard field goal with 11:19 to put Whitewater in front 3-0. It also marked the sixth time in seven Stagg Bowl meetings that the Warhawks drew first blood. With the score coming on Whitewater's third possession it also marked the longest it has taken either team to score in the previous six meetings.
Mount Union's offense responded by moving the ball to Whitewater's 35, but Purple Raider QB Matt Piloto threw his eighth interception of the season, with UW-W's Chris Pendergast (Hartland/Arrowhead) coming down with his second interception of the season at the four yard line.
The Whitewater offense moved the ball out to the 48 to preserve field position, and Kris Rosholt (Reedsburg/Reedsburg)'s punt rolled dead at the 14 to pin the Raiders too deep for them to make anything happen with less than a minute left in the half.
It marked the third time in the seven Stagg Bowl meetings that the Warhawk defense had keep the Purple Raiders off the board in a half. Mount Union did not score in the second half of the 2010 game, making it four straight quarters UW-W has blanked UMU, and Mount did not score against UW-W in the first half of the 2007 game. The Warhawk defense has blanked opponents in 38 quarters this season, more than two-thirds of the play (56 quarters). Mount Union totaled 59 yards of offense in the first half, 28 on the ground on 11 carries. Whitewater totaled 142 yards, 60 rushing on 24 carries. Blanchard completed 8-10 passes for 82 yards.
Mount's opening drive of the second half didn't result in any points, but Brandon Mathie's punt was downed at the three in a game where field possession gained in significance as the clock ticked.
The battle for field position worked out for the Purple Raiders as their defense held and Kris Rosholt (Reedsburg/Reedsburg)'s punt went out at the UMU 48.
It took just one play for Noah Timm (Two Rivers/Two Rivers) to negate that advantage with his team-leading eighth interception of the season, and Piloto's second of the game, to set up the Warhawks at their own 44. A wideout screen to Tyler Huber (Mukwonago/North Prairie) moved the ball into Raider territory, at the 42. A sack and a holding penalty moved it back onto the Whitewater side of the field, and after an incomplete pass Rosholt was called on again to pin Mount Union back, and the return yielded no yards and UMU took over at their 16.
On first down Warhawk linebacker Ryan Cortez (Palatine, IL/Palatine, IL) sacked Piloto back to the five yard line. And it got worse for the Purple Raiders, as Piloto was swarmed at the goal line as he tried to pass, forcing a fumble that Cole Klotz (Elm Grove/New Berlin Eisenhower) recovered at the one. One play later Levell Coppage (Oak Park, IL/Oak Park) scored the 109th rushing touchdown of his career and Eric Kindler (Germantown/Germantown)'s kick made it 10-0 with 4:02 left in the third quarter.
The Purple Raiders used 17 plays to move from their 27 to the Whitewater one, and when the UW-W defense denied the end zone Tyler Almeida's 19 yard field goal put Mount Union on the board with 11:23 left in the game and Whitewater leading 10-3.
An exchange, with a poor Mount Union punt, favored Whitewater in the battle for field position, setting up the Warhawks at the Mount 43.
Whitewater inched the ball down the field, using seven plays to set up Kindler for a 30-yard field goal that made it 13-3 Whitewater with 5:34 remaining.
Mount Union's next drive broke the pattern, both because the drive went 72 yards and because one offensive play made a difference. Mount started on their 28, with Piloto connecting with Chris Denton on the longest offensive play of the game, a 33-yard pass that moved the Purple Raiders to Whitewater's 19. Four plays later Piloto hit A.J. Claycomb with an eight yard pass and the PAT shortened Whitewater's lead to 13-10 with 3:20 left in the game.
Whitewater went three and out, and it may have been appropriate that Rosholt rolled his punt out of bounds at the Mount Union 16 and the Purple Raiders got the ball back with 2:09 on the clock.
Mount faced a fourth and two at their twenty, and the Raiders kept their hopes alive with a short pass to the sidelines that gained the first down and stopped the clock. But no more. The Warhawks did not give up another yard, and a fourth and ten pass attempt was incomplete. Whitewater took over at the Purple Raider 34 with just over a minute left, and a third consecutive Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl trophy was headed back to Whitewater.
The Warhawk defense, the number one defense in the Division III playoffs, even with shutouts in two of four playoff games, may have come up with its best performance of the season. Mount Union was limited to 49 yards rushing on 27 attempts, and other than one play, kept Purple Raider receivers in front of them, content to limit yardage and extend the field.
UW-Whitewater also won the turnover battle, with one given up and three taken by Warhawk defenders. UW-W rolled through the five game playoffs with one turnover, while opponents gave up the ball 12 times.
In 39 Stagg Bowls a team has won three Stagg Bowls four times. Augustana College won four crowns (1983-1986), Mount Union did it twice (1996-1998 and 2000-2002) – and now UW-Whitewater joins that elite group.
Statistically, linebacker Kyle Wismer (Spring Grove, IL/Richmond-Burton) led Whitewater with 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Fellow 'backer Ryan Cortez (Palatine, IL/Palatine, IL) had nine tackles, a sack, and two tackles for a loss. Sophomore defensive end picked the biggest stage for a breakout game, earning Stagg Bowl Most Valuable Player honors. Minett, a hometown Whitewater High School product, was credited with three tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hurry – and the key fumble forced.
The win extended Whitewater's win streak, the longest active string in college football, to 45 games, three consecutive 15-0 seasons, also the fifth longest win streak in the history of NCAA football, two short of tying the University of Oklahoma's 47 game win streak compiled under Bud Wilkinson 1953-57.