/notables/2009/defense-key-for-warhawks

Warhawks finish what they started

Lane Olson forced two fumbles, had nine tackles and a sack as UW-Whitewater got three takeaways in the second half.
Photo by Ryan Tipps, D3sports.com

By Keith McMillan
D3football.com


SALEM -- Levell Coppage took a handoff, bounced outside, darted 31 yards to the pylon and turned Division III on its head once again.

Mount Union's stirring comeback from a 28-14 halftime deficit to tie Stagg Bowl XXXVII until Coppage's clinching score with 1:17 left nearly ended with the Purple Raiders' 11th national championship in 13 trips to Salem, and fourth in five games here against UW-Whitewater. Instead, the Warhawks finished what they started, and their 38-28 win was their second in three seasons under D3football.com Coach of the Year Lance Leipold.

UW-Whitewater's victory meant it has alternated national championships the past four seasons with Mount Union, cementing the Warhawks' spot as The Machine's equal. And there are Division III fans who claim to be bored seeing the same two teams face off in Salem year after year, there was nary a negative thought to be uttered as Saturday's Stagg Bowl came down to the final minutes. With Mount Union holding a 3-2 edge in the series but UW-Whitewater standing as national champions, a rather respectful rivalry has taken hold.

“They've all been battles in the three years I've been here,” said Leipold of the clashes with the Purple Raiders, who along with the Warhawks now form a co-dynasty lording over the other 200-plus playoff-eligible teams.

Mount Union coach Larry Kehres had high praise for Warhawks quarterback Jeff Donovan, who was 26 of 40 for 323 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Donovan did most of his damage in the first half, when he was 17 of 22 for 224 yards and helped the Warhawks convert all nine third-down opportunities.

“He made every third-down play in the first half,” Kehres said. “We couldn't get off the field.”

But as he and son Vince Kehres, the defensive coordinator, have been known to do, Mount Union made the perfect adjustments in the second half. Walking up their corners for press man coverage, mixing in zone help over the top, and changing up their normal 4-2-5 alignment by showing 3-3-5 and six-defensive backs at times, the Purple Raiders forced Whitewater to go 1 of 9 on third down in the second half, igniting the faithful in the crowd of 3,468.

That gave Mount Union an opportunity to get back in the game, first with a 23-yard Kurt Rocco-to-Cecil Shorts touchdown pass, and later on a 5-yard Rocco scramble. Herm Timmersjo's point-after tied the game at 28 with 12:08 left.

UW-Whitewater, which scored touchdowns on its first four possessions and didn't punt until the second half, went three-and-out twice and four-and-out once in three fourth-quarter possessions with the score tied. Two of Mount Union's three possessions with the game tied ended with Terrance Morring fumbles, and a third, which that started with 5:00 left, ended with a Lane Olson sack.

Whitewater then leaned on its best offensive player.

Coppage ran for 11 and four yards before Donovan found Aaron Rusch crossing the field for a 14-yard again. Two plays later, Coppage recognized a line stunt, bounced an inside run outside the tackles, and beat Mount Union cornerback Ryan Renbarger in a race to the goal line.

“We know at any time a big play can happen,” Coppage said. And in a game where the big plays came fast and furiously in the first half, then dried up with better defensive play in the second half, his 31-yard scoring run made the difference.

Rocco, with a chance for a career-defining drive like one he led in regular season at Capital, threw behind A.J. Claycomb, missed Shorts down the field – Shorts was well-covered by Olson, a linebacker – and then connected with Shorts for a short gain.

On fourth down, Wesley Hicks stripped Rocco as he stepped up in the pocket, and UW-Whitewater linebacker Kyle Supianoski recovered. The Warhawks added a 44-yard Jeff Schebler field goal for the final margin.

Supianoski found it hard to put into words what the victory meant, saying it was greater than he'd ever imagined. Donovan, who missed spring practices and baseball season to focus on academics, didn't consider it personal redemption, just a dream come true.

“I really didn't think about last year, except for a few days after the game,” Donovan said of the 31-26 loss in Salem in 2008. “This season was a totally new mission. We went 15-0, you can tell we were focused on winning one game at a time.”

Whitewater, featuring 18 players who started last season's Stagg Bowl, moved the ball as they did in 2008, but finished this time. They came away with touchdowns on all four trips inside the red zone, while drawing just four penalties, turning it over once and not giving up a single sack. Mount Union's Joseph Millings was inactive for the game, but the UW-Whitewater line still neutralized defensive linemen James Herbert, Lambert Budzinski, Clantz Liggett and Matt Williamson.

Mount Union outgained the Warhawks, 471-467, but Whitewater outrushed the Purple Raiders 144-88 and averaged 3.9 yards per carry to Mount Union's 2.8. The Purple Raiders lost three fumbles, all in the second half, but had the game tied for the majority of the fourth quarter after a dubious start.

“I'm proud of my team,” Kehres said. “They battled back, and played with heart and dignity.”

Kehres also said if he had an MVP vote, it would have gone to Shorts, who despite the Warhawks' rolled coverages, hauled in 10 passes for a game-high 185 yards and two scores. The D3football.com Offensive Player of the Year came into the postgame news conference on crutches.

“He's a very talented athlete, we knew we'd have our hands full,” said Leipold of Shorts. “I thought [defensive coordinator Brian] Borland had a good plan to contain him, but I don't think you're ever going to stop him.”

Coppage, who carried 22 times for 113 yards and three touchdowns, proved unstoppable himself, earning Most Outstanding Players honors. Rusch added eight catches for 109 yards and a leaping touchdown.

Leipold said his team, going back to unspecified instances in the spring, said his team showed a lot of drive to get back to Salem, and unselfishness in doing so.

“They couldn't care less who got the stats,” Leipold said. “They didn't put up a lot of eye-popping individual numbers, but they were a great team, and that's the kind of team I want to associate myself with and be in charge of.”

Leipold, a quarterback under Bob Berezowitz and native of the Southeastern Wisconsin area, has now earned a second Walnut and Bronze for his alma mater. In the past five seasons, the UW-Whitewater program has stood up to Division III's premier dynasty. Nothing about Saturday's toe-to-toe tussle was a surprise on either side.

In fact, the only upset was that the City of Salem got the game played at all. With 18 inches of snow hitting the Roanoke Valley between Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, it took an all-night field-clearing effort, plus a switch from an 11 a.m. kickoff to a 4 p.m. start, to get the game to go off. But by the time the first pass was thrown, Donovan, a Wisconsin native, called the conditions “perfect.”

And for every Warhawk player, coach and fan, so was the ending.

Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Framingham State 50, Massachusetts Maritime 7
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Muhlenberg 56, at Juniata 40
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at Dean 25, Becker 10
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Salisbury 27, at TCNJ 7
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MIT 38, at Catholic 21
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Merchant Marine 56, at Maine Maritime 31
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at Hobart 34, Endicott 17
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at Morrisville State 44, Nichols 22
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at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
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at Albright 9, Widener 7
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Christopher Newport 16, at Montclair State 8
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at Westminster (Pa.) 41, Bethany 14
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Middlebury 41, at Bowdoin 14
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Williams 24, at Colby 7
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Amherst 36, at Hamilton 6
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Ursinus 35, at Moravian 17
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Trinity (Conn.) 51, at Bates 0
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at LaGrange 38, Brevard 28
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Geneva 33, at Thiel 24
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at Plymouth State 37, Mass-Dartmouth 7
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Kean 28, at Southern Virginia 14
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Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
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Union 17, at Curry 14
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at Carnegie Mellon 37, Thomas More 17
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Lycoming 44, at King's 41
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at Western New England 21, Husson 14
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Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
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at DePauw 51, Wooster 24
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at Ohio Wesleyan 37, Allegheny 21
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at Misericordia 43, Wilkes 14
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at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
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Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
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at N.C. Wesleyan 35, Maryville (Tenn.) 25
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Huntingdon 31, at Ferrum 28
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at McDaniel 27, Gettysburg 20
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at Buffalo State 33, RPI 21
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Franklin and Marshall 27, at Susquehanna 24
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at Denison 45, Oberlin 17
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 10, Westminster (Mo.) 7
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at Eureka 44, Crown 20
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at Lebanon Valley 24, FDU-Florham 14
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at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
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at Ohio Northern 35, Otterbein 7
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at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
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at Rose-Hulman 37, Defiance 14
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at Marietta 49, Muskingum 25
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Franklin 59, at Bluffton 30
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at Hanover 64, Anderson 21
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Mount St. Joseph 31, at Manchester 14
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Worcester State 34, at Westfield State 10
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Coast Guard 13, at Norwich 9
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at Fitchburg State 31, Bridgewater State 29
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Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
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at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
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North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
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at Millsaps 17, Sewanee 13
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at Rhodes 35, Birmingham-Southern 9
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at Hendrix 36, Austin 24
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at Martin Luther 34, Greenville 20
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at Trinity (Texas) 41, Chapman 35
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at Loras 73, Buena Vista 34
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at Wartburg 30, Washington U. 20
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at Gustavus Adolphus 51, Hamline 7
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Augsburg 48, at Carleton 28
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at Bethel 64, St. Olaf 7
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at Luther 21, Dubuque 17
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at Central 52, Nebraska Wesleyan 27
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Simpson 38, at Coe 33
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Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
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St. Norbert 66, at Grinnell 13
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at Knox 13, Ripon 6
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at MacMurray 32, Iowa Wesleyan 14
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Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
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Southwestern 37, at Louisiana College 34
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Monmouth 26, at Macalester 0
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at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
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at Springfield 42, WPI 10
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at Cornell 55, Beloit 36
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at Brockport 28, Utica 14
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at Hartwick 24, St. John Fisher 21
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at UW-La Crosse 41, Carroll 6
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at St. Scholastica 37, Minnesota-Morris 3
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at George Fox 44, UW-Eau Claire 0
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at Western Connecticut 37, Salve Regina 23
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at UW-Stevens Point 41, Adrian 28
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at Wesleyan 24, Tufts 17
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at Averett 35, Methodist 6
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at Berry 28, Centre 14
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at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
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at Grove City 24, St. Vincent 14
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at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
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at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
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Carthage 55, at Augustana 14
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Chicago 28, at Illinois College 7
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at Sul Ross State 35, McMurry 7
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at Wilmington 37, Capital 30
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Lake Forest 42, at Lawrence 26
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at East Texas Baptist 79, Belhaven 40
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Arizona Christian 56, at Whittier 38
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Sep. 28: All times Eastern
6:30 PM
Shenandoah at Randolph-Macon
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Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
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Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
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at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
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Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
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Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
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at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
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at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
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Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
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at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
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Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
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North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
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Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
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at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
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Final
at Brockport 28, Utica 14
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Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
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at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
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at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
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