December 18, 2010

Changing of the guard?

More news about: Mount Union | UW-Whitewater
Steve McCollom forced a fumble and intercepted a pass for UW-Whitewater.

By Keith McMillan
D3football.com

SALEM, Va. – UW-Whitewater’s victory in Stagg Bowl XXXVIII on Saturday evened the series of six championship meetings in a row against Mount Union at three titles each, but with three in the past four seasons it ushered in a new era in Division III: that of the Warhawks’ dominance.

With 30 consecutive victories and back-to-back national titles, there’s a new undisputed king of non-scholarship football. Mount Union, tied or within a field goal in the fourth quarter of all three losses to the Warhawks, is still seated next to the throne, with the rest of the division on a lower tier. But a program whose foundation was laid by Bob Berezowitz before he passed off the coaching duties to Lance Leipold, who improved to 57-3 in four seasons, now graduates a senior class that has known more seasons to end with championships than without.

In 2005 and ’06, before this year’s seniors were Warhawks, UW-Whitewater had reached the pinnacle only to be sent back to Wisconsin scratching their heads. Mount Union led 28-7 on the way to a 35-28 win in ’05. In 2006, the Purple Raiders outscored the Warhawks 21-3 in the second half of a 35-16 win. The Warhawks could see the apex, but couldn’t quite reach it.

“Until you win one, you really can’t walk tall,” said Warhawks cornerback Matt McCulloch, who had two interceptions in his final collegiate game. “It’s wasn’t until we won in ’07 that we realized ‘Wow, they are human. They can be beat.’ ”

Every season, 30 other teams join the Warhawks and Purple Raiders in the postseason. And there are myriad reasons – from depth of program, to coaching to raw talent to extra weeks of practice from previous Stagg Bowl runs – why the same two keep emerging. But getting over the mental hurdle was apparently part of the process.

“Ever since then, we come in with the sense we’re going to win the game,” McCulloch said.

Saturday started well – Whitewater led 10-0 early in the second quarter before turnovers started a 21-point Mount Union spurt. Down 11, the Warhawks never panicked, and figure they’d find a way to get back into the game. And not only did they get back in, they retook the lead before the half. Mount Union scored 21 in the second half but never crossed the goal line again.

The Warhawks are a nose-to-the-grindstone sort of program. Everything about them – from their ‘Pound the Rock’ mantra to their ‘one week at a time, never assume we’ll be back to Salem’ mentality says as much. Even their on-field style, sticking with the run and letting their offensive line wear teams down over the course of the game, is workmanlike.

Defensive tackle Luke Hibner, like McCulloch, spoke of looking up to the seniors from the ’07 team as role models. And even though Hibner said he’d have more hardware than those guys – “seventy-five percent of my seasons ended with a championship,” he realized aloud during the postgame news conference – those guys would always be the ones who, in his mind, set the standard.

“Without them, we wouldn’t have any of this,” he said.

Now, young Warhawks will look to Hibner’s class and consider them the torchbearers.

“I don’t want to be the senior class to not do well at Whitewater,” junior safety Steve McCollum said.

It’s a sentiment Mount Union players are familiar with. In Alliance, the week-before-Christmas trip to the Stagg Bowl is penciled in as part of the holiday season. Championships are expected, even though players say they never assume they’ll win. After going 10-4 in 14 trips to Salem, no one would blame the Purple Raiders for thinking championships are their birthright. With Larry Kehres (303-23-3) at the helm for 25 seasons, they’ve earned respect in all corners of the D-III world.

For the first time since Mount Union first won in Salem in 1993, a championship team was asked to consider whether it had surpassed the Purple Raiders as the new standard bearer.

“I’ll leave that for you to answer,” Leipold said.

Hibner joked that the Purple Raiders have almost as many trips to Salem as he is years old.

“They’ve been doing it for so long,” McCulloch said. “I don’t think we’re the team to beat every year like they are.”

Perhaps with a little time to reflect, McCulloch will change his perspective. After all, it's been six consecutive seasons with the Warhawks in the top two. The past two years, a late Levell Coppage run capped a 15-0 campaign.

Before the rest of the division gives up on scaling the new mount, remember that one superb Whitewater senior class gave the current Warhawks the belief they could be kings of the hill. And at the moment, they are. The journey of a thousand miles – interpreted differently based on how far away from the apex the other 223 playoff-participating schools are – begins with one step.

Along the road to Salem, the Warhawks and Purple Raiders often stress that getting back is never guaranteed. And as Mount Union learned, getting back even with a score to settle and a chip on the shoulder doesn’t necessarily lead to victory. But it certainly lights the fire which will burn throughout the offseason and fuel the attempt to reach the top.

Asked if losing three of the past four Stagg Bowls means UW-Whitewater has surpassed Mount Union as the team which others are judged by, Kehres replied with a wink and a smile. “They’re kind of ticking me off. I might have to come back and win three of the next four.”

comments powered by Disqus
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Anna Maria at Coast Guard
7:00 PM
Franklin and Marshall at Lebanon Valley
7:00 PM
Ursinus at Millersville
7:30 PM
Manchester at Trine
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Belhaven at Millsaps
8:00 PM
Bethel at UW-Stout
Sep. 4: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Salisbury at Albright
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Gettysburg at Bridgewater (Va.)
7:00 PM
St. Lawrence at Morrisville State
7:00 PM
MIT at WPI
Live Stats Video
7:00 PM
Westfield State at Nichols
7:00 PM
Becker at Fitchburg State
Live Stats Video
7:00 PM
Stevenson at N.C. Wesleyan
7:00 PM
Mount Ida at Mass-Dartmouth
Live Stats Video
7:00 PM
Curry at Bridgewater State
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Wilkes at Muhlenberg
7:00 PM
Averett at Washington and Lee
Live Stats
8:30 PM
Luther at UW-La Crosse
Sep. 5: All times Eastern
TBA
Buffalo State at Otterbein
TBA
Buena Vista at UW-Platteville
12:00 PM
Hobart at Dickinson
12:00 PM
Norwich at RPI
12:00 PM
Heidelberg at Cortland State
12:00 PM
Maine Maritime at SUNY-Maritime
12:00 PM
St. John Fisher at Thomas More
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Alfred at Husson
Live Stats Video
12:00 PM
Framingham State at Endicott
Live Stats
12:00 PM
TCNJ at Christopher Newport
12:00 PM
Worcester State at Salve Regina
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Grove City at Juniata
12:00 PM
Westminster (Mo.) at Southwestern Assemblies
1:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Montclair State
1:00 PM
Lycoming at Susquehanna
1:00 PM
William Paterson at Alfred State
1:00 PM
Alma at Finlandia
1:00 PM
Springfield at Western New England
1:00 PM
Ferrum at Emory and Henry
1:00 PM
Earlham at Olivet
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Centre at Hanover
1:00 PM
Wabash at Hampden-Sydney
Video Audio Audio
1:00 PM
Washington and Jefferson at Wooster
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Rowan at Widener
1:00 PM
Ithaca at Union
1:00 PM
Brockport State at Oberlin
1:00 PM
John Carroll at St. Vincent
1:00 PM
Johns Hopkins at Randolph-Macon
1:00 PM
Castleton State at Plymouth State
1:00 PM
Methodist at Apprentice
1:00 PM
Waynesburg at Muskingum
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Case Western Reserve at Chicago
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Carnegie Mellon at Washington U.
Live Stats Video
1:30 PM
Wittenberg at Capital
1:30 PM
Illinois Wesleyan at Franklin
Live Stats
1:30 PM
Berry at Maryville (Tenn.)
Live Stats
1:30 PM
Monmouth at Hope
Live Stats Audio
1:30 PM
Bethany at Mount Union
Live Stats
1:30 PM
Bluffton at Wilmington
2:00 PM
North Park at Concordia (Wis.)
Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
Kenyon at Sewanee
2:00 PM
Beloit at Concordia-Chicago
2:00 PM
Rockford at Lawrence
2:00 PM
Wisconsin Lutheran at Lake Forest
2:00 PM
Carthage at St. Norbert
2:00 PM
Wheaton (Ill.) at Coe
2:00 PM
Jamestown at Concordia-Moorhead
2:00 PM
Macalester at Carleton
2:00 PM
Minnesota-Morris at Hamline
2:00 PM
Northwestern (Minn.) at St. Olaf
2:00 PM
Dubuque at St. John's
2:00 PM
Illinois College at Aurora
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at Simpson
2:00 PM
Hendrix at Austin
2:00 PM
Southwestern at Hardin-Simmons
2:00 PM
Knox at Eureka
2:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Martin Luther
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at Ripon
2:00 PM
Louisiana College at Huntingdon
2:00 PM
Loras at Elmhurst
3:00 PM
Pacific at College of Idaho
4:00 PM
George Fox at La Verne
4:00 PM
Puget Sound at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
Live Stats
4:30 PM
Misericordia at Utica
Live Stats Video Audio
5:00 PM
Western Connecticut at Hartwick
5:00 PM
Defiance at Adrian
6:00 PM
Moravian at King's
6:00 PM
Birmingham-Southern at LaGrange
6:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at Albion
6:00 PM
Redemption Christian College at Southern Virginia
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Guilford at Greensboro
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Allegheny at Thiel
7:00 PM
Gallaudet at Shenandoah
Live Stats Live Stats Video Audio
7:00 PM
Kalamazoo at Rose-Hulman
Live Stats Video
7:00 PM
Westminster (Pa.) at Hiram
7:00 PM
Marietta at Denison
7:00 PM
Anderson at Taylor (Ind.)
7:00 PM
Mary Hardin-Baylor at Ohio Wesleyan
7:00 PM
Frostburg State at Geneva
7:00 PM
UW-Oshkosh at Robert Morris University (Ill.)
7:00 PM
Greenville at Millikin
7:00 PM
Trinity (Texas) at Howard Payne
7:00 PM
Texas Lutheran at Sul Ross State
7:00 PM
Mount St. Joseph at Augustana
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
7:30 PM
Catholic at McDaniel
7:30 PM
Benedictine at Central
8:00 PM
McMurry at East Texas Baptist
8:00 PM
Lakeland at Carroll
8:00 PM
Augsburg at Wartburg
8:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Crown
8:00 PM
Iowa Wesleyan at Cornell
Maintenance in progress.