December 18, 2010

Coppage carries UWW to Stagg Bowl repeat

Levell Coppage broke through for three touchdowns in Stagg Bowl XXXVIII.
Photo by Ryan Tipps, d3photography.com

By Ryan Tipps
D3football.com

SALEM, Va. -- From downfield, all that was visible was a wall of black-clad Mount Union defenders, an imposing sight that seemed to box in the UW-Whitewater rushing attack.

But then, the white No. 33 jersey broke through. Over the course of 75 yards, the gap between him and his opponents lengthened. There was no catching Levell Coppage.

The junior All-American sealed the Warhawks’ third Stagg Bowl victory in four years with just 2:34 left in the game. The UW-W coaching staff leaped into the air. The purple stands on the far side erupted in a deafening roar.

By the score of 31-21, UW-W became the undisputed champion of Division III.

What was going through his mind as he capped a performance that set a Stagg Bowl rushing record? He said three questions rattled about: Was I going fast enough; should I zig-zag; and was there anyone behind him?

The bottom line, though, “I was just hoping to get [to the end zone] before anyone tackled me,” he said.

Coppage’s effort was part of a bookend of breakaway runs. In the first quarter, he scored the first touchdown of the game with a 54-yard scamper, an overall performance worthy enough to earn him his second-straight Stagg Bowl most valuable player honor.

In a press briefing after the game, Mount Union coach Larry Kehres called Coppage a patient runner – with bite.

“He’ll wait until he sees a gap in the defense, and then he’s explosive,” Kehres said. “He can start and accelerate so tremendously in the first 5 or 6 yards, then ‘poof,’ he gone.”

The electricity that charged through the UW-W stands was mirrored in somber fashion on the UMU side. As the final minutes waned, Mount fans tried to breathe warmth into their hands amid the brisk Salem air, silently shaking their heads in disappointment. Three cheerleaders hugged, as one wrinkled her face with emotion and fought back tears. And after the clock ticked away, most Purple Raiders players kept their helmets on, a sure way to hide their sadness. Cecil Shorts knelt on the field and watched the victors celebrate.

Because while tears meant one thing for Mount Union, they meant quite another for Whitewater. Warhawk players cried with joy on the field. Quarterback Lee Brekke and linebacker Max Ford jumped into each other’s arms. Cornerback Matt McCulloch and linebacker Lance Olson got celebratory slaps from head coach Lance Leipold. The mood echoed the payoff that the hard-fought game deserved.

Tyler Huber got turned around and was off-balance but made a touchdown catch to give UW-Whitewater a 24-21 lead going to the break. The Warhawk defense made that stand up.

As in every other Stagg Bowl meeting between these two teams, the winner broke 30 points. But unlike games past, this one saw a flurry of points during the first half and a near-shutout after the break. Mount Union made its way on the board with three touchdowns in a short four-minute span in the second quarter. Shorts hauled in a 58-yard reception and had wide running room to the end zone. For another, All-American defensive end Lambert Budzinski intercepted a pass from Brekke and set up an easy score by returning it down to the Whitewater 4 yard line.

“We were excited when we scored the first 21 points and how fast we did it,” said Mount Union quarterback Matt Piloto. “But we knew we were going to have to keep going.”

After those quick scores, “I think we were able to regroup and kind of stick together and trust our game plan and trust our coaches and just keep playing hard,” said UW-W safety Steven McCollom.

In all, few scoring drives on Saturday were sustained. Most relied on big plays and acrobatic performances to add to the scoreboard’s tally.

Coppage, who had 299 yards and three touchdowns, made sure he kept adding points. He credited his team’s work during practice for helping him reach that mark. He said he got great looks and he knew exactly where he was going to go on many plays.

Winning, he said, was very satisfying. “This is why we play the championship. This is why we work hard.”

Leipold, Whitwater’s coach, echoed that sentiment. “It’s not an accident. The practice, the conditioning: All of those things have paid off for these guys.” Those are the things he can control, he said. It’s not worth worrying about the things he can’t.

Whitewater clearly took control in the second half. Brekke said about that point in the game, “We just took the game over with our philosophy of pound the rock.”

Luke Hibner, a UW-W defensive lineman who had a sack and six tackles, pointed out that “the entire season, our defensive unit has been a second-half team. We just locked down in the second half. I don’t think we don’t try to do that on purpose, it just naturally happens.”

Not that Mount didn’t try to throw Whitewater off its game. Piloto stepped off the field for a couple of series, and Shorts channeled the snaps he took in practice and brought the Wildcat offense to the field. He completed five passes on seven attempts for 56 yards. He also gain 28 yards running from the formations.

But Shorts faced a lot of what Piloto had faced for much of the rest of the game. Whitewater is a fast team defensively. They’re sound. And they don’t make a lot of mistakes, Piloto said.

Leipold, who is in his fourth year as the head coach at Whitewater, said he was particularly proud of this team because these are the guys he started with as freshmen.

“They came into this program when there was transition,” he said. “They didn’t know exactly what was going to happen with the program. He said he told them, “You win this game today, you will be the class that every Warhawk football class will be compared to.”

Brekke, who threw for 121 yards, played the entire game at quarterback, as he had done this whole 2010 postseason, after regular-season starter Matt Blanchard broke his thumb. After the game, though, Blanchard celebrated and showed no outward disappointment at not playing. He, like everyone else on the sidelines, was proud of those who played tough.

Winning the Stagg Bowl for the third time since 2007, McCulloch said, “It’s unreal, it’s awesome.”

comments powered by Disqus
Sep. 4: All times Eastern
8:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Tex. A&M-Commerce
Sep. 5: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Anna Maria at Worcester State
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
7:00 PM
Albright at Kean
7:00 PM
Widener at Rowan
Live Stats Live Stats Audio
7:00 PM
WPI at Curry
7:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Salve Regina at Bridgewater State
7:00 PM
William Paterson at SUNY-Maritime
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Ursinus at TCNJ
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
7:00 PM
Nichols at Westfield State
Video
7:30 PM
McDaniel at Catholic
7:30 PM
Trine at Manchester
Live Stats Video Audio
8:00 PM
Waldorf at UW-Whitewater
Live Stats
Sep. 6: All times Eastern
12:00 PM
Endicott at Framingham State
12:00 PM
Dickinson at Hobart
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Holland College (PEI, Canada) at Maine Maritime
Video
12:00 PM
Otterbein at St. John Fisher
12:00 PM
Union at Ithaca
12:00 PM
Pomona-Pitzer at MIT
12:00 PM
Husson at Alfred
12:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Johns Hopkins
1:00 PM
St. Lawrence at Coast Guard
1:00 PM
Thomas More at Wesley
Live Stats Audio
1:00 PM
Plymouth State at Castleton State
1:00 PM
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
1:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
Audio
1:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Averett
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Wabash
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Rose-Hulman at Kalamazoo
Live Stats Video
1:00 PM
Wilmington at Olivet
1:00 PM
King's at Moravian
1:00 PM
Alfred State at Morrisville State
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Lycoming
Live Stats Video Audio
1:00 PM
Oberlin at Brockport State
1:00 PM
Utica at Misericordia
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Montclair State
1:00 PM
Southern Virginia at Methodist
1:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Bluffton
1:00 PM
Marietta at Kenyon
1:00 PM
Merchant Marine at Apprentice
1:00 PM
Cortland State at Buffalo State
Audio
1:00 PM
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
Live Stats
1:00 PM
Sewanee at DePauw
1:30 PM
Adrian at Defiance
1:30 PM
RPI at Norwich
1:30 PM
Alma at Heidelberg
1:30 PM
Berry at Maryville (Tenn.)
Live Stats Video
1:30 PM
Bridgewater (Va.) at Gettysburg
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Waynesburg
1:30 PM
St. Vincent at John Carroll
1:30 PM
Mount Union at Bethany
1:30 PM
Juniata at Grove City
Audio
2:00 PM
Franklin at Illinois Wesleyan
2:00 PM
Rhodes at Austin
2:00 PM
Carleton at Macalester
2:00 PM
UW-Platteville at Buena Vista
2:00 PM
Ohio Northern at Washington U.
Live Stats Video
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at St. John's
2:00 PM
Crown at Gustavus Adolphus
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Jamestown
2:00 PM
Simpson at Iowa Wesleyan
2:00 PM
Hope at Monmouth
Audio
2:00 PM
Lawrence at Rockford
2:00 PM
Aurora at Illinois College
2:00 PM
Carroll at Lakeland
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Loras
2:00 PM
Millikin at Greenville
2:00 PM
Coe at Wheaton (Ill.)
2:00 PM
Presentation at Luther
2:00 PM
Martin Luther at Maranatha Baptist
2:00 PM
MacMurray at Culver-Stockton
2:00 PM
Eureka at Knox
2:00 PM
UW-Stout at Dakota Wesleyan
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
Video
2:00 PM
Ripon at St. Scholastica
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Hendrix at Westminster (Mo.)
2:10 PM
UW-Eau Claire at St. Thomas
3:00 PM
St. Norbert at Carthage
4:00 PM
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at Puget Sound
4:00 PM
Lewis and Clark at Whitworth
4:00 PM
College of Idaho at Pacific
4:30 PM
Arizona Christian at George Fox
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
6:00 PM
Salisbury at Christopher Newport
6:00 PM
Augustana at Mount St. Joseph
7:00 PM
Carnegie Mellon at Case Western Reserve
Live Stats Video
7:00 PM
Stevenson at N.C. Wesleyan
7:00 PM
Butler at Wittenberg
Live Stats Video
7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
Audio
7:00 PM
Wooster at Washington and Jefferson
7:00 PM
Geneva at Frostburg State
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
7:00 PM
Taylor (Ind.) at Anderson
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
Denison at Earlham
7:00 PM
Greensboro at Guilford
7:00 PM
Albion at UW-Stevens Point
7:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at North Park
7:00 PM
Beloit at Chicago
Live Stats
7:00 PM
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
7:00 PM
Howard Payne at Trinity (Texas)
7:00 PM
Mary Hardin-Baylor at Millsaps
7:00 PM
Sul Ross State at Texas Lutheran
7:00 PM
Robert Morris-Chicago at UW-Oshkosh
7:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at Dubuque
Live Stats Video
7:30 PM
Hanover at Centre
7:30 PM
Central at Benedictine
Live Stats Video Audio
8:00 PM
St. Olaf at Northwestern (Minn.)
8:00 PM
Hamline at Minnesota-Morris
8:00 PM
Lake Forest at Wisconsin Lutheran
8:00 PM
Wartburg at Augsburg
Audio
8:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
Dec. 20: All times Eastern
Final
at UW-Whitewater 52, Mount Union 14
@ Salem Stadium; Salem, Va.
Box Score Recap Photos Photos
Dec. 14: All times Eastern
Final
UW-Whitewater 16, at Mary Hardin-Baylor 15
Box Score Recap Recap Photos
Final
at Mount Union 41, North Central (Ill.) 40
Box Score Recap Recap Photos

What We're Reading