December 14, 2011

Looking for redemption

More news about: UW-Whitewater
The Warhawks played the entire 2010 postseason without Matt Blanchard, but the quarterback hasn't missed a step in 2011.
Photo by Daryl Tessmann for d3photography.com

By Adam Turer
Special to D3sports.com

Even though he has never lost a game as a Warhawk, senior quarterback Matt Blanchard will be looking for redemption this week in Salem. He has won all 24 of his starts over the past two seasons, but will be making his first Stagg Bowl appearance.

Last year, injury kept Blanchard from making a postseason start after he led UW-Whitewater to a perfect regular season. This year, Blanchard has remained healthy and will be under center when the Warhawks’ offense takes its first snap on Friday night.

“If there was one person you were pulling extra hard for last week, it was Matt,” said Whitewater head coach Lance Leipold. “I’m really happy for him that he has the opportunity to do something that he didn’t get to do last year and that is start a Stagg Bowl.”

Blanchard was an efficient 14-of-19 passing and added 39 yards rushing in the 20-0 semifinal win over St. Thomas. He will now finally become the second member of his family to play in a Stagg Bowl for a Purple Power. Blanchard’s older brother Derek started on the offensive line in the Stagg Bowl in 2005, 2006, and 2007. He also coached in the 2008 Stagg Bowl. Remember, though, Derek Blanchard was a Purple Raider.

There is no sibling rivalry. In fact, Derek says that Matt is his best friend. There is no Mount Union-Whitewater trash talk between the brothers.

“It’s like ‘Fight Club,’” said Derek, now a teacher and coach at Lake Forest High School in Illinois. “We just don’t talk about it.”

Like Derek was in 2007, Matt is now a finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy. The brothers’ success is a direct reflection of their work ethic, their commitment to represent their respective schools, and their upbringing.

“It’s a great opportunity for Matt and it’s well-deserved,” said Leipold. “It says a lot about Steve and Peggy Blanchard.”

Last year’s postseason was a trying experience for Matt Blanchard, but he handled himself well. While he was frustrated with his inability to play, he did everything he could to prepare backup Lee Brekke for the five postseason victories.

“He was on an emotional rollercoaster last year,” said Leipold. “He’s a very mature individual, but that was a test for anyone who waited his turn to be a starter and played so well for us throughout the season. He accepted what his fate was, and became a leader and supporter for Lee.”

Blanchard leaned on his brother and best friend for support.

“I told him to stay motivated, stay hungry, and put 100 percent effort into the things he can control,” said Derek. “It’s really been a struggle for him staying healthy. He’s really overcome obstacles and it’s made him a better overall quarterback. You can’t not root for him.”

As starting quarterback for the two-time defending national champions, Blanchard was not lacking motivation heading into the 2011 season. But if anyone on the Warhawks had an extra edge in offseason workouts, it was the senior signal-caller. Blanchard was determined to be the man lining his team up in a victory formation and taking a knee on the last snap of the 2011 Division III season.

“It was definitely tough, but with everything like that in life, you learn from it and mature. It was a humbling experience,” he said. “From day one of the offseason until now, I’ve had incredible focus and motivation.”

The quarterback still enjoys the benefit of playing with one of the top defenses in the nation and having the security of All-America running back Levell Coppage in the backfield. He remained an efficient passer and became even more of a dual-threat quarterback this season. His most significant improvement has been the continued growth and development of his leadership skills.

“Matt became more of a vocal leader as a captain,” said Leipold. “He’s a broad-shouldered, mature, confident young man. He can take care of so many things that coaches can’t control. He is an excellent leader.”

After his junior season ended on a bittersweet note, Blanchard’s senior season has played out as if scripted for a happy ending.

“It’s what I’ve dreamed of and more,” he said. “The Gagliardi nomination, homefield throughout the playoffs, playing my last college game for the championship against Mount Union—I could not ask for much more.”

There are still some important pages left to be written in the final chapter of Blanchard’s time as Whitewater’s quarterback. First up is the Gagliardi Trophy presentation on Wednesday night. Then, the biggest game of his life on Friday.

“I feel truly blessed to be in the top four,” said Blanchard of the Gagliardi Trophy. He is much more concerned with the outcome on Friday night.

There is only one way Blanchard envisions capping off this dream week and dream season: a Whitewater victory in Stagg Bowl XXXIX.

“You couldn’t ask for a better story to this point for his senior year,” said his brother, Derek. “He’s so excited, as he should be.”

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