/playoffs/2011/looking-to-get-back-on-top

Looking to get back on top

More news about: Mount Union | UW-Whitewater
Jasper Collins announced his return to form last week with three touchdowns and a two-point conversion catch against Wesley.
Photo by Dan Poel for d3photography.com

By Andrew Lovell
D3sports.com

Jasper Collins has heard the comments over the years. When you play for Mount Union or UW-Whitewater, you can't help it.

Collins, a dynamic junior wide receiver for the Purple Raiders will line up for his third Stagg Bowl in as many seasons Friday night. Like the past two years, the Warhawks will be the opponent. But the Mount Union-Whitewater Stagg Bowl streak predates Collins -- the two teams have played every year in the championship game since 2005.

People across the D-III football spectrum -- from coaches and fans to writers and SIDs -- have wondered if that's fair, boring or, most commonly, simply whether or not it's "good" for Division III.

Collins' response to those comments? Easy. Mount Union and UW-Whitewater will meet for the seventh straight year in the Stagg Bowl because the two teams have earned it -- all seven times.

"In Division III, they have a playoff system, so I think that's the right way to do it," Collins said. "You put the teams in and you let them battle it out. Obviously us and them have been there the last seven years ... it's a test of the teams. If you're the best, you have to prove it."

There's no debating whether Mount Union and Whitewater are the two best teams in the country. They are. And they have been for the better part of the last decade. Few could or would argue that.

What is up for debate, however, is whether Whitewater has bypassed Mount Union as the preeminent Division III football program. A closer examination is certainly warranted.

If Whitewater defeats Mount Union Friday night, it will become just the third team ever to win at least three consecutive Stagg Bowls, joining Augustana (four straight from 1983-86) and Mount Union (twice -- 1996-98 and 2000-02).

Whitewater would also become just the second school to win as many as four Stagg Bowls within a five-year period, again joining Mount Union, which won six over a seven-year stretch from 1996-2002.

Whitewater enters Friday night on a 44-game winning streak that spans three full seasons. Of course, Mount Union boasts a remarkable streak of its own, as the Purple Raiders haven't lost to a team other than Whitewater since a 2005 loss to Ohio Northern.

Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, who is about to close out his 26th season at the helm of the Purple Raiders, has helped build one of the most consistently dominant collegiate programs in any sport in any NCAA division. But even as he gears up for his 15th Stagg Bowl appearance since 1993, Kehres insists the excitement has yet to wear off.

"It doesn't get old at all. I enjoy this," Kehres said. "... I think if you're a fan of one of these two teams, you appreciate that your team is back, regardless of which side you're cheering for."

What he didn't say -- and really, didn't have to say -- is that he enjoys the experience more when Mount Union comes out the victor. In the last two seasons, that hasn't been the case.

"Whitewater's the team that Mount Union fans talk about," Kehres said. "The Mount Union fans, the best team they've seen is Whitewater. So Whitewater's moved into the position of being the team that is the -- what do I want to say? -- standard bearer. What's the best team like? Well, it's like Whitewater's team."

So if Whitewater's the "standard bearer," what does that make Mount Union? The term "trail blazer" seems appropriate. But if the Purple Raiders hope to take back the throne as Division III's top team, they will have to do something they've been unable to the past two seasons -- slow down Levell Coppage.

Coppage rushed for 111 yards and three touchdowns in Whitewater's 38-28 win in 2009, and topped it with a Stagg Bowl-record 299 yards and three touchdowns in last season's 31-21 win.

Coppage needs 371 yards to become the all-time leading rusher among all NCAA divisions. That's not likely to happen, but, after watching Coppage gash them for nearly 300 yards last season, the Purple Raiders aren't putting anything past him.

Kehres said Whitewater quarterback Matt Blanchard, the brother of former Mount Union offensive lineman Derek Blanchard, is just as dangerous, and can pick the Purple Raiders' defense apart, particularly with play action.

"He's just really, really good," Kehres said. "He's so efficient. ... He really plays within the offense, protects the football, keeps it away from the defense. He's a really good quarterback."

Blanchard and Mount Union counterpart Matt Piloto will both start this year's Stagg Bowl with full seasons under their belts, a stark contrast to last season in which Piloto made his first career start for an injured Neal Seaman and Lee Brekke started for an injured Blanchard.

Collins, who leads Mount Union with 58 receptions for 776 yards and 13 touchdowns despite missing four games due to an injury, said Mount Union is pleased to return to the Stagg Bowl, but won't be satisfied with another second-place finish.

"It's always going to be in your head," Collins said. "As freshmen and sophomores, we lost the national championship. ... A lot of players that have been here have won national championships, so I'm one that hasn't had one yet. It's definitely motivation for all of us. We want to get a ring, that's the ultimate goal."

Collins, who torched Wesley's secondary for 139 yards and three touchdowns on nine catches last weekend, will be a key factor for the Mount Union offense. Collins (6-foot, 185 pounds) is in the same play-making mold as former Purple Raiders and current NFL wide receivers Cecil Shorts (6-2, 210) and Pierre Garcon (6-1, 205).

But unlike Shorts and Garcon, who each won Stagg Bowls, Collins is still searching for his first title.

"We're not content with just getting there," Collins said. "We want to win, obviously. The last two years we haven't been able to do that. We're happy to get back, but we're not satisfied yet. It's only the beginning."

It's impossible to forecast a winner in this year's tilt, but the smart money says the game will at least be close. The previous six meetings have been decided by an average of 10.1 points per game, with only Mount Union's 35-16 win in 2006 coming by more than 10 points.

The two teams would rather not debate which one is premier program in Division III. Both would rather win Friday night, and let the rest of us argue about it.

"I think both teams have shown, once again," said Whitewater coach Lance Leipold, "that they've been battle-tested and gone through the regular season and the playoffs to get to this point."

Oct. 20: All times Eastern
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
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at Framingham State 29, Westfield State 14
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Moravian 20, at Juniata 17
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at Salve Regina 41, Endicott 14
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at Thomas More 63, St. Vincent 13
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at Union 28, Hobart 23
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at Hamilton 27, Colby 24
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at Christopher Newport 27, William Paterson 19
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at Ithaca 35, St. John Fisher 10
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at Allegheny 44, Kenyon 35
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SUNY-Maritime 21, at Mount Ida 13
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Middlebury 43, at Bates 14
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at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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at Amherst 21, Wesleyan 17
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at Trinity (Conn.) 63, Bowdoin 14
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Husson 48, at Gallaudet 21
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Wabash 35, at Oberlin 21
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at Utica 34, Buffalo State 12
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Ohio Northern 7, at Muskingum 6
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at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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at Stevenson 26, Albright 23
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Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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at Albion 31, Alma 28
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at Guilford 45, Shenandoah 20
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Plymouth State 40, at Massachusetts Maritime 14
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Wooster 58, at Hiram 25
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Washington and Lee 36, at Hampden-Sydney 6
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at Anna Maria 36, Alfred State 34
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Bridgewater 31, at Emory and Henry 23
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at FDU-Florham 49, Wilkes 31
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Lebanon Valley 17, at Misericordia 0
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at St. Lawrence 36, Rochester 14
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RPI 30, at Alfred 15
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at Curry 46, Nichols 16
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at Salisbury 42, Southern Virginia 0
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Ferrum 27, at Brevard 24
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Randolph-Macon 63, at Apprentice 14
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at Susquehanna 21, Ursinus 14
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Cortland 34, at Morrisville State 20
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at Trine 50, Hope 14
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Trinity (Texas) 27, at Sewanee 21
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Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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at Franklin and Marshall 56, Dickinson 0
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Tufts 21, at Williams 13
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Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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MIT 30, at Coast Guard 21
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at Norwich 24, Maine Maritime 22
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at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Franklin 29, at Rose-Hulman 22
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John Carroll 48, at Capital 21
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at Manchester 28, Bluffton 21
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Mount St. Joseph 71, at Anderson 27
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UW-Whitewater 20, at UW-River Falls 7
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Kean 26, at TCNJ 3
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at LaGrange 59, Greensboro 10
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at Worcester State 45, Mass-Dartmouth 40
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Muhlenberg 40, at McDaniel 13
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Western New England 45, at Becker 0
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at Maryville (Tenn.) 35, Methodist 14
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Adrian 36, at Kalamazoo 22
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Denison 31, at Ohio Wesleyan 20
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Final - OT
at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Final
Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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at Benedictine 43, Olivet 37
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Birmingham-Southern 31, at Austin 24
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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at UW-Stout 23, UW-Stevens Point 17
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Eureka 37, at MacMurray 20
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at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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Nebraska Wesleyan 14, at Buena Vista 13
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Lakeland 48, at Wisconsin Lutheran 0
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at Aurora 28, Rockford 21
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at Concordia-Chicago 37, Concordia (Wis.) 17
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at St. Olaf 29, Carleton 26
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at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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Westminster (Mo.) 24, at Greenville 14
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at Loras 44, Coe 38
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Monmouth 61, at Cornell 10
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Wheaton (Ill.) 56, at North Park 0
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Northwestern (Minn.) 30, at Martin Luther 14
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Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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at Lake Forest 70, Grinnell 6
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at Millikin 56, Carroll 35
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at Macalester 47, Ripon 31
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at St. Norbert 38, Lawrence 6
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St. Scholastica 49, at Crown 21
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at Iowa Wesleyan 24, Minnesota-Morris 17
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UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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at WPI 41, Merchant Marine 7
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at Centre 42, Rhodes 35
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Hanover 49, at Earlham 14
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Final
at Chicago 55, Beloit 12
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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Final - OT
at Dubuque 28, Simpson 27
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at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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at East Texas Baptist 68, Louisiana College 35
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at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Final
Western Connecticut 27, at Bridgewater State 20
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Chapman 38, at La Verne 21
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Pacific 17, at Lewis and Clark 7
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Pacific Lutheran 27, at Willamette 14
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at Whitworth 38, Puget Sound 23
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Redlands 42, at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 25
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at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Sul Ross State 52, at Howard Payne 15
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at Castleton 17, Dean 14
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N.C. Wesleyan 21, at Averett 15
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at Otterbein 37, Baldwin Wallace 29
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Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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Carnegie Mellon 42, at Thiel 10
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at Illinois College 23, Knox 13
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at Cal Lutheran 60, Whittier 34
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Cancelled
Occidental at Pomona-Pitzer
Oct. 20: All times Eastern
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
Final
at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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Final
at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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Final
Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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Final
at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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Final
Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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Final
Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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Final
at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Final - OT
at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Final
Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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Final
St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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Final
at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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Final
at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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Final
Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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Final
UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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Final
at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Final
at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Final
Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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