|Cole Klotz is the leader in
the middle of the UWW defense.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
By Joe Sager
Refocused, recharged and ready.
That sums up the UW-Whitewater football team this season.
One year removed from a 2012 campaign that saw the Warhawks’ 46-game winning streak snapped and the team out of the postseason with a 7-3 record, Whitewater is back in a familiar place – the Stagg Bowl. The Warhawks (14-0) meet Mount Union (14-0) on Friday at 7 p.m. in Salem, Va., for the NCAA Division III national championship.
“After a disappointing season last year, it’s good to be back,” Warhawks senior linebacker Cole Klotz said. “There’s a lot going on and it feels great. It’s been a blur. I don’t think it’s set in yet. Once we get down there, it’ll all settle in. The goal of every D-III program is to play this close to Christmas. So, we’re excited.”
It marks the eighth time in nine years the two programs battle for the national championship. Whitewater claimed four of the past seven, including titles in 2007, ’09, ’10 and ’11.
“Mount Union has been there as long as I can remember. We have been there, too, over the years,” Klotz said. “It really feels good to play them again.”
Overall, the Raiders are in the Stagg Bowl for the ninth straight season and 17th time in the last 20 years. They have won a record 11 national championships.
“That really is awesome. You have to give credit to Mount Union. They’ve been there so many years. They always give us a great matchup,” Whitewater junior quarterback Matt Behrendt said. “We love playing them in the championship. Both teams earned it, so it’s awesome we keep coming back together.
“It’s so exciting. We’ve worked so hard in the offseason and during the season. To finally get back is the main goal. We’re excited to play this Friday.”
The Warhawks are eager to make up for an uncharacteristic 2012 season. Injuries, a lack of focus and a grueling schedule spelled disaster for Whitewater last year after an unbeaten run from 2009-11.
“What we found out is that streaks can end if you don’t take care of business,” Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said. “Last year, we showed we didn’t earn our way. This year, we played some more good football programs that gave us everything we could handle.
“I don’t want to say there is just one thing that happened (last year),” he continued. “Teams are going to give you their best shot and you have to match that intensity and desire, whether in the weight room or on the field. I don’t like the word ‘complacency.’ We maybe lost our edge? Maybe, like they say, it’s tougher to stay on top than to get there.”
The Warhawks brought in some new assistant coaches and changed the duties of some others to help reignite a spark.
“It helped us, especially on offense. We have a bunch of new assistant coaches and a new offensive coordinator. They’ve come in and done an amazing job,” Behrendt said. “We still have pretty much the same offense; we just do a couple things differently. Really, we’ve blossomed as a team. I give the coaches the credit for that.”
Whitewater’s players helped make the turnaround possible, too. They used last season as a wakeup call.
“It really was a down year. That’s not how Warhawk football is. We knew we had to come in this offseason with a different attitude. We came in with more energy and excitement and a better attitude. That’s what got us to this point,” Behrendt said. “It doesn’t get handed to you. We didn’t come out last year and play like we needed to. We know that, coming into every year, everyone circles us on their calendar, especially teams in our conference. With the great conference we have, we have to earn the wins and play our best football to come out on top.”
Once again, the Warhawks’ foundation is defense. Whitewater ranks first among D-III teams in scoring defense (8.7 points allowed per game) and third in total defense (237.5 yards allowed per game).
“The defense has been outstanding the entire year. It really is awesome knowing that, when they are out there, we will get great field position,” Behrendt said. “On offense, we know we have to do our job and score points. It’s awesome watching the defense and knowing they will get the job done and we’ll get the job done for them also.”
Klotz knows it works both ways. He’s happy to see the Warhawks’ young offense improve.
“Both offensively and defensively, we do rely on each other. It’s great being able to trust our offense to put us in a position to play our best and we can put them in position to do their best. We’ve been doing a good job all year on both sides of the ball. It’s been great.”
Whitewater’s defense faces another formidable test this week. Mount Union owns D-III’s top scoring offense (49.0 points per game).
“For the past two weeks, we’ve played two of the highest-scoring offenses in the nation (Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor),” Klotz said. “They all run similar zone read-type schemes. We just have to focus on doing our jobs. Hopefully, we will be able to pull it off again.”
The Warhawks hope to get off to a better start this week. They
trailed at halftime in their last two battles and rallied for
“It’s a spot we don’t like to be in. We know we have to do a lot better job this week,” Behrendt said. “We know what Mount can do on offense. We’ll have to pick it up a notch in the first half and really come out fast and try to put up as many points as we can.”
After sitting out last year’s playoffs, Whitewater is raring to go.