Whitewater's defense forced three second half turnovers that led to three second half scores as UW-Whitewater defeated North Central College 20-10 in a NCAA Division III quarterfinal playoff game in Naperville, Illinois Saturday. The win advances UW-W, 13-0, to a NCAA III semifinal game against Wesley College, 13-0, in Dover, Delaware next Saturday. Wesley defeated Mary-Hardin-Baylor 19-9 in another quarterfinal playoff game. Whitewater, the defending NCAA III champion, has advanced to the NCAA III playoff semifinals for the sixth consecutive year. Saturday's win also extended the Warhawks' win streak to twenty-eight, the longest streak in NCAA football, any division (FBS, FCS, Division II and III). The win also extended the Warhawks' non-conference win streak to fifteen games, and it's string in the NCAA III playoffs to eight.
North Central did what no other team has been able to do since the 2008 Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl where the Warhawks faced Mount Union -- scored on the opening possession of the game. The Cardinals started on their own 12. Facing a third and six at their 46, UW-W was called for pass interference to give North Central a first down at the Whitewater 48. On the next play Stanek connected with Steve Hlavac to the Whitewater 1, where Nick Kukoc ran it in to put North Central ahead 7-0 at the 10:13 mark. Stanek completed 5-6 passes, and rushed for six more yards, on the drive. The drive marked just the second time that a Warhawk opponent had scored first, with UW-Platteville the other on September 30th.
Whitewater began its first touch of the ball at their 37. On the Warhawks' first offensive play, Lee Brekke and Adam Brandes hooked up on a 50 yard pass to take the ball to the Cardinals' 13. Three plays later it was Brekke to Brandes for a ten yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7 with 8:37 left in the first quarter. The scoring catch, the twentieth in his career, moved Brandes into a tie (Anthony Talton 1989-91) for third place in the school record book
If you would have expected the defenses to be shell-shocked and reeling, a Tapout trainee with his hands at his side --- you would have been wrong.
The Cardinals advanced to Whitewater's 26 on their second possession. After an incomplete pass on third and seven, NCC decided to forego a field goal attempt, which they originally lined up for, and go for it. Warhawk linebacker Lane Olson got in on Stanek and forced a fumble that Whitewater recovered at their own 42 to end the threat.
In the second quarter Whitewater's offense faced a fourth and one at the NC 36, and Booker Stanley ran for the first down. In the same drive, third and four on the NC 28, Levell Coppage ran 13 yards to the Cardinals' 13 yard line. First and ten on the NC 15, Brekke's pass was intercepted by Scott Hogan in the end zone to keep the score at 7-7, where it remained as the team's went in to the locker rooms at halftime.
North Central controlled the ball for 18:34 in the first half, Whitewater 11:26. UW-W rushed for 42 yards on 13 carries, NCC 41 on 21 attempts. The Whitewater defense had three tackles for a loss and two sacks, the North Central defense accounted for the only turnover in the half.
Whitewater's Kris Rosholt put NCC in a hole when his went out at the four yard line. Eight plays later the Cardinals sat on Whitewater's 14, where Nick Dace hit a 32 yard field goal to give North Central a 10-7 lead at the 6:32 mark of the third quarter.
Later in the third Rosholt again pinned the Cardinals back at their own four. This time the Warhawk defense not only held, but turned the ball around. Facing a third and four at their own 10, Stanek's pass was intercepted by Whitewater's Sam Overton to put the ball at the NC 19 for the Warhawk offense. Three plays later Brekke scored his first TD of the season, running it in from five yards out to put Whitewater ahead for the first time, 14-10 with 13:46 left in the game.
The Warhawk defense had North Central facing a second and 23 at their 20 when defensive lineman Jake Hohlstein forced a Stanek fumble at the end of a 19 yard run, and the loose ball was recovered by Luke Hibner at the North Central 39.
Eric Kindler's 27 yard field goal made the turnover count, putting Whitewater up 17-10 with 6:06 on the clock.
Following the Whitewater field goal the North Central offense moved the ball to their 45, when Hibner came up with another big play, intercepting a Stanek pass to turn the ball over to the Warhawk offense at the NCC 45. Three Coppage rushes later another Kindler field goal, this time from 19 yards, put UW-W up 20-10 and make it a two possession game with just 2:06 on the clock.
North Central owned most of the stat categories. The Cardinals had 17 first downs, Whitewater 14. NCC total offense 306, Whitewater 253. NCC time of possession 32:37, Whitewater 27:23.
However, in addition to the three turnovers, the Warhawk defense registered four sacks and five tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Olson led UW-W with eight solo tackles and three assists. Olson was also credited with a sack and two tackles for a loss. Fellow linebacker Greg Arnold had five solos and four assists, adding one sack and a tackle for a loss.
Cardinal linebacker Matt Wenger had a game high ten solo tackles, three assists, and three tackles for a loss. North Central totaled five tackles for a loss, but did not sack Brekke.
As they did in the second round win over Trine, UW-W relied on its offensive line to pound the ball in the second half. Brekke was just 2-6 passing in the second half, but Coppage carried the ball 22 times, winding up with 107 yards on 29 carries. Brandes added five catches for 92 yards. Jordan Tassio rushed 12 times for 44 yards for North Central, and Stanek went 15-24 for 207 yards. Hlavac caught seven Stanek passes for 130 yards.