On the strength of a rushing game that averaged 4.1 yards per attempt, and a defense that limited UW-La Crosse to 1.8 yards per rush, UW-Whitewater defeated the Eagles 24-0 at Veterans Memorial Field in La Crosse Saturday to close the season 7-3 overall and 5-2 in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
On the opening possession of the game Ryan Wenkman intercepted a Randy Sires pass, turning the ball over to the Whitewater offense at the 21 yard line. The Warhawks covered the 79 yards in nine plays, with 48 of those yards coming on six carries by senior tailback Desmin Ward ending with a 27 yard run by Ward. Eric Kindler's extra point made it 7-0 at 8:53.
And that was it for the first half, with both defenses dominating the remaining 24 minutes. Whitewater had a drive that went backward with three penalties. A La Crosse punt was downed at the one and UW-W couldn't dig out of the hole. La Crosse had an opportunity after returning a punt to the Whitewater 37, but Mykaell Bratchett and Loussaint Minett combined on a sack to take that drive out of field goal range. Another Eagle punt put Whitewater at the seven.
The best opportunity for a score came with La Crosse starting a drive at their 49. They advanced to the Whitewater 25, and appeared to set up a field goal attempt. Place holder Kevin Schams took the snap, and his pass attempt was intercepted by Steve McCollom at the 15.
Late in the half Zak Howard's 18 yard punt return gave UW-W the ball at the La Crosse 42, but with time running down, Matt Behrendt's pass attempt was intercepted by Gavin Marquart at the one.
The Warhawk defense limited La Crosse to 84 yards of offense in the first half, just 15 rushing, and five first downs. Whitewater had 160 yards of offense, 79 of those on the first drive. Sires went 10-13 for 69 yards in the half. Behrendt was 3-11, 1-9 after the first drive, with Ward totaling 57 yards in the first 30 minutes.
The second half started the same as the first, with Whitewater's Ward moving the ball behind the offensive line. Ward accounted for 24 yards, including a run that put him over 1,000 for the season. The drive was stalled, allowing Kindler to put points on the board with a 39 yard field goal to give Whitewater a 10-0 lead at 12:12 in the third.
The Warhawk defense set up the next score, when Sires' pass was deflected by linebacker Ryan Cortez and intercepted by defensive back Brady Grayvold, crediting him with his second pick of the season. That brought the UW-W offense on the field at the UW-L 36. Eight plays later Ward's one yard run, with a Kindler kick, made it 17-0 with 4:27 left in the third.
Late in the third quarter it happened again, this time when an Eagle receiver caught a pass across the middle, but a hit by Warhawk back Andrew Keister forced the ball to the ground where it was recovered by Grayvold at the UW-L 45.
The ensuing drive carried over into the fourth quarter, and ended with a Behrendt to Jake Kumerow 22 yard scoring pass at 13:09 left in the game. Kindler's PAT ended the scoring, with Whitewater leading 24-0.
Late in the game the Eagles got a punt return to the Whitewater 45, and advanced to the UW-W 19, but back-to-back sacks pushed La Crosse out of scoring range.
Whitewater totaled 307 yards on offense, La Crosse 219. Of the 307, 217 came on the ground, while UW-L totaled 52 rushing. Whitewater's defense forced four turnovers (three interceptions, one fumble), and the Warhawk offense had just one turnover. The UW-W defense had five sacks, La Crosse one.
Sires finished the game 18-26 for 167 yards and two interceptions. Wideout Jake Welch caught six balls for 42 yards. The Eagle defense was led by senior linebacker Jack Leahy's nine tackles (four solo), with sophomore defensive back Max Nicholson credited with nine assists. Behrendt went 7-17 for 90 yards for Whitewater. Ward led both teams with 108 yards on 26 carries, with freshmen Nick Patterson adding 71 on 20 attempts. Junior linebacker Cole Klotz made eight solo tackles and added four assists for UW-W.
Ward finished the season with 1,026 yards in ten games, marking the ninth consecutive season, and sixteenth overall, that a Warhawk back has rushed for 1,000 yards.
UW-L ends the season 4-6 overall and 3-4 in the WIAC.