"All we ask is that they get better each day", UW-Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said in his Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl postgame press conference. After UW-W's 52-14 win over Mount Union in the 41st Stagg Bowl in Salem, Virginia Friday, giving the Warhawks their fourth national championship in five years, you have to wonder what could be better.
UW-W combined a MVP performance from Matt Behrendt, record-setting performances by Jake Kumerow and Brady Grayvold, an efficient offense and a defense that did not allow a score in the second half for the win. Leipold is 94-6 at Whitewater, including a 31-1 mark in NCAA III postseason play.
The bromide is that defense wins championships, and maybe the offense took exception to the attention the defense earned as the top scoring unit in Division III.
Unlike the last two playoff wins, the Warhawk offense provided the first spark in this game. Jordan Ratliffe jump started the possession with an eight yard run, and Matt Behrendt connected with Jake Kumerow for twenty yards on the second play. After Mount stopped a Ratliffe run, Behrendt found Steve Morris on consecutive completions, the second on third and two at the MU 38. Ratliffe chewed up another eleven yards, and with 11:43 still on the clock Behrendt hit Kumerow crossing the middle at the goal line for the touchdown. Eric Kindler's extra point kick gave the Warhawks a 7-0 lead.
Whitewater's defense picked up the momentum from the offense, forcing a punt after three plays.
Behrendt and Kumerow narrowly missed connecting on a deep pass on Whitewater's second drive, and Kindler's punt rolled dead at the MU 18. Again, the UW-W defense forced a three and out.
Mount Union responded with a punt that rolled out at the Whitewater 16. The UW-W offense came on the field, but on the first attempt at a play the ball was snapped over Behrendt's head and Raider defensive back Alex Kocheff recovered the ball on the Whitewater five. The Warhawks came into the game second in Division III in turnover margin at plus 31. Mount QB Kevin Burke went around right end on the next play, and Edward Ruhnke's PAT tied the game at 7-7.
The UW-W offense made amends immediately, mounting a ten play 68 yard drive. Facing a fourth and one at the Mount 25, Jordan Ratliffe powered up the middle to keep the drive alive. Two plays later Behrendt lofted a ball up into the right corner of the end zone and senior wide receiver Tyler Huber jumped over the Raider defender for the score. It was Huber's second Stagg Bowl touchdown, after catching one in 2011. Kindler's kick put UW-W back in front, 14-7 with forty seconds left in the initial quarter.
The Raiders, the top offense in Division III, came back with a long drive of their own. Mount started on their own 28 and in twelve plays moved down the field to the Whitewater 8. After being stopped on third and one, Mount set up for a field goal on fourth down, then called time out as Ruhnkle was booting the ball through the uprights. The Raider coaching staff changed its mind and sent in a play from scrimmage, but UMU was penalized for an illegal substitution and moved back five yards. Ruhnkle came back on, and then missed the second attempt, from 30 yards.
Whitewater's first possession of the second quarter took the ball 80 yards. Behrendt kept the drive alive with three scrambles, one for 22 yards, his longest run of the season. Behrendt hooked up with Huber for the second time in the game, this time on a fade to the right, for the seven yard score. With 4:09 left in the half, Kindler's kick put the Warhawks in front 21-7. It marked the first time this season that Mount Union had trailed by fourteen points.
Like heavyweight boxers Mount Union punched right back, taking the ball at their 28 as Burke went 4-4, including a completion to wideout Brian Gainer on fourth and two for 15 yards to take the ball to the eleven. Running back B.J. Mitchell scored from eleven yards out on the next play, and Ruhnkle's kick with just 0:29 left in the half closed the gap to 21-14.
UW-W totaled 223 yards of offense in the first half, Mount 157, just 32 on 15 rushes. Behrendt went 12-16 for 153 yards and the three TD's, with four receivers evenly dividing the catches. Behrendt also rushed four times for 43 yards. Burke was 10-12 for 125 yards, four of those to Gainer, to lead the Raider offense in the first half.
Mount opened the second half with a 28 yard pass from Burke to Gainer. On the next play, the Warhawk defense added a plus to their turnover margin when tackle Marshall Rutherford stripped the ball from the Raider back and Whitewater recovered at the MU 46. Ratliffe ripped off 13 to move to the 33. He kept it going with a five yard gain on third and one and the Mount 23, and went the rest of the way on the next play. Kindler's fourth PAT restored Whitewater's fourteen point margin, 28-14 with 12:11 on the clock.
Mount's offense came right back, with Burke hitting Luke Meacham with three straight passes to take the ball to the Whitewater 18. The Warhawk defense put the Raiders into a third and six, and Burke was stopped after one yard. Mount went for it on fourth down, but defensive end Mykael Bratchett sacked Burke to end the threat.
That turned the ball back to the Whitewater offense, which fed off the stop and moved into field goal range, where Kindler hit his fourth career Stagg Bowl three-pointer from 35 yards out to increase the Whitewater lead to 31-14 at 5:26.
Burke punched back with a 33 yard toss to wide receiver Sherman Wilkinson. Burke went back to pass on third and nine at the 50 and hit Jack Nichols, but Warhawks Marcus McLin and Zach Nellis caused Nichols to fumble and Dylan Morang recovered for UW-W at the Whitewater 37.
And the Warhawk offense wasn't leaving anything on the table. Controlling the clock as well as the field, UW-W used up almost seven minutes on a drive that ended with Behrendt hitting Kumerow, who dragged his feet along the right end zone for a three yard score, and his second of the day, with 12:12 remaining in the contest. Kindler made it 38-14.
With the Raiders' backs to the wall, Burke went for broke on a third and one, with a pass for the end zone intercepted by Morang at the two, the UW-W defense's third takeaway of the game. Morang returned it to the 30.
The boulder continued to roll downhill, with Behrendt and Kumerow covering 40 yards, and Ratliffe totaling 30 on three runs, including a three yard score. Kindler made it 45-14 at 9:08. That topped the 38 points UW-W scored against Mount Union when winning the 2009 title.
The defense provided more points for UW-W. The Raiders next possession ended when Warhawk DB Brady Grayvold went pick six on Burke from the 37. It was Grayvold's school record ninth interception of the year, and the second time this year he returned it for a score. At 8:23 Kindler's kick increased the Whitewater lead to 52-14.
Whitewater's final margin was more than the Warhawks accumulated in winning their four previous Stagg Bowl titles (10-10-10-3=33). The Warhawks 52 points tied the Stagg Bowl record for points, twice accomplished by Mount Union, and broke the Raiders' twenty-nine game win streak. Mount came into the game scoring 49.0 points per game. The last time Mount Union lost by at least thirty points was a 48-0 loss to Wittenberg in 1975.
Behrendt was named the game's Most Valuable Player, joining teammate Loussaint Minett, who earned the honor in 2011. Behrendt went 20-28 for 249 yards. He also rushed for 56 yards on six carries. Behrendt wound up with 40 touchdown passes and just one interception on the year. Kumerow had seven receptions for 103 yards, with the two touchdowns. He ended 2013 with a school record 19 touchdown catches, two more than Derek Stanley had in 2006. He also broke Stanley's record for yards receiving in a season, totaling 1,331 to surpass Stanley's 2005 total of 1,328. Ratliffe ended the game with 146 yards on 28 carries, the first time MU has allowed a 100+ yard rusher this season, tying his team season high for carries.
The Whitewater defense limited Mount Union to 32 yards rushing on 27 carries. Linebacker Cole Klotz led the team with seven tackles, with fellow 'backers Josh Williams and Kyle Wismer next with six and five, respectively. Bratchett also had five, and added a team season high 2.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for a loss. McLin had five stops, adding a sack, a tackle for a loss and forced fumble.
Burke, the Gagliardi Trophy recipient as the top player in Division III, went 22-31 for 316 yards, with two interceptions and no touchdowns. A 1,000 yard rusher for the season, he totaled a minus 12 yards in the game. Gainer caught seven passes for 109 yards. B.J. Mitchell, a 1,300 yard rusher for the season, was limited to 15 yards on six carries. Linebacker Jonathan Gonell was the game's leading tackler with nine, with Kocheff contributing seven stops and defensive captain Hank Spencer seven from his linebacking position.