|Dennis Moore has carried
forward the tradition of the UW-Whitewater run game, and also broke
out a 46-yard TD reception vs. Linfield.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
By Josh Smith
It has been more than a decade since the last time the UW-Whitewater football team finished a season without a 1,000-yard rusher.
And while the Warhawks' rotation of talented running backs has produced 14 wins this season, that streak of individual achievement was in jeopardy.
But then Dennis Moore reeled off 112 yards in UWW's NCAA Division III semifinal win over Linfield, giving him 1,033 yards on the season and sending his team to its ninth Stagg Bowl appearance.
"That was one of my personal goals for the season, so I'm really proud of myself, proud of my team and proud of my O-line for blocking," Moore said after eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark. "It's great."
Moore picked up 33 yards of his team-high rushing total while scoring the go-ahead touchdown that lifted top-ranked UW-Whitewater to a 20-14 win over No. 10 Linfield. It was Moore's third 100-yard effort in a row, helping the Warhawks beat No. 14 Wabash in the second round and No. 5 Wartburg in the quarterfinals before downing the Wildcats.
Moore's run through the postseason has been even sweeter because, a year ago, he was on the sideline watching with an ACL injury while the Warhawks were winning their fifth Division III national championship.
"Now it's been a little over a year (since the injury) and you can see him continue to gain confidence," said UW-W head coach Lance Leipold. "He has good quickness, good speed and he's becoming more of a physical runner."
Moore said he is 100 percent healed from the injury and is looking forward to playing in the title game Friday.
During UW-W's national semifinal victory, Moore extended UW-Whitewater's streak of having a 1,000-yard rusher for an 11th consecutive season. The Warhawks have had 12 1,000-yard rushers during that 11-year span as Levell Coppage rushed for 1,461 and Antwan Anderson had 1,213 in 2008.
"The tradition we have here at Whitewater — national championships and things that we've done in the last seven to 10 years — is just amazing. And to be part of that is just a blessing," Moore said.
Ironically, the Warhawks' tradition of excellent running backs is what nearly broke the program's streak of 1,000-yard rushers. This season, UW-W has rotated four running backs — all with previous starting experience — in and out of the lineup.
"That's been a luxury for our program," Leipold said.
The deep position group meant the team's rushing totals were being spread out among Moore, Jordan Ratliffe, Nick Patterson and Ryan Givens rather than one person putting up big numbers individually.
But Moore said he and his teammates are in favor of this year's system and have supported one another throughout the season.
"It's a great situation, honestly. Even though we all want to be that featured back, we help coach each other because we're all talented — we all know we can play," Moore said. "Whoever goes out there is going to do well.
"It's a great chemistry."
Additionally, the rotation has helped keep Moore feeling healthy.
"It's a lot less wear on the body when you have more backs rotating in," he said. "So it's great and (I'm) feeling fresh."
Colin Burns started the current streak with a 1,422-yard season in 2004. Justin Beaver went over 1,000 yards three times from 2005 to 2007 — including a pair of 2,000-yard seasons. Coppage and Anderson both went over the 1,000 yard mark in 2008, and Coppage followed with three straight 2,000-yard seasons.
Dez Ward rushed for 1,028 yards in 2012 and Ratliffe made it 10 straight seasons with 1,259 yards a year ago.
Chad Wurth had 1,000-yard seasons in 2000, 2001 and 2002 before falling short of the mark with 982 yards during his senior season in 2003.
That proud running tradition starts up front with big offensive lines.
"We have a quote here, it's 'pound the rock.' That's one thing we always live by and we always stand for," Moore said. "It's great to have a great O-line and great coaches to keep pushing and keep that tradition going."
A year ago, the Warhawks' offensive line was young with two freshmen in the starting lineup.
But the group returned this year with enough valuable experience to overcome the loss of preseason All-American Lucas Skibba, who suffered a season-ending injury earlier this fall.
Juniors Johnny Wiederholt, Conner Peters, Eli Sloneker and sophomores Spencer Shier and Tony Koepnick will look to continue their excellent season on the O-line Friday against a stingy Mount Union defense.
"I think it's a group that has continued to work well. I think it's a credit to their position coach Daryl Agpalsa and our offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki for putting together a plan that allows them to function well," Leipold said. "They're a group that continues to work hard and take on challenges. We know it will be a big challenge Friday night too."
In addition to winning a national championship, Moore said he would like send out the senior class and head coach Lance Leipold with a win.
Leipold will assume the head coaching job at the University of Buffalo immediately following the season and he will be joined by Kotelnicki, Agpalsa and defensive coordinator Brian Borland.
"Leipold has been a great leader for us," Moore said. "I'm excited for him. I'm proud for him. That's a big step.
"We are focused on getting him that last national championship and I'm excited for the opportunity."