The No. 7 ranked University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team engineered a big first half and hung on in the second half Saturday for a 41-28 triumph over Wartburg (Iowa) in the second round of the NCAA Division III Championship at Perkins Stadium.
The Warhawks (11-1 overall) advance to the national quarterfinals for the 13th time in the last 15 years and will face No. 1 ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) next Saturday, Dec. 7, at a location and time to be announced Sunday afternoon.
UW-Whitewater held Wartburg (10-2) to 32 yards rushing and forced five turnovers in the contest.
Senior running back Jarrod Ware rushed for 58 yards, and junior tight end Jared Zausch posted four receptions for 41 yards. Senior running back Ronny Ponick rushed for 31 yards and one touchdown and caught a 12-yard touchdown.
Senior linebacker Matt Anderson tallied a team-high eight tackles, including one sack, and one interception. Junior linebacker Kaleb Kaminski registered four tackles, including one for a loss, and added one forced fumble and two interceptions.
The Warhawks' special teams made several big plays during the game, including a punt return for a touchdown, five kickoff returns for 146 yards, two made field goals and five punts for an average of 41.6 yards, including three inside the Knights' 20-yard line.
Senior defensive back Garrett Purdy posted an interception on Wartburg's first drive of the game, and UW-Whitewater took advantage of the good field position.
Five plays after a 26-yard completion from junior quarterback Max Meylor to junior wide receiver Derek Kumerow, junior running back Alex Peete dove over the pile at the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown with 9:17 on the clock.
The Warhawks doubled the lead two minutes later, taking advantage of a forced fumble by Kaminski. Ware ran down to the Knights' 12-yard line, and Ponick caught a screen pass for a 12-yard score.
After a three-and-out, UW-Whitewater added to its lead on a 36-yard field goal by junior kicker Wojciech Gasienica with 2:37 to play in the first quarter.
After a Wartburg touchdown, the Warhawks responded. Junior wide receiver Ryan Wisniewski returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards, then threw a 26-yard pass to Zausch on a reverse pass. Three plays later, Meylor ran around the right side for a 4-yard touchdown at the 11:32 mark.
Following a three-and-out by the Knights, senior Justin Prostinak went untouched on the punt return 67 yards for the touchdown and a 31-7 advantage with 9:21 remaining in the first half.
UW-Whitewater was the first on the board in the third quarter as Gasienica knocked a 27-yard field goal through the uprights with 9:50 to play. The drive was keyed by Wisniewski's 38-yard return to near midfield.
Wartburg scored on the next drive to cut its deficit to 34-14, but the Warhawks took advantage of strong field position again later in the quarter. Three plays after a key third-down completion from Meylor to sophomore wide receiver Tyler Holte, Ponick pushed up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown and a 41-14 lead with 2:27 left in the period.
The Knights tacked on touchdowns on their next two drives and had the ball in UW-W territory just past the midway point of the fourth quarter, but Kaminski picked off Noah Dodd at the Warhawks' 27-yard line.
After a UW-Whitewater punt to the Wartburg 9-yard line, Kaminski registered his second interception of the quarter and returned it to the Knights' 14-yard line. From there, the Warhawks knelt out the final two minutes of regulation.
Next Saturday's game against Mary Hardin-Baylor is a rematch of the 2018 national semifinal, which the Crusaders won 31-14 in Belton, Texas.