Dec. 12, 2009

Sidebar: Late Rally Sends Warhawks On

By Todd Mishler
Special to NCAA.com

WHITEWATER, Wis. - Team and individual records seemingly are part of the UW-Whitewater game plan every week. But the Warhawks did something Saturday they hadn't accomplished all season.

Lance Leipold's squad (14-0) overcame a deficit for the first time since last year's national title game, ripping off 17 unanswered points during the final 7 minutes, 34 seconds to claim a 27-17 triumph over Linfield (Ore.) in an NCAA Division III national semifinal contest at Perkins Stadium.

Second-ranked UW-Whitewater will make its fifth consecutive appearance in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl this coming Saturday, where it hopes to improve its 1-3 showing against No. 1 Mount Union in Salem, Va.

Meanwhile, 2004 champion and fifth-ranked Linfield (12-1) had its eight-game road winning streak snapped after putting the Warhawks down 17-10 on Josh Repp's 35-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Leipold said the Warhawks proved they have a championship attitude with their fourth-quarter rally.

"Linfield have us everything we could handle," Leipold said. "It's not fair that considering what we've done this year that our success would depend on this game, but what we've accomplished in the past is the measuring stick. I was thinking after the offensive interference call that maybe it wasn't our day because we just weren't clicking. But our defense was outstanding, and we made big plays offensively."

Linfield took the second-half kickoff, and aided by a 5-yard off-sides penalty on a third down, marched 78 yards in seven plays to grab a 14-10 advantage on quarterback Aaron Boehme's 4-yard keeper at the 10:58 mark, the first time UW-Whitewater had trailed all season.

The Warhawks then registered an apparent 40-yard score on Jeff Donovan's 40-yard toss to Cory Robinson on the next drive, but the latter was whistled for pass interference.

The Wildcats then converted plays on third-and-13 and third-and-9 to drive from their 10 to the hosts' 18. Repp then nailed the field goal.  

Donovan was saved by a great grab from Adam Brandes on a third-and-10 play for a 35-yard gain to the Linfield 12 on the ensuing drive. But the Warhawks stalled again, settling for Jeff Schebler's 26-yard field goal to cut UW-W's deficit to 17-13 with 12:36 remaining.

The Warhawks held and then used only three plays and 57 seconds to regain the lead at 20-17 as Jordan Wells broke a tackle and rambled 68 yards down the right sideline to the Linfield 1, where Antwan Anderson lunged in on the next play with 7:34 left.

Linfield moved to the Warhawks' 49 but a fake punt lost 2 yards on a fourth-and-5 call with 5:24 left. UW-W then went three-and-out and Linfield took over at its 19 with 3:10 showing. Jeremy Deibert's interception of Boehme on fourth-and-10 ended the drive and Linfield's hopes of the upset.

Wildcats' coach Joseph Smith said his team simply couldn't make enough plays in the final period.

"Whitewater certainly is the most talented team we've faced all year, but we knew we had been tested before," Smith said. "I thought we had the game and were in position to win, so we're disappointed to let it slip away. They were the best offense we've faced in many years. We had good coverage and their receivers made great catches. There was no great storyline; we just didn't match them at the end."

The first half was one of missed opportunities for both teams. UW-Whitewater's first and last drives before the intermission ended with sacks on snaps from the Linfield 25 and 2, respectively, while the Wildcats moved into Warhawks' territory twice and reached their own 48 on their first three possessions.

Sophomore tailback Levell Coppage burst through a crease and raced 55 yards down the left side on the first play of the Warhawks' second drive as the hosts grabbed a 7-0 lead with 6:22 left in first quarter. Coppage's jaunt moved him into fifth place all-time in the school's rushing annals.

Strong safety Zach Christopherson's interception, after a tip by linebacker Lane Olson, set the hosts up at the Linfield 17. However, three passes netted only five yards, and senior kicker Schebler's 34-yard field goal made it 10-0 at the 5:32 mark of the second quarter.

But Boehme's 67-yard scamper on first down ignited a four-play, 82-yard march that made it 10-7 on his 9-yard scoring connection to Ryan Henderson. The drive equaled the Wildcats' yardage output to that point.

UW-W then got a 45-yard pass from Donovan to Brandes to give it a first-and-goal at the 9, but the Warhawks were forced to go for it from the 2 on fourth down and Donovan was sacked by Jaymin Jackson with 38 seconds left.
 
Donovan finished 17 of 26 for 276 yards, Coppage accumulated 109 yards on 13 carries and added to his school mark with his 52nd and 53rd TDs rushing. Brandes led the receivers with 123 yards on his five catches.

Boehme wound up 26 of 38 for 278 yards but was picked off three times. Trev Patterson caught six of those balls for 86 yards. But the Wildcats ended with only 39 yards rushing other than Boehme's long gainer.