UW-Whitewater doubles the fun
Coppage, Blanchard make potent 1-2 punch for Warhawks
SALEM, Va. -- When Wisconsin-Whitewater takes a snap on offense in Friday's Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, the team knows that ball is in pretty good hands.
Quarterback Matt Blanchard?
Well, he was a finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy this season, an award given to the most outstanding Division III football player of the year.
Running back Levell Coppage?
Oh, he's only rushed for the third-most yards in NCAA history -- across all divisions -- and is second all-time for Division III.
Safe to say when the Warhawks are checking off potential concerns for the national championship game against Mount Union, the backfield probably isn't on that list.
Coppage has 7,704 career rushing yards and is 370 shy of former Mount Union running back Nat Kmic's DIII record. He needs 258 yards to tie New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead, formerly of Division II Chadron State, for second in any division.
And if you look at Coppage's performance in last year's Stagg Bowl, he may have a shot. The senior rushed for 299 yards and three touchdowns to give the Warhawks a second consecutive national title.
"It's just an amazing accomplishment," Coppage said. "The records that I've gathered over the years, my four years of being here at Whitewater, it's just unbelievable."
And he's earned all these accolades after following a pretty notable running back. Justin Beaver won the Gagliardi Trophy in 2007 and was a finalist in 2005. So when Coppage stepped foot on campus, he knew the pressure was on.
"Coming there, there was a lot of people saying that I had big shoes to fill and that's kind of the pressure that I wanted to hear. It makes me work harder, you know, hearing something like that makes you want to be a better athlete," Coppage said.
That hard work has paid off for Coppage, who has 2,029 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns this season.
But let's say the Warhawks don't want to hand the ball off to their talented running back.
How about letting Blanchard pass the ball?
The senior has thrown for 2,755 yards and 23 touchdowns with just three interceptions this season.
That's a pretty potent one-two punch behind that offensive line.
"What we're doing on the field is a product of the offensive play calls, the offensive line, Levell being who he is, making big runs, opening up our pass game some more," Blanchard said.
So what's been the key to Whitewater's success this season?
"We're just letting the game come to us, managing the game, making good decisions, that's really what the quarterback has to do in our offense," Blanchard said. "If you do that you're gonna have great stats, you're gonna have some good stuff happen for you. But really, with our new receiving corps and new offensive line and the things that we're doing and the success that we've had, it's just really special."
And if all that success shows up Friday, the Warhawks hope to bring back another championship trophy.
"It's everything that you work for in the offseason, during the season, everything that every athlete dreams of, being the last two teams here in the national spotlight, especially on a Friday night game like this," Coppage said.