Dec. 6, 2008

Courtesy of Wartburg Athletics

WHITEWATER, WIS. - An historic season for the 2008 Wartburg College football season ended with a gritty ballgame from the Knights in a 34-17 loss to defending national champion UW-Whitewater.

The seventh-seeded and unranked Orange and Black gave the fifth-ranked Warhawks all they could handle for three-plus quarters, trailing only 20-17 early in the fourth quarter. However, the Warhawks, as they have been able to do at some stage in each of the previous three seasons, found two key plays to set up scores en route to a 34-17 win.

A blocked field goal, with senior place-kicker Spencer Herzberg of Iowa Falls setting up for a potential game-tying field goal early in the final period, turned into a short field score. UW-W linebacker Jace Rindahl came back on Wartburg’s ensuing possession and picked off a pass attempt, rambling it in 45 yards for a score for a 14-point swing.

Head coach Rick Willis, whose 2008 team end an historic season at 10-3, and his players saw nothing but positives from his team’s outing.

“Hey, this group of guys became a team during our seven-game winning streak and into the playoffs,” he said. “They hung together and played hard, producing great results for the program.”

“When (the senior class) came in, we had heard about the three straight Iowa Conference titles and wanted to get to that point,” defensive back Jason Lansing of West Union said. “It was a wonderful season. After having some close games the past few years go against us in trying to reach the conference title, we got it accomplished this year and did even more.”

“It was so much fun to do this with these seniors,” junior quarterback Nick Yordi of Solon said. “We all came together as a team, like Coach Willis said.”

Wartburg nearly extended their playoff stay another week. The Knights drove into UW-Whitewater territory four times in the first half. However, the turnover bug wiped out one on a fumbled snap that led to the first Warhawks’ score, the second ended with Herzberg hitting a field goal, the third was again killed by a fumble, this time inside UW-W’s five-yard line and the final attempt hit paydirt when freshman running back Lama Harvey of Robins, Ill., scampered in from four yards out.

Trailing 20-10 at the break, the Orange and Black harkened back to last weekend’s rally at Monmouth. A 57-yard screen pass from Yordi to sophomore wide receiver Matt Gustafson of Fairbault, Minn., trimmed the margin to 20-17. The Knights then stopped UW-W and forced a punt which they took and moved to the 11-yard line before the third period ended.

Enter UW-Whitewater’s special teams on Herzberg’s second field goal try. The block rolled to the 50 where the Warhawks marched down the field and took a 27-17 advantage on the second touchdown connection from junior quarterback Jeff Donovan to junior wide receiver Jordan Wells. Two plays later, the Rindahl interception for a score gave the home side the final lead of 34-17.

Wartburg’s offense, which produced 254 yards, was guided by Yordi. He registered his 10th 200-yard-plus effort through the air with 205 yards and a touchdown. Senior tight end Ryan Hoerner of Epworth and Gustafson each hauled in three receptions. Defensively, Lansing finished with 13 tackles and two sacks. Senior linebacker Kyle Goodchild of Van Horne added 11 tackles and a forced fumble, while fellow senior linebacker Ryan Gerardy of Eldridge added two sacks.