Dec. 5, 2009

Sidebar: Whitewater's Defense Too Much For Wittenberg


By Todd Misher
Special to

UW-Whitewater shook off a series of uncharacteristic mistakes on Saturday and maintained control when it mattered most on the way to a 31-13 NCAA Division III quarterfinal victory over Wittenberg on Saturday.

The No. 2 ranked Warhawks (13-0) had to contend with penalties, dropped passes and missed field goals. But the errors provide inconsequential as they advanced to the national semifinals for the fifth straight season. The Warhawks will play Linfield, a 31-20 winner against St. Thomas.

Tigers’ second-string quarterback Ben Zoeller threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Michael Cooper with 32 seconds left in the first half to narrow the margin to 14-13.

But Whitewater rumbled 73 yards in seven plays to regain control and momentum. Senior quarterback Jeff Donovan connected with Adam Brandes on a 28-yard play in the back left corner of the end zone.

The Warhawk defense took over from there, stuffing the running game and shutting out the Tigers during the final 30 minutes. Wittenberg (12-1) managed only 88 total yards after intermission and finished with 21 yards rushing after gaining 194 total yards in the first half.

Zoeller entered in place of starter Aaron Huffman, who left the game with a concussion late in the opening half.

“I’m sure losing their quarterback was a big blow,” Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said. “But they caused us trouble all day. Both teams executed well in the first half, which limited the number of possessions.

"We had some uncharacteristic day in that Jeff (Schebler) missed two field goals, we dropped a couple of passes. But at this point, it’s all about surviving and moving on. It’s a testament to our team when we don’t play our A game in certain areas and get a Schebler, the NCAA’s all-division kick scoring record holder, nailed a 35-yard three-pointer and sophomore tailback Levell Coppage capped a 12-yard drive – set up by Troney Shumpert’s 36-yard interception return – with a 4-yard burst to put the contest away in the fourth quarter.

Donovan, a senior, said the Warhawks made enough plays when they needed to.

“You have to give Wittenberg credit because they weren’t giving us any big plays in the running game and didn’t give us many mismatches, so we had to just keep chipping away,” said Donovan, who finished 18-of-25 for 236 yards after being sacked for only the fifth and sixth times this season on the hosts’ first possession.

Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham said his team showed that it can compete with the nation’s best.

“We didn’t come all of this way to lay down to the Warhawks,” Fincham said. “We competed hard, but we didn’t run the ball well in the second half and things got away from us. This stinks today, but starting tomorrow this will be good for us.”
Huffman finished 11-of-12 for 139 yards before being knocked out, and Zoeller wound up 13-of-23 for 122 yards. Junior Corey Weber, who entered with nearly 1,150 yards rushing, was limited to 36 yards on 15 carries. Josh McKee caught a game-high 10 passes for 100 yards for the Tigers.

Meanwhile, UW-Whitewater's Coppage collected 123 yards on 25 attempts after having just 42 in the opening half. Aaron Rusch, the school’s all-time receptions leader, hauled in seven aerials for 92 yards and a 23-yard TD, the game’s first score early in the second quarter.

Huffman had scored on a 2-yard run, but Zack Harris’ extra point was blocked and left Wittenberg trailing 7-6. The Warhawks made it 14-6 on Antwan Anderson’s 7-yard burst and Schebler’s PAT.

UW-Whitewater then stifled the Tigers after the break, dominating with its pass rush and jarring hits in the secondary.   
The Warhawks are now 40-3 under Leipold’s tutelage the past three years.