Dec. 12, 2009

By Todd Mishler
Special to

WHITEWATER, Wis. – All that potentially remained in their season was 8 minutes, 31 seconds. UW-Whitewater needed only 57 seconds to make sure that they’d play for another week, and a few more minutes to guarantee it.

The Warhawks trailed Linfield, 17-10, taking over at their 23. Senior quarterback Jeff Donovan completed an 8-yard pass to Aaron Rusch and then connected with his other favorite target, Jordan Wells, who broke a tackle and bolted down the right sideline to complete a 68-yard play.

That set the hosts up for Antwan Anderson’s 1-yard plunge and a 20-17 advantage with 7:34 left, and second-rated UW-Whitewater took control from there in posting a 27-17 NCAA Division III semifinal victory over No. 5 Linfield on Saturday and the Warhawks’ fifth straight trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl against top-ranked Mount Union.

Lance Leipold’s 2007 national champions then stuffed Linfield’s fake-punt attempt on Linfield’s next drive, and Jeremy Deibert intercepted Wildcats’ quarterback Aaron Boehme on a fourth-and-10 play on the next series.

That set up Levell Coppage’s second big TD run – he had opened the scoring with a 55-yard romp – a 40-yard jaunt with 1:05 remaining to keep UW-W perfect at 14-0 and send the Wildcats back to Oregon with a 12-1 mark.

Leipold and his players hadn’t been tested like this all year and trailed for the first time since last season’s title showdown in Virginia, but they had prepared for a 60-minute contest and were happy to survive.

“You have to give your opponent credit in a situation like this, because we had to prove what we were made of,” said Leipold, whose squad improved to 41-3 in his third campaign. “We maybe did some uncharacteristic things, but Linfield executed. It feels great to win this battle.”

Donovan said Wells, who finished with a team-leading six catches for 98 yards, made him look good on the crucial hookup that led to what proved to be the deciding score.

“I missed some throws, but I don’t think we were out of sync,” said Donovan, who completed 17 of 26 for 276 yards. “They stepped up, but we had opportunities and felt it was only a matter of time. Then Jordan broke that tackle and made a great play. We were a little nervous but excited because we want (the outcome) to be on us. The crowd was great, and I’m proud of this team.”

Adam Brandes also came up with a big game and several key catches among his five receptions for a game-high 123 yards. All five of Brandes’ catches went for first downs, including a 35-yard grab that set up Jeff Schebler’s 26-yard field goal to bring the hosts to within 17-13 with 12:36 left. That drive was set up on Wells’ 41-yard kickoff return.

“Jeff and us receivers spend a lot of time working on our timing and rhythm,” Brandes said. “I’ve got long arms and just try to get the ball at its highest point. I just do my best to step up and make big plays.”

Brandes and the Warhawks did that in scoring the game’s final 17 points, including an interception from linebacker Kyle Supianoski in the final minute.

Anderson complemented Coppage’s 109 yards with 44 on nine carries and relished the opportunity to contribute in key situations.

“It was great to take the load off Levell and the team because I had fresh legs,” Anderson said. “It was great to score the touchdown. I think that helped give us a push, made us feel better and gave us confidence.”

Linfield finished with 384 yards of total offense, including 278 passing, but Brett Christopherson picked off the Wildcats’ Aaron Boehme in the first half and then Deibert sealed the deal with 1:29 left.

“Linfield has a great offense, and we just couldn’t stick with them sometimes,” Deibert said. “They didn’t do anything than what we thought they would. Their quarterback broke containment and made plays. But we stuck with it and came up big in the fourth quarter.”