Stagg Bowl Preview
Mount Union and UW-Whitewater reunite in title game
Mount Union posted its fifth consecutive undefeated regular season, and then marched into the NCAA Division III playoffs on a mission, defeating the Purple Raiders’ first three foes -- St. Lawrence, Delaware Valley and Alfred -- by a combined score of 117-10. Making their 16th consecutive appearance in the NCAA semifinals, the Purple Raiders then knocked off Bethel, 34-14, to advance to the Division III Championship Game for the sixth consecutive year.
UW-Whitewater’s final scores in the NCAA playoffs may not look as dominant; however, the results were good enough to stretch the Warhawks' winning streak to 29 games -- the longest in NCAA football, regardless of division. The Warhawks topped Franklin in the first round, and then handed Trine its first loss of the season in second round action. UWW then hit the road, and defeated North Central, 20-10, and Wesley, 27-7, to advance to the Stagg Bowl for the sixth consecutive season.
Players to Watch
The quarterback situation seems to be the storyline for both teams this week. Mount Union sophomore quarterback Neal Seaman led the Purple Raiders through another unbeaten season, but went down with an injury in the NCAA semifinals against Bethel, and backup Matt Piloto was given his opportunity to shine. The Purple Raiders did not miss a beat with Piloto calling the signals as he threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns. Head coach Larry Kehres did not name a starter for Saturday’s championship game during a media teleconference on Dec. 13.
UW-Whitewater lost regular-season starter Matt Blanchard to a hand injury after he led the Warhawks to a 10-0 mark while throwing 21 touchdowns with just one interception. But backup Lee Brekke, who had never started a college game, stepped in and has led the Warhawks to a 4-0 record in the playoffs with nine touchdowns. Blanchard is back in practice, and will be available to play, but UWW head coach Lance Leipold did not announce this weekend’s starter on Monday’s call.
Both teams also feature stellar running offenses as Mount Union’s Jeremy Murray and UW-Whitewater’s Levell Coppage are among the nation’s leading rushers. Murray is averaging 122.38 yards per game (12th), while Coppage is rushing for 138.50 yards per contest (9th).
Stagg Bowl History
Mount Union is 69-11 all-time in 22 postseason trips, and is in the hunt for the program’s 11th Division III Championship. The Purple Raiders will be playing in the Stagg Bowl for the 14th time. Their most recent national title was in 2008 when they defeated UW-Whitewater, 31-26.
UW-Whitewater is 27-6 all-time in nine NCAA playoff appearances, and has claimed two of the last three Division III titles (2007, 2009). The Warhawks have won nine consecutive playoff contests.
The two teams have met seven times in the series that began in 2002, including each of the past five Stagg Bowls, beginning in 2005. Mount Union holds a 5-2 advantage in the series; however, the Purple Raiders only lead 3-2 when the Division III trophy is on the line.
Stagg Bowl history the past five seasons:
- 2005 -- Mount Union 35, Wis.-Whitewater 28
- 2006 -- Mount Union 35, Wis.-Whitewater 16
- 2007 -- Wis.-Whitewater 31, Mount Union 21
- 2008 -- Mount Union 31, Wis.-Whitewater 26
- 2009 -- Wis.-Whitewater 38, Mount Union 28
Mount Union boasts an offense that is putting up almost 40 points per game, but it's the Purple Raiders’ defense that is the backbone of this year’s squad. The Purple Raiders pace the nation in scoring defense (7.36 ppg), pass efficiency defense (78.70), and total defense (196.57 ypg).
The Warhawks rank in the nation’s top 10 in both rushing offense (268.79 ypg) and defense (46.71 ypg), and are outscoring foes by a margin of almost 30 points per game. UWW is registering 473.87 yards of total offense per game for 10th in the nation, and is also third in Division III with a 1.69 turnover margin.