Mount Union brings it on defense
Second-ranked Purple Raiders’ D ready to show experience
SALEM, Va. -- Heading into Friday's Stagg Bowl, Mount Union knows it has a tough task in trying to stop Wisconsin-Whitewater's backfield tandem of quarterback Matt Blanchard and running back Levell Coppage.
The Purple Raiders know how to bring it on defense.
Mount Union ranks second nationally in total defense, first in pass efficiency defense, third in rushing defense and second in scoring defense.
One of the pieces of that unit is defensive back Alex Ferrara, and he knows what the Raiders, who have won 10 of the last 16 national titles, need to do to reel in another one.
"We put in a few new defensive fronts and our No. 1 goal is clearly to stop Levell Coppage," Ferrara said. "He's an amazing running back and he really knows how to make some great plays, so our No. 1 goal is to stop the run and force them to pass."
Ferrara and Co. know Coppage is dangerous from experience. The Whitewater senior, who has rushed for the third-most yards in NCAA history across all divisions, ran for 299 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Warhawks to a second consecutive championship in the 2010 matchup.
But this team, Ferrara said, has something that should help slow down the record-setting runner.
"I would say it's the experience we have in the entire defense," Ferrara said. "Last year we were a little young and now we have the ability to not think so much on the defensive side of the ball.
"We can go out there and just read and react to certain plays, certain formations."
That experience comes from the Raiders returning nine starters back from last year's defense.
And for Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, he knows what the defense's biggest job will be Friday.
"Every week we try to stop big plays," Kehres said. "This game that's a real challenge because Whitewater makes a lot of big plays in both their running game and then that running game sets up some great play-action passes."
Kehres was also blunt about the one thing his team needed in order to get a win.
"There's gonna be some good plays by Whitewater. We've gotta keep our poise, keep our focus," he said.
Whitewater coach Lance Leipold acknowledged that the passing game would have to come up big against this stout defense.
"It's gonna be a very difficult challenge and we know that and it's been that way every year," he said. "When we've met this team at this time their rush defense numbers have always been outstanding. It's gonna be a difficult challenge and we have to continue to mix it up passing. That's gonna be the biggest thing."
Having split the last six national championships against each other, Mount Union and Whitewater know what to expect, and it's a game that Ferrara has been looking forward to.
"I think the thing about us and Whitewater is we do have a mutual respect for one another," Ferrara said. "After our game last week I was hoping [Whitewater] won because there's no greater game than Game 7. You wanna play that team.
"They're a great team and we respect them, but losing the past two years has added a lot of fuel to the fire and we're excited to play."
So what would a win mean for Ferrara?
"This is a big game. They're a great team," Ferrara said. "I feel like we've prepared very well and this is the game I'm gonna remember for the rest of my life."