BELTON, Texas -- One year after failing to qualify for the postseason, Wisconsin-Whitewater is back in familiar territory.
Jordan Ratliffe ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns and Matt Behrendt passed for 197 yards to lead Wisconsin-Whitewater to a 16-15 victory against Mary Hardin-Baylor in an NCAA Division III semifinal Saturday afternoon.
The Warhawks (14-0) rallied from a 12-0 first-half deficit to reach the national championship game for the eighth time in the past nine years.
Ratliffe's 3-yard TD run just before halftime cut UW-Whitewater's gap to 12-7, and his 5-yard score midway through the third quarter gave the Warhawks the lead for good and kept alive their shot at a fifth title. UW-Whitewater won its first national championship in 2007 and three consecutive from 2009-11.
A 209-pound sophomore, Ratliffe continually pounded the Mary Hardin-Baylor defense and picked up the majority of his yards after contact.
"It was a really physical game," said Ratliffe, who carried the ball 28 times. "Our coaches told me I would have to run hard and get the tough yards. I was just doing what I was coached to do and kept moving my feet and running hard."
UW-Whitewater held the Crusaders (13-1) to 241 yards and 34 points below their scoring average. The Warhawks converted on 10 of their 18 third-down attempts and held the ball for more than 34 minutes.
"We had patience and these types of games are always going to be a field position game, a possession game," UW-Whitewater head coach Lance Leipold said. "You can't panic, and we didn't panic."
Mary Hardin-Baylor raced ahead 12-0 midway through the second quarter but didn't score again until Chad Peevey's 21-yard field goal with 3:29 remaining in the game, when the Crusaders opted for the three points on fourth-and-goal from the Warhawks 4-yard line to cut their deficit to 16-15.
"I didn't want [UW-Whitewater] to gain any momentum," Mary Hardin-Baylor head coach Pete Fredenburg said of the decision. "Certainly you want to go for it. That's your gut reaction, but I felt like we had time. I don't know that I would do anything differently."
The plan backfired when Behrendt hooked up with tight end Derric Junakin for an 18-yard completion on third-and-6, giving the Warhawks the first down they needed to run out the clock.
Behrendt was 21-of-29 passing and has thrown only one interception in 432 attempts this season.
"We know that if we don't turn the ball over, there's a really good chance that we're going to win with the defense that we have," Behrendt said. "So I just have to go out there and make the right reads and make the right decisions and at the end of the day, we're going to be winners."