You almost knew it was going to happen.
After a 20-0 drubbing of St. Thomas University (Minn.) Saturday, the Warhawks earned their seventh-consecutive Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl berth.
They will also face Mount Union for the seventh-straight time at 6 p.m. CDT Friday in Salem, Va., for the Division-III Championship. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN2.
“We played a very fine football team and to walk away with a shutout, anytime, is outstanding,” coach Lance Leipold said. “We’re excited to face Mount Union again this year and both teams have earned the right to be there.”
The ’Hawks have taken the last two and the last three-out-of-four national titles against the Purple Raiders, while the Raiders took the first two starting in 2005. In the six games between the two teams, the Raiders have outscored the ’Hawks 171-170.
The No. 2 ranked Raiders hold a record of 14-0 and gave the ’Hawks their last loss going back to the 2008 Stagg Bowl. Last season the ’Hawks won 31-21, while senior running back Levell Coppage ran for 299 yards with three touchdowns and was named the MVP.
This season, each team is relatively the same as a season ago. The Raiders bring back junior quarterback Matt Piloto and junior running back Jeremy Murray. Mount Union averages just under 39 points compared to the ’Hawks 35.86, while the Raiders average 438 yards total offense per game compared to the ’Hawks 451.
For the ’Hawks, Matt Blanchard will start in his first ever Stagg Bowl after missing all of last years playoffs due to a thumb injury.
Throughout the postseason, the ’Hawks have stepped up defensively, outscoring their opponents 154-28.
St. Thomas entered play on Saturday with the No. 1 ranked rush defense in the country, giving up just 47.5 yards per game. They were also ranked No. 3 in total defense allowing just 206.1 yards per game and were No. 3 in scoring defense by holding opponents to 9.4 points per game.
The ’Hawks broke all of those marks before halftime.
UW-Whitewater’s offense, led by Gagliardi Trophy finalist Blanchard, gained 352 yards of offense, 173 of which were gained on the ground. Blanchard finished 14-19 for 179 yards with a touchdown passing and rushing.
In the two ’Hawk drives that culminated in touchdowns, Blanchard accounted for 127 of the 137 yards gained by the offense. He also converted all three third-down conversions to keep those drives alive.
Tommies’ linebacker Tony Danna said Blanchard was the best quarterback his team faced all season.
“We got pressure on him, but he was really poised in the pocket,” Danna said. “He kept his eyes downfield and made plays. He’s a very good quarterback.”
The reputation of the Tommies’ stout run defense opened up the passing game for Blanchard, who took advantage on several defensive lapses early on.
“We knew they were going to key Levell and we wanted to make sure we got the passing game going early,” Blanchard said. “We executed at a high level and Levell does a great job of pass blocking, so a lot of credit to our offense.”
Credit must also be given to the ’Hawks defense as well, which held the Tommies to 214 yard of total offense and recorded the team’s third shutout this year and its second of the post season.
The defense also held St. Thomas’ Gagliardi finalist receiver Fritz Waldvogel to just 45 yards on eight catches.
Sophomore Kyle Wismer said the defense is continuing to improve even though the season is nearly over.
“We’re getting better and better each week and uniting as a team,” Wismer said. “Our focus today [Saturday] was to shut down their run game and make them pass the ball, which made life easier for us since we knew they would be throwing.”
The victory last weekend was the final home appearance for the seniors who leave behind quite a legacy. Among them is Coppage, who is arguably one of the greatest players to ever play for UW-Whitewater.
“I was thinking today that this was my last game at Perkins Stadium playing with all the seniors I came up with,” Coppage said. “It has been a great four years and coming here has been one of the greatest decisions I’ve made.” It’s sad but I can’t wait to go to Salem and end it right.”