Football: Unbeaten ‘Hawks host SNC

 

By Andrea Sidlauskas

After a dominating performance against UW-River Falls Saturday, the Warhawks football team will have a quick recovery period before beginning its second season, the NCAA Division-III Tournament playoffs, this Saturday.

 
“It was a good win, a great way to finish up the regular season,” head coach Lance Leipold said. “Finishing the regular season undefeated is not easy, and to have the opportunity to be undisputed conference champs is definitely a nice accomplishment for our program.”

The ’Hawks trampled the Falcons, 43-6, to end regular-season WIAC play, clinching sole possession of the WIAC title for the seventh time in nine years and their 33rd overall. With the conference crown comes an automatic berth into the playoffs.

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Loussaint Minett

This will be the ’Hawks’ eighth playoff appearance in nine years, as the team did not receive a bid last season, ending with a disappointing 7-3 record.

“We were the most hard on ourselves, because we didn’t get to where we needed to be,” senior defensive lineman Loussaint Minett said. “I think [not making the playoffs] was the best thing to happen to us. It was a huge chip on our shoulders, but we were the ones to get this thing back to where it needed to be.”

Despite injuries, game plan changes and coaching moves, the ’Hawks have overcome adversity, making their presence known in the NCAA tournament with a
No. 1 seed. They will host St. Norbert College at noon on Saturday, Nov.  23.

This will be the 30th meeting between the ’Hawks and Green Knights; their last was a first-round playoff matchup in 2006, which the ’Hawks won, 59-17.

Considering this as a foreshadow to this Saturday’s fate, the ’Hawks could face a potential second-round rematch against Washington University-St. Louis if both teams reign victorious in the first round.

“It is difficult [to stay on top], and that’s been part of the fun,” Leipold said. “To win the league and be where we’re at right now, this group has exceeded my expectations.”

The ’Hawks’ defense shined throughout the season, allowing only 221.6 yards and eight points per game, the lowest in the conference. En route to the playoffs, they also have faced two nationally ranked teams, UW-Oshkosh and UW-Platteville, to prepare them for the tough competition they have yet to see.

This Saturday’s matchup against St. Norbert will be a battle of defense, as both teams are nationally ranked among the top 10 defensively, and the Green Knights have given up an average of 12.8 points per game.

St. Norbert will make its 11th appearance in the playoffs, tied for 13th-most all-time, with an overall record of 8-2 this season. The Green Knights are 1-10 in the NCAA D-III playoffs and are coming off a 31-3 loss against Lake Forest College last Saturday.

The ’Hawks are 33-6 all-time in the tournament and have played in seven consecutive Stagg Bowls from 2005 to 2011 and look to add another national title to their belt after failing to make a presence this past season.

“It’s unexplainable [to be back in the playoffs],” Minett said. “We had alumni come back and tell us they’re proud of us, and it feels great to finally be in a position where we are in control of what goes on.”

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Tyler Huber

The ’Hawks are now preparing for the game ahead, taking one week at a time and leaving each previous matchup in the past.

“Every game we go into, it’s 1-0,” senior wide receiver Tyler Huber said. “The next game is the game that we’re worried about, and I think our best game is still in front of us.”

Although the team suffered injuries, Leipold said it is likely to have sophomore running back Jordan Ratliffe back for the first round of the playoffs and expects scout team players to step up for the ’Hawks as well.

While many current members of the team have been a part of the ’Hawks’ prior success, more than half the group has not experienced the playoffs. Their lack of experience is what makes them coachable, and the combination of the youth plus the leadership from the seniors is what will propel them into greatness once again, Leipold said.

“For the last couple years, we’ve been successful through success in the past and having momentum carrying us on year by year, after coming off of Stagg Bowls and having successful seasons,” Huber said. “This year, you look to your buddy on the left and look to your buddy on the right, and it’s a family. We have a chip on our shoulder, but it’s an us-against-the-world-type deal.”

The ’Hawks have met the Green Knights a total of 29 times dating back to 1932 and lead the series, 17-9-3.  The first-round of the NCAA D-III Playoffs will kick off at noon at Perkins Stadium Nov. 23.

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