Football Column: ‘Hawks leave no doubt, finish 15-0

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Jan. 22, 2014

 

By Kevin Cunningham

Finishing a season with a perfect record is one of the most difficult things a team can accomplish. This is true for any major sport, where the competition plays at an extraordinarily high level game-in and game-out.

When looking at the NFL, a perfect season has only been accomplished once, by the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The closest a team has gotten since then was the 2007 New England Patriots. The Patriots took their undefeated record into the Super Bowl where they ended up losing to Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

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Kevin Cunningham Sports Editor

In Division-I men’s basketball, the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers were the last team to accomplish the feat, finishing their season 32-0. Having the talent paired with the correct mindset to finish a season perfectly surely takes a little luck, as well as an amazing approach to each and every game by both the players and the coaching staff.

Head coach Lance Leipold entered the 2013 season with an overall record of 79-6 in his coaching career at UW-Whitewater. Despite his success, Leipold had questions to answer surrounding the program after finishing the 2012 season 7-3 and missing the D-III playoffs for the first time since he had taken over the job.

Questions arose regarding the running game and whether a running back could step in and carry the load successfully enough like running backs have in past championship seasons. At quarterback, junior Matt Behrendt earned his time to shine, after starting just a few games at the end of the 2012 season. Was he ready to lead a team to a perfect 15-0?

The aforementioned questions, among others, were emphatically answered in the team’s 52-14 victory against Mount Union, a team that had won four of the previous eight Stagg Bowls. The Warhawks overcame many injuries at running back during the course of the 2013 season, but two men stood above the injured rest in Jordan Ratliffe and Booker Ross.

Ratliffe may not have ran for 1,300 yards or scored 10 touchdowns, but his 5.5 and Ross’ 5.3 yards per carry averages were more than enough to sustain a solid running game for the team throughout the season.

At quarterback, Behrendt wasn’t even considered the best signal-caller on the field against the previously unbeaten Mount Union Purple Raiders.

A few nights before the Stagg Bowl, Purple Raiders quarterback Kevin Burke took home the Gagliardi Trophy, an award given to D-III football’s top all-around player. It didn’t even take four quarters a few nights later to see that Behrendt may have been robbed of yet another award in 2013.

Behrendt not only won MVP honors in the game, but the junior finished his season completing more than 65 percent of his passes for 3,290 yards and 40 touchdowns to only one interception. While the offense had several questions to answer across the board in 2013, the defense knew it would have to be stout on its side of the ball as well.

On three separate occasions in 2013, the defense took the field against a No. 1-rated offense. In those three occasions, it dominated the game, and in each game this season, no team scored more than 17 points against the tenacious Warhawks defense.

With tremendous success comes invaluable recognition. In certain games, the Warhawks did not play to the level they wanted to in the first half of play. More than once, the defense made halftime adjustments that left opposing offenses mind-boggled in the second halves of games.

Senior linebacker Cole Klotz was a finalist for the Gagliardi trophy at the end of the season, and defensive coordinator Brian Borland added a D-III Coordinator of the Year award to his résumé. Whether the Warhawks defense wasn’t getting enough pressure or they weren’t making the necessary plays on the ball, Borland was a monumental part of the success when it came to making adjustments on the fly to put his team in the best position to win.

Along with Borland’s honors, Leipold silenced any doubters he may have had with his fourth national championship in five years, increasing his overall record to 94-6 and taking home the 2013 American Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year award. The Warhawks were picked to lose their final three games in the playoffs by D3football.com.

There were questions regarding this team throughout the year, but a 52-14 victory against Mount Union put the icing on the cake to the 2013 season. Any possible questions regarding Leipold and his team were suddenly silenced.