Football team cruises into showdown against Pointers with first place on the line

Senior quarterback has led the football team to a perfect start to the 2009 season. Photo by Joy Kowald.

Jordan Wells did not waver when he made this statement:

“I guarantee they will know when we come off the football field that we’re the better football team,” the senior wide receiver said.

Wells is, of course, referring to Saturday’s 1 p.m. showdown at UW-Stevens Point (5-2, 4-0 WIAC) – who is tied with UW-Whitewater (7-0, 4-0) atop the conference standings with only three weeks left in the regular season.

And since the matchup brings together the only two teams yet to suffer a conference loss in 2009, the winner will be the front-runner for the WIAC championship and the conference’s automatic NCAA playoff bid.

This game is not just about conference standings, however.

It’s the much awaited rematch, as the Pointers were the only team to defeat the Warhawks during the 2008 regular season.

The conference loss was the first for UW-Whitewater in more than three years and it also brought the ’Hawks’ 27-game home winning streak to a screeching halt.

But head coach Lance Leipold made sure his players did not lose focus on its Homecoming contest against a dangerous UW-River Falls team last Saturday.

“If you get caught looking ahead in this league you’re going to regret it,” Leipold said following his team’s 38-14 victory over UW-River Falls before 8,169 fans at Perkins Stadium. “They were playing some good football. That could have easily been a 4-2 team or even a 6-0 team coming in here.”

Luckily, the ’Hawks did not look past the Falcons and now all their attention is on the Pointers.

But Wells, who scored two touchdowns on a season-high 116 yards Saturday, insists the game against the Pointers is not about payback.

“We don’t feel we have to get them back for anything,” Wells said. “It’s not revenge or anything. I just think when we play hard there’s no team that’s going to be out there playing with us.”

Senior quarterback Jeff Donovan also is not thinking about revenge, rather he understands the game is another stepping stone to the team’s fifth straight WIAC title.

“We’re just going to be really focused,” Donovan said after throwing for 353 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s 24-point win. “We know how important this game is.”

The nation’s No. 2 ranked defense, which shut down UW-River Falls’ passing offense and made them one-dimensional, will look to contain Jared Beckwith, the conference passing leader and Jared Jenkins, the WIAC’s receiving leader, this week.

However, Beckwith, who leads the conference in interceptions, is about to face a UW-Whitewater team that leads the WIAC in defense passing efficiency.

Against the Falcons last week, the ’Hawks came well-prepared for sophomore running back Taylor Edwards, who entered the game averaging five yards per carry and almost 130 yards rushing per contest.

Behind a stout defensive line, the Warhawk defense prevented Edwards from any major outbursts and limited him to only 79 yards on 2.9 per carry.

Although the Falcons controlled the time of possession in the first quarter, junior defensive back Matt McCulloch said his unit adapted.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” McCulloch said. “For a while there we just needed to get some adjustments and get back to the way we play.”

The ’Hawks offense, which was kept off the scoreboard in the opening quarter for the first time all year, put up 466 total yards and did not need many adjustments.

A majority of that was from Donovan. After he threw his second interception of the season, he guided the ’Hawks to touchdown scores on their next five possessions putting the game out of reach midway through the third quarter.

“Once we started rolling, we didn’t want to look back,” junior wide receiver Aaron Rusch said.

Rusch became UW-Whitewater’s all-time receptions leader after bringing in seven catches for 127 yards and one touchdown.

Regarding his record-setting day, Rusch added: “I really wasn’t paying attention to it. It is a great honor to be up there. I’m very proud.”

Leipold said, though, as his team gears up for the Pointers, the 2008 loss has no bearing on the 2009 contest.

“They were the conference champ and the [NCAA] automatic qualifier and our guys know that,” he said. “But last year is last year. It’s about who prepares the best and who plays the best on Saturday.”

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