Homecoming 2009: Warhawks eye victory after last year’s disappointing loss

No one saw it coming.

It was almost one year ago to the date, when the unexpected happened on Homecoming.

The previously undefeated Warhawks fell to UW-Stevens Point, 17-16, and shocked a packed Perkins Stadium crowd.

UW-Whitewater was flying high up until that point and had just completed a blowout win on the road.

And it’s a similar characteristic to this year as the ’Hawks have the same record, 6-0, and just demolished UW-Stout, 38-3, after a four-hour bus drive to Menomonie.

But as senior Jeff Donovan and his team begin preparing for Saturday’s Homecoming game against UW-River Falls at noon, the quarterback’s message is clear:

“We just have to be focused and take care of business,” Donovan said. “I’m just going to tell the team to just have fun and play loose. We don’t put any extra emphasis on a game unless it’s the national championship game.”

With a 35-point win away from home last weekend, the conference’s passing efficiency leader knows defeating a UW-Stout team who had not allowed more than 14 points in any game shows the maturity of the No. 2 ranked-team in the country.

“To double that [total] plus 10 feels pretty good,” Donovan said. “I think we definitely made a statement to the rest of the conference.”

Head coach Lance Leipold said the offensive outburst against UW-Stout, who entered the game as the conference’s second-ranked defense, displayed the experience of his team as they enter its Homecoming game.­­­

“I’m very pleased with our preparation,” Leipold said. “[UW-Stout] was extremely physical. So it’s a great sign for our offense to put up that many points up.”

But the defense continues to dominate the opposition. They are a prime reason the ’Hawks, who are receiving more first-place votes in D3football.com’s top 25 poll and gaining ground on No.1-ranked Mount Union, are undefeated entering Homecoming.

Through six games, they have not allowed a touchdown or a field goal in a first quarter this season and give up only five points per game.

And although they’ve battled injuries to its linebackers and defensive line, UW-Whitewater continues to quiet opponents’ running backs.

Over the last two weeks, the defense has shut down UW-Eau Claire’s Cory Sartorelli and UW-Stout’s Craig Warminski, two of the WIAC’s top-ranked runners, to under 100 yards each.

The challenge for this week is to silence a familiar tailback.

Sophomore Taylor Edwards, who scored three touchdowns in the Falcon’s 49-47 triple-overtime loss, played at UW-Whitewater two years ago before transferring in 2008.

Senior defensive back Troney Shumpert said it’s difficult to determine if the familiarity of Edwards will help when preparing for the Falcon offense.

“It’s hard to say, because it’s been a while since he’s been here,” Shumpert, the co-defensive captain said. “But we will have a strong plan for him and their entire offense.”

The differences between the ’Hawks and the Falcons are evident, however: UW-Whitewater has not lost a conference game all season. UW-River Falls has not won one.

Behind Donovan, who has a 12:1 touchdown to interception ratio, UW-Whitewater has the top-ranked passing offense in the league. UW-River Falls, on the other hand, has the worst passing ranked defense.

UW-Whitewater has won every game by at least 24 points. UW-River Falls has lost its four games by a combined nine points.

And that stat alone is why Leipold sees the Falcons as a dangerous team if the ’Hawks let them hang around in the second half.

“They’re losing a lot of close games,” Leipold said. “We know we have to be ready to play and everyone has to be at the top of their games.”

So as the ’Hawks look to maintain their first-place position within the conference, Leipold said his team can not get distracted during the week.

“Homecoming is a lot of fun and there are a lot of things going on including the Hall of Fame celebration,” Leipold said. “But we have one responsibility and that’s to win.”

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