‘Hawks win 34th WIAC title

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Nov. 12, 2014 By Andrea Sidlauskas

The Warhawks football team has a winning tradition. They’ve won five of the last seven Division-III national titles, nine conference championships in the last 10 years, and 26-straight games to earn the longest win streak currently in D-III and the second-longest in college football.

So when the UW-Stevens Point Pointers came to town for the ’Hawks’ last home game of the regular season Nov. 8, they did everything in their power to break that tradition.

But the ’Hawks, ranked No. 1 according to D3football.com and the American Football Coaches Association, proved to be too much for the Pointers, as they triumphed over UW-SP, 49-17, on the UW-W Senior Day.

“It was a good win against a good football team,” head coach Lance Leipold said. “Stevens Point was very aggressive in everything they did in their game plan, from blitzing and taking shots down the field. It’s the game we anticipated.”

Eleven seniors were recognized on the field prior to kickoff; among them was wide receiver Jake Kumerow, an NFL Draft prospect, who suited up but did not play in Saturday’s contest due to a high ankle sprain.

Despite the loss of Kumerow, the Warhawk offense shined throughout the day, gaining 531 yards compared to the Pointers’ 408, and put up their biggest point total since Oct. 18 when they tallied 52 against UW-Eau Claire.

Fellow senior wide receiver Justin Howard stepped up for the ’Hawks’ receiving corps, as he posted a career-high 151 yards and two touchdowns to lead the offense through the air.

“Jake [Kumerow] is an unbelievable player and with him out, obviously some people are going to step up,” Howard said. “I would like Jake [Kumerow] to be out there, because it’s the best chance for our team to win. It happens to be that I was the guy to step in his spot, and I’m just trying to just take advantage of that and the opportunities that I’m given.”

Junior running back Dennis Moore added a career-best 102 yards in 10 carries to the 237 rushing yards garnered by the ’Hawks, while senior quarterback Matt Behrendt went 21-for-32 with 294 yards and matched a season-high four touchdown passes.

“Everybody says ‘nice catch,’ but I say ‘nice throw,’” Howard said. “It really is a team effort; you have to give credit to the offensive line protecting, and the running backs picking up blitzes. I feel like I have the easy part. I just run down the field and Matty B [Behrendt] makes me look good.”

The Pointers looked to upset the top-ranked ’Hawks, as they racked up 93 more yards than the Warhawks had allowed in a game all season, while managing to score 17 points – giving them the highest point total of any UW-W opponent this year.

“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit,” junior linebacker Justin Dischler said. “We missed a few coverage checks; a few penalties hurt us on third downs. But our coach always talks about keeping your foot on the gas, and eventually we took the wind right out of their sails.”

The ’Hawks shut down the Pointers’ run game, holding them to 92 yards on the ground, and forced UW-SP quarterback Cody Nuernberg to throw 47 passes – including one that was picked off by senior defensive back Brady Grayvold in the first quarter to mark his sixth this year and 12th in his last 14 games.

Junior linebacker Paul Foster led the Warhawk defense with eight tackles, while Dischler made six, including two sacks, and broke up a pass. Senior defensive back Marcus McLin and sophomore defensive lineman Tim Regan each registered a sack.

With the victory, the ’Hawks clinched at least a share in their 34th conference championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA D-III Playoffs, which begin Nov. 22. But Dischler said the team isn’t happy with what they have.

“We’re selfish,” Dischler said. “We don’t like to share conference championships, so come Monday the focus is right back in with 100 percent intensity. We want to finish this thing outright.”

The ’Hawks have a chance to do just that at 1 p.m. Nov. 15 as they travel to UW-River Falls to conclude regular season play.

“We’re pretty confident that we’re going to get everybody’s A game,” Leipold said. “We’ll get River Falls’ best shot next week. But I feel confident about the great job our assistants do and the maturity of our football team that we understand that we want an outright conference championship; we don’t want to share it.”

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