‘Hawks rally in second half

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‘Hawks rally in second half

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Dec. 10, 2014 By Andrea Sidlauskas

Just when the end seemed near for the Warhawks football team, a fourth-quarter momentum surge led them to rack up 21 unanswered points to put away the Wartburg College Knights, 37-33, in the quarterfinal round of NCAA Division-III Playoffs at Perkins Stadium Dec. 6.

“Well that was an exciting football game, wasn’t it?” head coach Lance Leipold said. “It was three quarters one way and a fourth quarter to remember for us.”

Just five days after Leipold announced his decision to take a D-I head coach position at the University of Buffalo after this season, the Warhawk defense struggled to stop the Knights’ offensive attack in the first half, giving up 332 yards in the first two quarters.

The Knights struck quickly with a six-play 75-yard drive to score a touchdown just 57 seconds into the game. At the end of the first quarter, the Knights had outpaced the ’Hawks on the ground by 145 yards.

While the Warhawk players were quick to deny that Leipold’s announcement was a distraction to the team’s preparation, Leipold knew better.

“Especially with the events of the week, it’s what you would be concerned about and it played out that way,” Leipold said. “As long as we were holding them to some field goals, as bad as it was, we were within striking distance.”

Despite four consecutive trips to the ’Hawks’ red zone, the Knights were only able to manage field goals to give themselves a 19-6 advantage.

“You can’t leave that many opportunities out there against a team like that,” Wartburg head coach Rick Willis said of the ’Hawks. “Give credit to them for stopping us and not letting us score touchdowns.”

As it seemed the Knights  would dominate the rest of the game, leading the ’Hawks 33-16 at the end of the third quarter, senior wide receiver Jake Kumerow said Leipold called the offense in for a close huddle.

“He got us all real tight and he looked us in the eye and he said, ‘You know what guys? Something good is going to go our way right now. We’ve been down before; we’re not down too much. We can’t make this our last game,’” Kumerow said. “A second after that little talk we had, it turned around.”

To start the fourth quarter, junior running back Dennis Moore ran for a 57-yard touchdown to ignite the biggest comeback in Warhawk football since 2007.

Two plays later, senior defensive back Zach Nellis picked up a fumble to give the ’Hawks the ball back at the Knights’ 27-yard line to set up another Warhawk touchdown.

“One play can really spark your attitude,” Leipold said. “As much as it didn’t seem very successful at times, the scoreboard didn’t show as big a gap as what it really could’ve or should’ve been.”

Still trailing by three points, senior Mykaell Bratchett recorded a third-down sack, forcing the Knights to punt, and the ensuing drive saw senior quarterback Matt Behrendt throw his fourth touchdown pass of the contest to senior wide receiver Justin Howard to seal the game.

“I’m so proud of everybody,” Behrendt said. “To be down by that many, and all of us just sticking in together to come back like that, that just shows how mature this team is and how much character we have.”

Behrendt completed 21 of 32 passes for a season-high 345 yards and four scores, while Kumerow, despite a limited role last week against Wabash College, finished with six receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown. Howard added 94 yards and two touchdowns.

“[Kumerow] makes a difference,” Leipold said. “We’re a better football team when he’s on the field, and it’s good to have him back.”

Although the Knights’ offense totaled 500 yards on the day, the defending national champions racked up 575 of their own. For the second consecutive week, Moore surpassed his career-high in rushing yards, amassing 122 in 12 carries. Junior running back Jordan Ratliffe ran for 80 yards on 12 carries.

With their 30th-consecutive victory, the longest active win streak in any division of NCAA football, the Warhawks advance to the semifinal game against Linfield College (Ore.) at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 at Perkins Stadium, where the team has only lost three games since 2005 and has won 28-straight playoff games. As long as the ’Hawks continue to win, Leipold said he will remain the coach in at UW-W.

“Coach [Leipold] said, ‘I’m going to be with you guys as long as I possibly can. You guys aren’t getting rid of me yet,’” Kumerow said. “So we got two more weeks, hopefully, together and we gotta fight this thing out and do everything we can.”