’Hawks come back in fourth again

Justin St. Peter, Sports Editor

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Undefeated opponents crumble when they come to play the UW-Whitewater football team.

The team has faced 10 straight undefeated opponents counting back to last year’s playoff run and have a 9-1 record against them (the only loss was the national semifinal game against the University of Mount Union).

With the Warhawks’ latest 32-22 road victory against the lone remaining undefeated WIAC team, UW-La Crosse on Oct. 15, UW-W will finally get to play a team with a tally in the loss column.

Prior to the defeat of UW-La Crosse, the ’Hawks beat the No. 10 UW-Platteville Pioneers 30-24 on Oct. 1 on the road and completed a 17-14 victory vs. the No. 5 UW-Oshkosh Titans on Oct. 8.

Head coach Kevin Bullis said that he believes the WIAC conference is the top conference in the country this year.

“We have played three dang good teams,” Bullis said. “There is no doubt the WIAC is stronger than it’s ever been. Somebody said that at the beginning of the year, and I said, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ I think they are right. It’s a fantastic conference and always has been.”

To get the win vs. UW-La Crosse, the team had to perform its third straight come-from-victory in the fourth quarter.

“Obviously you don’t want to get into a situation where you are behind,” Bullis said. “We have done that in these games, but again I feel very good about our ability to just be able stay focused on the task at hand.”

Coming into the fourth quarter down 22-21, the Warhawks promptly marched 75 yards down the field, with most of it coming from sophomore running back Drew Patterson who had 61 of his 155 yards on the ground during the drive.

Patterson capped the drive off with a 13 yard rushing touchdown, his second of the day, and senior quarterback Chris Nelson found junior tight end Tony Gumina for the two-point conversion to extend the lead to 29-22.

It seemed as if the Eagles were prepared to answer before freshman linebacker Alex Zacharias stripped the ball away inside the red zone and junior linebacker Matt Seitz pounced on it to give the ball back to the Warhawks.

It was one of the defense’s four turnovers, correction, takeaways on the day.

“We don’t even call them turnovers,” Bullis said. “We call them takeaways. They didn’t hand the ball to us. Our guys are doing a very good job at stripping at the ball.”

Following the takeaway, sophomore quarterback Cole Wilber found Patterson twice on screen passes that totaled 60 yards to put the ’Hawks in field goal range.

Junior kicker Will Meyer made the ensuing 26 yard field goal to cap off the scoring, turning a 22-21 deficit into a 32-22 lead with 5:14 remaining in the game.

UW-La Crosse drove just past midfield before being stopped by the Warhawk defense on downs, before the ’Hawks ran for two first downs to set up the best formation in football, the victory formation.

Wilber assumed most of the quarterbacking duties for the team in the contest after playing much more than Nelson over the past few weeks in the close victories. What Wilber does lack in experience, his arm strength and ability to find receivers downfield have earned him rave reviews from the coaching staff.

Wilber finished with a stat line of 15-22 with 166 yards through the air.

The ’Hawks were outgained 506-339 in total offensive yardage and also had 25 less plays on offense but were able to rely on their bend-but-don’t break defensive strategy.

Takeaways seem to be the name of the game for the ’Hawks as they have already forced 22 turnovers in six games.

A positive turnover ratio is the sign of many of the top teams in football. With the Warhawks +12 differential through six games and a defense predicated on taking the ball away from its opponents, they are well on the way to doing that.

For those that want the Warhawks football team to continue their traditional strategy of blowing out opponents, take a look at their opening season gauntlet of undefeated teams. The time for blowing out opponents will most likely come soon enough.

The experience the team is getting is definitely worth it, just listen to what Bullis says about it.

“Playing against very good teams does nothing but prepare you, whether it’s the next week or something down the long-term for your team to develop the confidence to continue to play well and stay focused on us, and manage the adversity of a game,” Bullis said.

For now just enjoy the ride of exciting games and watch the team play a tough UW-Stevens Point team at 1 p.m. on Oct. 22 at home during Homecoming Week.