Warhawks win season opener

The first game of the season tells a lot about a team. Going into the season, the Warhawks had many unanswered questions.

Losing almost half of the starters from last season to graduation, the ’Hawks proved once again Saturday that they can overcome anything.

Blanchard

The ’Hawks stepped up defensively, opening their season with a 26-7 win over UW-La Crosse after only allowing 119 total yards.

This was the first of the two matchups against the Eagles this season, but because of a new rule, only the second game against them on Nov. 12 will count as a conference game.

The win also kept alive their NCAA leading, 31-game win streak. Their last loss came in the 2008 Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl against the University of Mount Union.

The defending national champs will look to go 2-0 Saturday, where they will travel to No. 24 Franklin College. The ’Hawks defeated the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs last season, 52-21.

Senior linebacker Greg Arnold said that this non-conference game wouldn’t be as easy as the ones in the past.

“It’s definitely a huge matchup because usually our non-conference games don’t pose much as a threat as Franklin does,” Arnold said. “Although we go into every game thinking we will win, I think it will be a very good test for our defense.”

Missing the 2010 playoffs because of an injury, senior quarterback Matt Blanchard said he knew the first game wouldn’t be perfect, but believes the team played well.

Coppage

The ’Hawks came out on an early 3-0 lead, taking the opening drive 51 yards in just seven plays, converting on a 38-yard field goal by sophomore Eric Kindler.

After forcing a three and out, the ’Hawks attacked again, driving the ball 83 yards down the field, resulting in a one yard touchdown run by senior running back Levell Coppage.

The ’Hawks dominated the first half, leading the Eagles by a score a 16-0, thanks to two more Kindler field goals. The ‘Hawks only allowed the Eagles to have two first downs and 63 yards on offense.

“I thought in our very first game, facing your conference opponent like that, we did really well,” Blanchard said. “Our defense did outstanding, which was expected.”

Because it was the first game of the season, Blanchard knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

“There are a lot of growing pains that come with first games and that just happens,” he said. “There will be the little stuff like the alignment, also feeling each other out as far as receiver and quarterback relationships.”

Although the ’Hawks racked up over 400 yards on offense, they continued to struggle on third downs which led a tie for a school-best four field goals by Kindler.

Kindler ended up being the factor for the ‘Hawks, hitting field goals from 33, 36, 38 and 41 yards.

Arnold

“It was just a number of things that happened,” Blanchard said. “Again, far as first game things, were trying to figure stuff out offensively and they blitzed very heavily on third downs, which got to us.”

Blanchard ended up throwing 18-30 for 248 yards, while Coppage ran for 108 yards on 21 carries including a one-yard touchdown.

After replacing four guys from the offensive line that each had two years of starting experience, Arnold said the ‘Hawks faced one of the heaviest lines they will see all year, which was good for the new guys.

“I thought they did very well given the circumstances,” Arnold said. “[UW-La Crosse] is one of the heaviest blitzing teams that they will face all year, but I think it was good that our young line got to see that right away because they probably won’t see it all year.

“Levell made some plays and made some guys miss, hit 100 yards rushing with a touchdown so he played good,” he added.

Losing four starters on defense, the ’Hawks looked like a veteran group. The ’Hawks pass defense only allowed 40 yards passing, including one interception.

“It’s always tough when you lose big names,” Arnold said. “But we knew coming into this year that we had athletes that were able to fit in to our defense and play well.”

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