A football game for the ages at Perkins Stadium

Junior+offensive+line+Brendan+Cavanaugh+%2862%29+fights+off+opposing+Eagles+during+the+home+game+against+UW-+La+Crosse+Saturday%2C+Nov.+6%2C+2021.

Ky McCombe

Junior offensive line Brendan Cavanaugh (62) fights off opposing Eagles during the home game against UW- La Crosse Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.

Parker Olsen, Assistant Sports Editor

The UW-Whitewater football team (9-0, 6-0 WIAC) handed UW-La Crosse (7-2, 5-1 WIAC) a tough loss as they won 13-7 in front of a crowd of nearly 12,000 fans. 

Coming into the game, both teams were ranked in the top 15 teams in DIII football, the Warhawks 3rd and the Eagles 12th. The two teams were also tied for the top spot in the conference and an automatic bid to the playoffs.

“It’s exciting because we constantly talked to our kids about getting ready for the next play, getting ready for the next rep in your drill,” said head coach Kevin Bullis. “It’s not just a game thing, it’s a practice thing. And how is that going to prepare you for those challenging moments. When you don’t have a lot of those adverse challenging moments… it pays off in a game like that.” 

The Warhawks were held short of the endzone in the first half, limited to just a pair of field goals. Freshman kicker Matt Maldonado went 2-3 on the day, making a 49-yard field goal with just 26 seconds remaining in the first half, putting the Warhawks ahead 6-0 going into halftime. 

“Matt Maldonado, I mean what the heck?” said Bullis. “You have this freshman kid, who didn’t start playing football until he was a junior in high school, and was a soccer player. 

“For him to be in front of 12,000 people and knock off a 49-yard field goal. Are you kidding me? That was fantastic, utterly fantastic, to be under that pressure and make those types of plays.” 

Maldonado’s kicks turned out to be the difference in the game. The Warhawks would only score one touchdown and La Crosse was able to quickly answer back with a touchdown of their own.

“I earned the job as a true freshman, I wasn’t perfect but I am able to learn from my mistakes. I did my job at the end of the day,” said Maldonado. “I’m confident in my snapper and holder, just hoping for more field goals made in the future, there is definitely stuff I need to work on but I was happy with my overall performance today.”

The Warhawks had to play smart in a game as close as this. Senior running back Alex Peete displayed this when choosing to slide late in the game rather than go out of bounds to keep the clock moving, forcing La Crosse to start using timeouts.

“Every Thursday, the offense spends about 15 to 20 minutes doing situational football. I think that stuff really pays off when that situation comes into the game,” said Peete.

“Alex Peete had some runs that may have been just 12 yards, but they were explosive, they were getting us first downs and burning up some clock. That was really huge,” said Bullis. 

The low-scoring game was one that the Warhawks were not accustomed to experiencing this season. This game marks the first game that the team was held to fewer than 31 points. Their only touchdown came after a 75-yard pass to Tyler Holte, setting up UWW for a short touchdown run.

“It was definitely a little different, being held to those field goals, I mean we love Maldonado but we were at about the 20 yard line, at one point even closer, and we wanted to get our six points but we didn’t,” said Peete. “Maldonado saved us twice so we are happy about that.”

“From a defensive standpoint, we work with offense. If they are struggling a little bit we’ve got their back a lot of the time,” said Egon Hien, who had a pass break up in the endzone as time expired. “We go out there and do the same thing, we have faith in them that they are going to go out there, get the ball and score.”

Defensively, the Warhawks allowed 323 yards of offense. The Eagles often achieved multiple first downs before the defense was able to get the stop. 

“Our defense did a great job when they did get in our redzone. You can’t stop a very good offense like that every time that they get in the red zone but to stop them twice in the red zone? That’s huge. That’s huge,” said Bullis. “They hang their hat on running the ball. They have a very good offensive line and running back. To hold them to 79 allowed us to call plays in a manner that is going to help us with the pass game.”

The win secures the Warhawks their  third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament and their thirteenth since 2004. Winning a share of the WIAC title is good but Bullis says the job isn’t done.

“When we had our first team meeting in August, I said to our players our goal is to win the WIAC championship. It’ll be the last time we mention it, the last time we talk about it unless we do it,” said Bullis. “Today was the second time this year that I brought it up. We don’t own it yet, we are conference champs but it could be co or by ourselves. My mom and dad taught me to share but I am not sharing this.”

Players shared the sentiment about the conference title and talked about beyond the conference. 

“We are in playoff mode right now,” said Hien. “We want to win a national championship. This is just another step in that process, we want to do it for the upperclassmen, they deserve it. We want to keep winning, next up is Stevens Point, we’re going to treat them like they are undefeated.”

The Warhawks finish the regular season in Stevens Point and will learn what the next step will be to a national championship Nov. 14 on Selection Sunday.

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