Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Warhawk Football season ends in thriller

Ogden+and+Warhawk+offense+celebrate+a+touchdown+against+Wheaton+College
Karstan Koelblinger
Ogden and Warhawk offense celebrate a touchdown against Wheaton College

With 54 seconds remaining, the UW-Whitewater Football team saw themselves down by three points facing the risk of elimination. The Wartburg Knights just scored on a seven-yard screen pass, pushing themselves to the lead.

A 16-yard kick return from Tyler Vasey gave the Warhawks solid field position in a drive that required a score. On third and 10, heavy pressure caused quarterback Alec Ogden to leave the pocket. The senior was unable to find options and Wartburg forced a turnover.

In a competitive and thrilling matchup, the No. 5 Warhawks (11-2) fell just short of a semifinal visit after losing to the No. 3 Knights (13-0) 31-28. Despite the loss, the Warhawks put together an impressive fight all around, competing with a higher-ranked team.

“We battled, just couldn’t quite execute like we needed to,” head coach Jace Rindahl said. “Things that we will learn from.”

The Warhawks set the tone on offense early, with Ogden finding running back Tamir Thomas deep for a 69-yard touchdown. The score gave Thomas his 20th all-purpose touchdown of the year.

“Great play call and great job executing,” Rindahl said. “That corner gets pretty aggressive and we were able to get him.”

With two more touchdowns on their next four drives, the Warhawks found themselves up 21-3 early in the second quarter. The Knights took the lead as motivation and scored 14 straight on two drives to end the half, with Wartburg quarterback Nile McLaughlin completing 8 of 10 passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns in those drives.

“[The lead] felt good, but we knew it wasn’t enough,” Rindahl said. “We try not to be influenced by those external circumstances, and just try to be the best we can be every snap.”

The Knights opened the second half by going on a punishing 13-play, 82-yard touchdown drive to take the lead 24-21. Over the second half, Wartburg’s defense held the Warhawk rushing game to 10 rushes for 22 yards, taking away Whitewater’s most dominant attack and holding them to zero points for nearly 22 straight minutes.

“They run a very mean type of defense,” Thomas said. “Credit to their defensive ends and outside linebackers for really making me work on those plays.”

With eight minutes remaining in the game, Ogden found wide receiver Tommy Coates on a 7-yard fade route, his second touchdown of the game running that route. Over those final eight minutes, the Warhawk defense played with a sense of urgency in an attempt to contribute towards holding the lead.

“In the second half, it came down to who was going to make the least amount of mistakes,” defensive lineman Matt Burba said. “Sadly it came down to us.”

With 54 seconds left on the clock, the defense’s time ran out and running back Hunter Clasen found the end zone to give the lead back to Wartburg. The Warhawks had no answer and the game ended in a loss. Whitewater’s season is over and Wartburg advances to the semifinal against North Central College Dec. 9.

 

‘23 is done but ‘24 is bright

While the season may be over, it’s hard to not call it a success. From the hiring of Jace Rindahl in February, to a significant improvement from 2022, the Warhawks still put together an impressive season all around. The Warhawks lost by only three points in both of their losses, and they had an overall point differential of +233. 

“We are near-sided as a program, we take it day by day,” Rindahl said. “We don’t add pressure or try to put [different] things into the equation.”

The Warhawks also had one of the best rushing attacks in DIII football, finishing the season with 3,274 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns. On top of that, all running backs are eligible to return for the 2024 season.

Every part of the team, both offense and defense, made a large impact on the roster this season. In his final year, Ogden contributed to 35 touchdowns. Cornerback Egon Hein forced three interceptions en route to being a Gagliardi Trophy semifinalist. Burba led an impressive pass rush to 18 sacks and 65 tackles for loss. The list goes on, Rindahl emphasizes the contributions of the 13 seniors this season, as all 13 registered a statistic.

“So proud of them and thankful for them,” Rindahl said. “The gratitude for them buying in and believing in us as a program and where we’re going, and doing a heck of a job setting the foundation for this program as we move it forward.”

On top of the team’s statistical success, Rindahl led the team to a quarterfinal appearance in his first season as head coach. Through building chemistry early to forming an incredible environment as testified by players, the future is bright in the hands of Rindahl.

The Warhawks finished the 2023 season with a final record of 11-2, returning to the double-digit win column after only eight last season. On top of 13 All-WIAC representatives and their 10th-straight top-two conference finish, hindsight is now 2024.

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About the Contributors
Chase Keller, Men's Sports Journalist
Karstan Koelblinger, Photography Editor

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