One win away from Stagg Bowl

After facing a spread option offense a week ago against Franklin, the Warhawks came into its matchup against a Salisbury Univeristy team that ran a triple option. The Sea Gulls led Division-III in scoring offense (47.5 points per game) and were second in rushing offense (365 rushing yards per game).

That didn’t faze the ’Hawks one bit as they defeated the Sea Gulls 34-14, allowing only 293 yards of total offense and forcing three turnovers. Senior running back Levell Coppage also rushed for 213 yards and four touchdowns.

Junior wide receiver Tyler Huber stays in bounds and looks to slip by Salisbury defenders in the team’s 34-14 victory last Saturday. Salisbury entered play as the highest-scoring offense in Division-III averaging 47.5 points per game. The Warhawk defense came up with three turnovers that afternoon, which the offense turned into 17 points. Levell Coppage was unstoppable, rushing for 213 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries. Photo by Andrew Smith

“All week we knew what kind of offense they would be running, so [Defensive Coordinator] Brian Borland set up a game plan and we came out and executed it today,” senior safety Ryan Wenkman said.

The team is now only one game away from its seventh straight appearance at the Stagg Bowl in Salem, Va., and will face the University of St. Thomas at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Perkins Stadium. If the ’Hawks win, it will be their seventh straight appearance in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.

While the ’Hawks executed their defensive game plan, the Sea Gulls planned to stop Coppage and make senior quarterback Matt Blanchard throw the ball. Although they held Coppage to 67 yards in the first half, Blanchard was efficient.

Blanchard completed all eight pass attempts for 116 yards in the first half and finished the game 11-17 for 134 yards, including 62 yards rushing.

“I thought Matt played well, he made good decisions,” head coach Lance Leipold said. “He made quick decisions as far as tucking it and going.”

The ’Hawks never punted in the first half, while the Sea Gulls punted three times and missed a 48-yard field goal as their only opportunity to put points on the board.

The ’Hawks led 17-0 at half, thanks to two Coppage touchdowns.

“I’m very pleased the way we came out and defended the option in the first half and were able to take that lead going into half time,” Leipold said. “Never punting was a huge part of the flow of the game [for] us … and producing points in the first half.”

Not only was the Sea Gulls plan to stop the run, but Blanchard said they wanted to open up the passing game to get some looks for Coppage.

“That’s kind of what we wanted to do offensively,” Blachard said. “We knew we needed to open up our pass game to make sure Levell could get going, and we did that and we executed early on.”

After the Sea Gulls scored first in the second half to trim the lead to 17-7, Coppage once again made a play. On third and one, Coppage found a hole in the middle and ran free for an 80-yard touchdown.

“They had stopped us three and out the drive before,” Coppage said. “We knew we had to get the ball moving. It was third and short and I was just trying to get the first down. I saw a huge hole and made one or two guys miss, and off I went.”

That run was the longest in Coppage’s storied career.

The ’Hawks really made the Sea Gulls play uncomfortably, putting them into third and long positions, something they weren’t used to. Quarterback Dan Griffin, who throws the ball only five times a game on average, was 2-7 for 49 yards and two interceptions.

Before this game, Griffin hadn’t thrown an interception all year.

Junior Tyler Huber led the ’Hawks with five catches for 67 yards, while Wenkman led the team defensively with seven tackles and a forced fumble.

Being only one game away from another Stagg Bowl appearance, Coppage said he is focused on the next game only.

“Everybody wants us to get to the big show, but there are steps that you have to take,” Coppage said. “This next week is going to be a big game.”

On the other side of the bracket, the University of Mount Union will face Wesleyan College. Mount Union will also look for their seventh straight appearance in the Stagg Bowl.

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