Unlike the last six seasons, defense proved to be the theme of the game this season as the Warhawks won their third consecutive Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl and their fourth in the last five years- all against Mount Union.
The Warhawks stopped the Purple Raiders with just two minutes left in the game to secure a 13-10 victory, which increased the ’Hawks NCAA-best win streak to 45 games.
“Another exciting fourth quarter game between these two football teams that went down to the end,” head coach Lance Leipold said. “I’m extremely proud of our football team. I just think we had an outstanding defensive effort today.”
With the ’Hawks leading 3-0 late into the third quarter, the Purple Raiders started their drive at its own 16-yard line. Facing a third down and long, sophomore defensive end Loussaint Minett knocked the ball out of quarterback Matt Piloto’s hand and sophomore linebacker Cole Klotz recovered it at the Raiders one-yard line.
“I can’t even remember what was going through my head,” Minett said of the forced fumble. “Every play, I just focus on keeping my motor running. I chased him down and ripped it out. It was a great feeling.”
One play later, senior running back Levell Coppage ran it in for the team’s only touchdown, giving the ’Hawks a 10-0 lead.
The following possession, the Purple Raiders scored their first points of the game on a 19-yard field goal by Tyler Almeida.
Sophomore Eric Kindler answered with a 30-yard field goal of his own with 5:34 left in the game to give the ’Hawks a 13-3 lead.
The Raiders pulled within three points after Piloto connected with A.J. Claycomb for an eight yard touchdown with 3:20 remaining, but that’s all they could do as they failed to convert on their last possession.
“It was fourth and 10 with a minute left on the clock,” junior defensive back Chris Pendergast said. “It was the whole defense swarming around the ball, and that’s what made it — the whole team.”
The teams saw no offense in the first quarter, but it was Kindler who struck first with a 44-yard field goal with 11:19 in second quarter, giving the ’Hawks a 3-0 halftime lead.
Although they held a slight lead over the Purple Raiders throughout the game, Leipold was not satisfied.
“I don’t know if you ever can be [comfortable with a lead],” Leipold said. “There’s too much experience, there’s too much explosiveness. I don’t know if it’s ever comfortable. I think it’s comfortable when the fourth quarter has zeros on the clock.”
Both teams were quiet offensively, with the Raiders gaining 238 yards while the ’Hawks could only manage 210 yards.
It proved to be turnovers that cost the Raiders the game as they turned the ball over three times compared to the ’Hawks one.
“We’ve really played some outstanding defense throughout the playoffs,” Leipold said. “We’ve been able to create turnovers.”
The ’Hawks outgained the Raiders on the ground (113 to 49), with Coppage leading the way with 91 yards on 32 carries. Coppage, who was named the Stagg Bowl MVP last season after rushing for a record 299-yards, struggled getting into a rhythm.
“It was very frustrating out there,” Coppage said. “You want to capitalize more. But you can’t ever be frustrated with a win, and you definitely can’t be frustrated being a champion. No matter what my stats were, it’s irrelevant really.”
Blanchard finished the game 9-13 for 97 yards and an interception, but had many key third-down rushes.
Coppage, along with the rest of the seniors, couldn’t be happier the way they ended their careers. The senior class posted a record of 58-2 record and won three national championships. The Warhawks will say goodbye to 18 seniors including All-Americans Coppage, Blanchard, Logan Allemand, Casey Casper and Greg Arnold.
“This is to be truly blessed, to be here four times in my career,” Coppage said. “And then to win it three times out of four is something amazing. It means everything to me. It’s a lot of hard work in the offseason — a lot of dedication with my teammates.”
Coppage leaves as the conference and school’s all-time leader in career rush yards (7,704) and touchdowns (108). Those marks are also second in Division-III history.