Most players on the Warhawk football team had never taken the field at Perkins Stadium coming off a loss until Saturday, when the ’Hawks faced UW-Stevens Point.
About three hours later, the team closed out a 34-7 victory.
Senior defensive back Ryan Wenkman said the ’Hawks wanted to make a statement against the Pointers and prove to the rest of the nation that the team is not as vulnerable as it looked last week.
The ’Hawks overpowered the Pointers defensively and with a punishing rushing attack, led by senior tailback Desmin Ward.
Ward, who gained 164 yards on 20 carries in the win, is finally getting the opportunity to start after backing up three-time All-American Levell Coppage for three years. Although Ward did not get many carries until this year, he said practicing with and learning from Coppage was enjoyable and beneficial to his game.
Now, Ward feels like it’s his turn to help younger teammates and be a leader for the ’Hawks.
“ I feel like, with me being a senior, I like to set the tone–period,” Ward said.
Ward’s rushing style is physical, but his average of 8.2 yards per carry against the Pointers showed he has some explosiveness to complement power.
“It’s a learning process, but every day in practice, every game, I feel more comfortable being back there,” he said.
Head coach Lance Leipold said no big changes were made in reaction to last week’s 7-6 loss to Buffalo State, but he did cut the number of tailbacks who got repetitions in practice from three to two.
Leipold said he thought boosting the repetitions for the top two backs, Ward and sophomore Ryan Givens, would give the offense more rhythm.
The ’Hawks’ defensive performance was highlighted by the four turnovers forced, including three interceptions.
Wenkman, sophomore defensive back Marcus McLin and junior linebacker Ryan Cortez all intercepted Pointers quarterback Mitch Beau.
Warhawks quarterback Lee Brekke completed 12 of 30 passes for 152 yards against the Pointers in the offense’s first game without All-American wide receiver Tyler Huber, who will most likely miss the rest of the regular season due to injury.
“Brekke wasn’t great, but at the same time, it’s not time to panic,” Leipold said. “Our whole offense is a work-in-progress.”
After throwing an interception on the first offensive play of the game, Brekke regrouped and finished with three touchdowns.
Sophomore wide receiver Jake Kumerow filled in for Huber and caught three passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
Leipold said Kumerow began to emerge last fall during camp when Huber was injured, but the depth of the ’Hawks’ receiving core made showing his talent difficult.
Although the Pointers are in the WIAC conference, this game was not a conference game, because the coaches decided to play a tune-up before their real conference matchup, which will be later in the season.
Next week, the ’Hawks will travel to face WIAC foe UW-Platteville in their conference opener.