It wasn’t easy, as the Warhawks let a 14-0 second half lead slip away.
After touchdown passes from Matt Behrendt to Jake Kumerow and Dennis Moore gave the home Warhawks a two-touchdown advantage, Linfield QB Sam Riddle’s scrambling ways helped his club tie the score in the third quarter. Riddle connected with Levi Altringer from 14 yards out midway through the third to cut the deficit to seven, and shortly after tied the game on a 17-yard TD scamper.
That’s when UW-Whitewater’s offense got down to some serious business. With 8:54 left on the clock in the final quarter, the offense capped an 80-yard in 9-play drive with a 33-yard touchdown from Moore.
Moore finished with a game-high 113 yards on 19 carries, and backfield mate Jordan Ratliffe wasn’t far behind, churning out 106 yards on 15 carries. Riddle led all rushers for Linfield, with 112 on 17 carries.
It was the Ratliffe and Moore show on the game-winning drive. Ratliffe rushed for 22 yards and added another 11 receiving. After runs of 11 and 9 on consecutive carries pushed the ball down to the Linfield 33, Moore and his fresh legs carried the ball for the game-winning run.
The Wildcats didn’t just lay down however, advancing to the Warhawk 20-yard line in just 7 plays. But on 4th and 3 with the game on the line, John Flood sacked Riddle for a five yard loss and forced a fumble. The UW-Whitewater recovery was the final nail in Linfield’s coffin.
Riddle lamented after the game about how close his team had come. “The emotions were pretty high. Once we tied it, winning was something we knew we could do. We stunned them, stunned the crowd. The national championship was just a couple of plays away.”
UW-Whitewater head coach Lance Leipold — who will leave the team following the Stagg Bowl to coach the Buffalo Bulls of the Mid-American Conference — told reporters, “It’s not about my last game. It’s about our players and the chance to play a 15th ball game. That’s where the focus needs to be. They earned their chance to be back there, just like Mount Union has.”
The coach went on to say, “It doesn’t just happen. Their scores are pretty one-sided, but we had to battle against a lot of teams. I’m proud of our football team. They’ve handled distractions. I’m proud to say they’ve earned their way back to another Stagg Bowl.”
After the game, Linfield head coach Joe Smith talked about the Warhawk’s dominance. “It’s quite simple. They seem to consistently put a bigger, stronger, more efficient team on the field than everybody else. That’s what’s happening. What they’re doing is awesome.”
With the six-point win, UW-Whitewater will face BR-1 Mount Union for all the Division III marbles. Amazingly, this Stagg Bowl showdown will be the ninth time in the past decade these two squads have played each other for the title. UW-Whitewater won five of the nine matchups, including last year’s 52-14 rout of the Purple Raiders.
Don’t forget to check out our game review of Mount Union’s win that ensured they’d play in the Stagg Bowl for the 18th time in school history.