In his final game under center for UW-WhitewaterFriday night, quarterback Matt Behrendt led his Warhawks to their sixth D3 Football championship in the last eight seasons.
Behrendt was masterful. He finished the Stagg Bowl 26-of-38 through the air for 365 yards and four touchdowns, and led his squad to a 43-34 win over the same Mount Unionteam that has been on the wrong side of each and every UW-Whitewater championship. He was named the Stagg Bowl’s most outstanding player for the second time in as many years and helped send head coach Lance Leipold off to the FBS as a champion.
“I love it,” Behrendt said after the victory when asked winning national championships instead of just regular season honors. “Especially for the team to have these two national championships. You can’t ever take them away. There’s nothing more important than that.”
Playing in the Stagg Bowl for an astounding 10th straight season, the Purple Raiders only managed a little over half of their 60.3 points per game scoring average. The 11-time national champions were hamstrung by an opportunistic UW-Whitewater defense that picked off two-time Gagliardi Trophy winner Kevin Burke four times. Burke finished the game 25-for-47 for 323 yards and 3 touchdowns, but his four picks came one short of doubling his season total up to that point.
Behrendt and the offense were fueled by Jack Kumerow’s eight catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. Whitewater’s backfield duo the rest. Sophomore rushing touchdown-leader Jordan Ratliffe went off for 106 yards on 24 carries, and junior rushing yardage-leader Dennis Moore was nearly unstoppable, carrying the ball 18 times for 74 yards and adding two catches for 108 yards and a score.
On the other side of the ball, the Purple Raiders nearly matched the Warhawks in total yardage (516 to 553), but just couldn’t manage to finish. They crossed midfield on ten occasions: four times they scored touchdowns, one ended in a made field goal, but they came away with no points on the other five.
Even with three more turnovers than UW-Whitewater, Mount Union kept it close.
Logan Nemeth ran for 90 yards on 15 carries and punched it into the end zone midway through the third quarter to cut the UW-Whitewater lead to 30-28.
Aided by the 135 yards receiving on seven catches by Roman Namdar, the offense followed up Nemeth’s touchdown with a 29-yard field goal by Edward Ruhnke to take a 31-30 lead, their first lead of the game.
They held that lead for exactly one play, as Behrendt found Moore for a 75-yard touchdown pass immediately after receiving the ensuing kickoff.
“We had a lot of good blocking downfield,” Moore said about the play after the game. “We took advantage of it, called it at the perfect time, had a lot of good blocking, and the rest is history.”
Lake Bachar added two fourth-quarter field goals and when Burke’s fourth and final interception of the night landed in Zach Burke’s arms, it was over. UW-Whitewater had beaten the Purple Raiders in the Stagg Bowl for the sixth time in eight years dating back to 2007. The win extended UW-Whitewater’s streak to 32 straight games.
In the last ten seasons, only one team not named Mount Union or UW-Whitewater has even made it to a Stagg Bowl — St. Thomas (MN) in 2012. This offseason will bring big changes for both teams, but it would be hard to bet against another meeting 364 days from today.
Until then, UW-Whitewater is your D3 Champion. Congrats Warhawks, you earned it.
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