Photography by: Terry Mayer
WHITEWATER — Sometimes it just isn’t your day.
For a brief moment, with UW-Whitewater trailing 17-10 against Linfield (Ore.), Warhawk football coach Lance Leipold was wondering if it wasn’t his team’s day.
Fortunately for Leipold, the Warhawks outscored the Wildcats 17-3 in the fourth quarter and pulled out an exciting 27-17 victory in an NCAA Division III semifinal game here Saturday afternoon.
Antwan Anderson’s 1-yard touchdown leap over the Linfield defensive line midway through the fourth quarter gave Whitewater a 20-17 lead and sealed a fifth straight trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
Whitewater (14-0) joins Augustana and Mount Union (Ohio) as the only teams in NCAA Division III history to play in five consecutive Stagg Bowls.
Mount Union (14-0) also earned its fifth straight Stagg Bowl matchup with the Warhawks by getting past Wesley (Del.), 24-7, in Saturday’s other semifinal game.
The championship game is next Saturday in Salem, Va., with a scheduled starting time of 10 a.m. (CST).
But a rematch with the Purple Raiders was the last thing Leipold was worried about as his team narrowly got past Linfield (13-1).
“I thought the one that really had me thinking it really wasn’t our day was probably the offensive pass interference penalty,” Leipold said. “And that’s the one that it’s like, ‘OK, what’s happening? It’s just not clicking right now.’ ”
Leipold’s worries started with his team down 14-10 in the third quarter, as Jeff Donovan’s 45-yard touchdown pass to Cory Robinson was wiped off the board because of an offensive pass interference call on Robinson for pushing off to get open near the goal line.
Whitewater eventually punted on that possession, and the Warhawks looked like a team on the verge of being upset.
Then, to make matters worse for Whitewater, Linfield added three more points on the ensuing possession with Josh Repp’s 35-yard field goal. That put the Wildcats up 17-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Warhawks’ defense came up big, however, in denying Linfield a touchdown on that 13-play drive. Middle linebacker Kyle Supianoski made the key play in sacking quarterback Aaron Boehme for a 4-yard loss, leaving the Wildcats with a fourth-and-12, which led to the field goal.
Whitewater’s offense then responded with an eight-play drive. That resulted in Jeff Schebler’s 26-yard field goal, which pulled the Warhawks within 17-13 with 12:36 remaining.
After a Wildcat punt on the ensuing possession, the Warhawks finally got the offense straightened out with a quick, three play, 77-yard drive. Antwan Anderson capped it with his 1-yard touchdown run, giving Whitewater the lead for good at 20-17 with 7:34 to go.
“We weren’t really worried,” said Anderson, whose team was trailing for the first time this season. “We knew it was going to be a tough game, and we’d have to battle through thick and thin.”
Whitewater fans certainly were worried, though, but the Warhawks’ strong finish brought relief.
After the teams exchanged possessions, Linfield had one final shot at the upset with possession at its 19-yard line and three minutes to play.
But the upset bid was ruined when Jeremy Debiert picked off Boehme’s pass at the Wildcat 45. Two plays later, Levell Coppage put the game out of reach at 27-17 on a 45-yard touchdown run with 1:05 left.
“I thought we had the game, to be honest,” Linfield coach Joe Smith said. “We positioned ourselves to win the football game, and it’s disappointing to let that slip away.’’
The game appeared to be slipping away from Linfield early when Coppage ran 55 yards untouched for a touchdown that put Whitewater up 7-0 with 6:22 left the first quarter. That came on the next play after Linfield failed to convert a fourth-and-three at the Whitewater 45.
Schebler made it 10-0 with a 34-yard field goal with 4:32 to left in the second quarter. But then, things changed.
Boehme, who threw for 278 yards, came right back with a 67-yard option run to the Warhawk 15. Three plays later, Boehme drilled Ryan Henderson in the end zone to pull the Wildcats within 10-7 with 3:27 left in the half.
Linfield got the ball to start the second half and carried its momentum into the lead that lasted until the last 72 minutes of the game. Boehme made it 14-10 with a 4-yard touchdown run that completed a seven-play, 78-yard drive with 10:58 left in the third quarter.
But finally, the momentum swung back to the Warhawks.
“It was great to see us battle once again with our backs to the wall,” Leipold said.
And even greater for the Warhawks to find their way back to the Stagg Bowl.