Warhawks make quick return to national prominence
WHITEWATER--UW-Whitewater coach Lance Leipold didn’t take the bait.
His Warhawks beat UW-Platteville, 35-16, on Saturday to settle into the driver’s seat atop the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings. In the moments after the game, Platteville coach Mike Emendorfer proclaimed UW-W a top-two team in the nation in Division III football.
“Mike’s going to get into politics when he’s done,” Leipold deadpanned. “That’s not for me to judge right now. There’s a lot of good football teams and we’re pounding our way back.”
They’re bouncing back from an off year—when a team becomes a perennial national-title contender, that’s what a 7-3 season is termed.
The Warhawks, at 8-0 overall and 5-0 overall, can clinch at least a share of the WIAC title with a victory Saturday at UW-Stevens Point. They close out the regular season by hosting winless River Falls.
With a defense that ranks No. 3 in scoring and No. 4 in total yards, to go along with a balanced offense that averages 41.6 points per game, UW-W is clearly one of the top teams in the country. The polls had the team at No. 5 (AFCA) and 6 (D3football.com), respectively—unchanged from a week ago.
Taking all that into account, the question becomes: Is UW-W overachieving, under-ranked or something in between?
“They’re very hard to defend. And their defense, I think, is as good as any defense I’ve seen in the last four or five years from Whitwater,” Emendorfer said. “Put those two things together, I think they’re ranked sixth in the nation, but that’s only because they weren’t on the radar last year.
“They should be No. 2 in the nation, in my opinion. I think they’re that good.”
Leipold isn’t in the business of comparing his previous teams—which made trips to the Stagg Bowl for seven straight seasons before last year—to his present squad.
He’s also not ready to say his team is overachieving, despite the fact that it wasn’t picked to win the conference. But he is having fun.
“I try not to compare a whole lot, to be honest,” Leipold said. “This team has some uniqueness to it that I really like. We have four new coaches on our staff and they’re just getting their feet into it.
“You put that together, and the way the players have taken to the coaching, the adjustments that we’ve made, this has been enjoyable.”
The trick this week will be to not let that enjoyment play a role in a potential trap game.
Stevens Point is 4-4 overall and 2-3 in conference, but topped the Warhawks in a game at Community Stadium a year ago.
“That was kind of a letdown,” said Warhawks linebacker Josh Williams, the league’s defensive player of the week. “If we would’ve won that game, I think we could’ve snuck into the playoffs somehow. So that’s going to be a huge game.”
Beyond that, the Warhawks will let the rest of the season play out before determining where they fit in the national landscape.