Warhawks begin title quest
If defense does indeed win championships, UW-Whitewater's football team is in good shape.
The Warhawks open up the NCAA Division III playoffs Saturday with a defense that has been downright nasty.
Whitewater has allowed 80 points in 10 games this season and has held six opponents to seven points or less.
The Warhawks host Midwest Conference champion St. Norbert (8-2) at noon at Perkins Stadium.
“Nobody in the country has played better defensively the last 20 games than our defense has,” Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said. “We knew coming into the season we were going to be experienced on that side of the ball, but what they've done and the level they're playing it is pretty impressive.”
As well as the defense has played, the offense figured to be a work in progress, according to Leipold. The offensive line was young and inexperienced—with the top 10 on the depth chart consisting of a junior, six sophomores and three freshmen—an area of great concern in the rugged WIAC.
In rolling to a 10-0 regular season and a conference championship, the Warhawks haven't missed a beat offensively. Whitewater is averaging 39.3 points per game and only seven turnovers for the season. Quarterback Matt Behrendt has thrown only one interception in 317 attempts.
“I think for our offense it was a matter of finding an identity,” Leipold said. “Coach (Andy) Kotelnicki (offensive coordinator) made some adjustments during our first bye week as far as identifying some things we could do to have success and changing the tempo, and the offensive unit really responded.
“The biggest thing with the offense is that it probably jelled sooner than we thought it would.”
Like the Warhawks, St. Norbert's calling card is its defense. The Green Knights held five opponents to 10 points or less and allowed 14.6 points per game during the regular season.
St. Norbert's offense has sputtered at times, which doesn't bode well against Whitewater's lockdown defense.
Janesville Craig High graduate Andrew Cullen, a 6-foot-4, 270-pound senior, starts at right tackle for the Green Knights.
“It's a good first-round match up with two in-state schools playing each other,” Leipold said. “I'm sure they'll come in holding nothing back.
“We might have a little size advantage, but they've played a good schedule and do a lot of things well.”
Leipold said his team wouldn't change things up as it sets its sights on a fifth national title in the last seven years.
“There's a sense of energy with our team, especially within our seniors and upperclassmen to play in the postseason,” Leipold said. “But as far as our approach and our weekly routine, nothing really changes.”