Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
WHITEWATER, Wis.- With just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the UMHB offense set up from the Wisconsin-Whitewater one-yard line. The UW-Whitewater faithful had been quiet for much of the fourth quarter, and it was easy to see why. The Crusaders of UMHB had backed up their ranking as the top team in the land, and were knocking on the door to a 10-point lead, already up 24-21 against the No. 6 team in the country.
But the Warhawk defense had other ideas. After a one-yard gain on first down, UMHB set up in the same formation three straight times from the one-yard line. And three straight times, UW-Whitewater stopped them just short of the goal line. Little did anyone know how critical those three plays would be.
UW-Whitewater took back the ball, drove 99 yards upfield, and capped its most critical drive of the afternoon with a nine-yard touchdown pass into the right side of the end zone with 19 seconds left, giving way to a 28-24 victory for the Warhawks. The loss is UMHB’s first during the regular season in the last seven years.
In his postgame interview with Fox Sports Central Texas radio, UMHB head coach Larry Harmon put the blame on himself for the loss, and noted that it is an experience UMHB will learn from.
“I made some calls that were bad, and that’s why this game is the way it is,” Harmon said. “I told the kids that I’m proud of them, and that this is either going to make us or break us. We’ll be ready next time we see these guys in December.”
Though a loss to anyone seems at times unexpected for UMHB, especially considering the 21-game win streak the Cru held entering the Top 10 duel, this was far from an upset. UW-Whitewater has now won 43 consecutive regular season games at home, and also claimed the program’s 685th win in the process. Despite last week’s 24-10 loss to St. John’s, the Warhawks proved why they are a national contender in D-III football.
“This is just a national championship-type game,” Harmon said on the radio broadcast. “Both teams made plays and both teams made some mistakes. And the other team capitalized when the mistakes happened.”
“Unfortunately for us, we made the mistakes there at the very end, on crucial downs. Credit to Coach Bullis and his staff.”
On UW-Whitewater’s game-winning drive, the Warhawk passing attack was in full flight. Despite solid coverage from the Crusader secondary, Whitewater quarterback Evan Lewandowksi had little difficulty moving the ball upfield. He completed eight-of-10 passes, two of which came on third down, despite UMHB’s best defensive effort. But that was on par with the trend of the Whitewater offense, who converted 10-of-15 third downs in the victory.
Entering the matchup, Harmon cited the Whitewater rushing attack, behind a strong offensive line, as a major factor in the anticipated outcome of the contest.
“If we’re going through the game on Saturday and you hear a lot of ‘3rd and 1, 4th and 1’, you know it’s not going very well for us,” Harmon said at Monday’s press conference. “But if it’s 3rd and 6 or 3rd and 5, we’ve got a fighting chance.”
As it turned out, UMHB’s defense did force a number of 3rd and 5, and 3rd and 7 situations, especially in the second half. Whitewater simply adjusted its game plan. The Warhawks kept the ball on the ground in short yardage situations, but of its 19 first downs, 12 came through the air, and Lewandowski was critical in the execution of the passing attack. He did not throw an incompletion until the 7:30 mark of the third quarter, and finished the day 28-of-35, with 301 yards. On another critical drive for the Warhawks midway through the third,
Lewandowski completed four straight third-down passes, eventually answering UMHB’s early third-quarter touchdown with a score of their own, to lead 21-17.
Despite coming up short on its final drive of the contest, the Crusader offense had high points of their own, and for the most part, matched UW-Whitewater’s offensive fire. UMHB took the opening kickoff and breezed through its first possession, tallying triple the rushing yards (41) that St. John’s had against the Warhawk defense in four quarters a week ago (11). That, combined with four passes to receiver K.J. Miller, resulted in Aphonso Thomas’ one-yard stretch across the goal line that gave the Cru a 7-0 lead. Miller’s receptions made him the program’s career leader in that category, as he finished the day with nine, bringing his collegiate total to 159.
As would become commonplace, however, UW-Whitewater matched that score, with a Jaylon Edmonson rushing touchdown at the 4:35 mark of the opening quarter.
The Warhawk offense moved at a slow pace for much of the contest, and whether it be deliberate or not, seemed to tire the UMHB defense, while concurrently keeping the ball out of the hands of quarterback Kyle King and the Crusader offense. UMHB had just three offensive possessions in the first half, with 12:15 taken off the clock on the Warhawks’ 18-play, 82-yard drive that gave them a 14-10 halftime lead.
“The score is too close,” Harmon said on the radio broadcast at halftime. “We have to regroup, we have to make adjustments as coaches. And we have to come out and play Crusader football.”
UW-Whitewater finished with a time of possession of 35:45, notable compared to the 24:15 that UMHB held the ball.
The Cru did seem to regroup as the second half began, and made the most of its time with possession. For a time, it seemed that the momentum shifted in favor of the visitors from Belton, despite the fact that much of the crowd of 14,213 was there in support of the hosts. After UW-Whitewater marched down the field for its 21-17 lead, UMHB faced third down on its next drive. Brandon Jordan had two catches on the previous drive, and King found him for a 20-yard gain down the sideline. The next play it was the King-Jordan connection again, going for 42 yards. It was only fitting that Jordan pulled off a one-handed catch in the left side of the end zone, an 11-yard score that gave UMHB its last lead of the contest.
King finished 15-of-20 passing for 204 yards, with one touchdown.
UMHB tallied 13 more rushing yards than the Warhawks, with 122. King’s incredible sprint midway through the fourth that put UMHB in the red zone, went for 52 yards as he broke a number of tackles and stayed on his feet. It was the second-longest rush of the season for the Cru.
UW-Whitewater had 410 yards of total offense, compared to UMHB’s total of 336.
Miller led the receiving corps with 109 yards and Jordan added five catches for 107 yards. Thomas led the rushing attack with 69 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns. Defensively, Johnny Smith-Rider had a team-high eight tackles, with 1.0 tackle for loss.
UMHB battles Southwestern in Belton on Sept. 17. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CT.