Wis.-Whitewater hangs on to win title

Updated: December 17, 2011, 1:13 AM ET
Associated Press

SALEM, Va. -- Levell Coppage didn't have to be superman this time for Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The defense had that covered, and even set up Coppage to grab some glory, too.

Coppage scored on a 1-yard run set up by the defense and the Warhawks won their third consecutive Division III national championship, and fourth in five years, beating Mount Union 13-10 on Friday night in the seventh consecutive title game meeting between the schools.

"Easiest touchdown in my life, and I even got in there untouched," Coppage said about the run with 4:02 left in the third quarter. It gave the Warhawks a 10-0 lead, and the defense did the rest.

The victory was the 45th in a row for Whitewater (15-0), which hasn't lost since Mount Union beat them in the 2008 Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. The Purple Raiders finished 14-1.

Mount Union has won 10 national titles in the last 16 years, and once seemed to be the untouchable goliath atop the Division III game, but the Warhawks have taken aim, if not the mantle.

"A lot of guys that I see around us are hungry," Coppage said, "and we're going be whatever it takes to be the face of D-III. ... It's just amazing to get here and do the things that we've been doing."

Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, who lost for just the 24th time in 26 seasons -- his career record is 317-24-3 -- said he couldn't think of anything to tell his team after the game. He said that even when the Purple Raiders were winning everything, he never felt that they were untouchable.

Whitewater, though, is approaching that level.

"Until somebody beats them, they're untouchable," Kehres said.

Coppage, the most outstanding player of the past two title games, wasn't nearly as dominant, but cashed in on his most important opportunity after defensive end Loussaint Minett forced a fumble and the Warhawks recovered it at the Mount Union 1. Coppage took it in on the next play.

It was his seventh TD in the last three title games. He finished with 91 yards on 32 carries, a far cry from his 299 yards rushing and three touchdowns last season, but still enough.

The Purple Raiders, who had only 77 yards of offense at that point, answered with a 71-yard drive, but had to settle for a 19-yard field goal when they couldn't punch it in.

Whitewater answered that with Eric Kindler's 30-yard field goal with 5:34 to play, making it a two-score game again, but the team from Alliance, Ohio, replied again.

This time, an eight-play, 72-yard drive ended with Matt Piloto's 8-yard scoring pass to A.J. Claycomb with 3:20 to play, giving the Purple Raiders a chance to hold on defense and score.

They held on defense, but then so did the Warhawks, stopping Chris Denton after a fourth-down catch to win the closest Stagg Bowl since Mount Union beat Bridgewater 30-27 in 2001.

The Warhawks' defense was clearly the star of the night, setting up Whitewater's lone TD by sacking Piloto twice in three plays after the Purple Raiders got the ball at their 16.

The first sack, by Ryan Cortez, was for minus 11 yards. On the second, Minett stripped the ball away as Piloto was in the grasp of two other Warhawks and Cole Klotz recovered at the 1. Minett was honored as the game's most outstanding player.

"I chased him down and ripped it out," the sophomore said. "It was a great feeling."

Especially when, on the next play, Coppage scored, boosting Whitewater's lead to 10-0.

The Purple Raiders responded with a 16-play drive, and had a first-and-goal at the 6. Jeremy Murray went for 3 yards on first down, and 2 more on second, but lost a yard on third down and Kehres settled for Tyler Almeida's 19-yard field goal, making it 10-3.

Earlier, the Warhawks seemed in complete control, but without much to show for it.

Whitewater drove into Mount Union territory on each of its first three drives, and came away with something the third time, helped by a 15-yard pass interference call against Chaz Jordan. That put the ball at the 32, and when the drive stalled, Kindler kicked a 45-yard field goal.

The Purple Raiders responded by driving into Whitewater territory for the first time on their next possession, but Piloto's pass was intercepted by Chris Pendergast from the Warhawks 30. It was one of two interceptions thrown by Piloto, who was 21 for 38 for 177 yards

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Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press