SALEM, Va. — Wisconsin-Whitewater defeated Mount Union Friday night by a score of 43-34 to win the 2014 Stagg Bowl, the NCAA Division III national championship game, at Salem Stadium.
The Warhawks (15-0 overall) won their sixth national title in eight seasons in their ninth trip to the Stagg Bowl in 10 years. UW-Whitewater also extended its current winning streak to 32 games, the longest stretch in all of college football regardless of division.
Senior quarterback Matt Behrendt finished 26-of-38 for a career-high 365 yards and four touchdowns, and was named the Stagg Bowl’s Most Outstanding Player for the second consecutive season.
Head coach Lance Leipold finishes his career at UW-Whitewater with a 109-6 record and the same number of national championships — six — as losses. Earlier this season, he became the fastest to reach 100 career wins in NCAA history.
|DIII FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP|
|Wisconsin-Whitewater 43, Mount Union 34|
|Recap | Box Score | Highlights|
|Cavadi: Unstoppable in Stagg Bowl|
|Cavadi: Historic year for Mount Union|
|Cavadi: Fitting end for Leipold|
|Brackets: Interactive | Printable|
The Warhawks built a 30-14 lead by halftime after capitalizing on two Mount Union turnovers, converting 8-of-11 on third down and holding the ball for more than 22 minutes in the first half.
Trailing 31-30 late in the third quarter following 17 unanswered points by the Purple Raiders (14-1), the Warhawks quickly regained the lead on the first play of the ensuing drive as junior running back Dennis Moore took a screen pass from Behrendt on the left side, cut to the right side and outran the defense to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown.
From there, UW-Whitewater never let go of its lead as sophomore kicker Lake Bachar made two field goals in the fourth quarter to help the Warhawks seal the victory. Bachar’s three field goals tied a Stagg Bowl record for field goals in one game.
Moore finished with 182 all-purpose yards (74 rushing, 108 receiving). Senior wide receiver Jake Kumerow tallied eight receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown, while senior wide receiver Justin Howard registered eight catches for 78 yards and a score.
Junior running back Jordan Ratliffe posted a season-high 116 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Senior defensive backs Brady Grayvold, Marcus McLin and Zach Nellis led the defense. Grayvold contributed a team-high eight tackles and returned his eighth interception of the season for a touchdown. McLin recorded six tackles, a fumble both forced and recovered and an interception, while Nellis added six tackles and a pair of interceptions, including the game-clincher with 1:34 left in the fourth quarter.
Senior defensive lineman Mykaell Bratchett had two sacks in the first half to increase his two-year Stagg Bowl total to 4.5.
The Warhawks took the opening kick and drove 78 yards in 11 plays as Behrendt connected with Howard for a 12-yard touchdown down the middle of the field with 8:58 left in the first quarter. On the drive, UW-Whitewater converted all three of its third downs and Behrendt was 5-of-5 for 67 yards on the drive.
After stopping the Purple Raiders on four plays, the Warhawks tallied a second consecutive 78-yard drive as Behrendt hit freshman wide receiver Ricky Finco in the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard score with 2:55 to play. The drive was highlighted by a beautiful, over-the-shoulder 36-yard catch by Kumerow near the sideline.
Mount Union quickly responded with a touchdown drive of its own to cut its deficit to 13-7 with just under two minutes left in the opening period.
Following three empty possessions, Grayvold stepped in front of Kevin Burke’s pass for his eighth interception of the season and returned it 25 yards for his third pick-six of the season. Grayvold’s second Stagg Bowl interception in two seasons gave UW-Whitewater a 20-7 advantage with 5:51 left in the second quarter.
With under a minute left in the first half and the Warhawks leading 20-14, McLin stripped Taurice Scott and recovered the fumble at the Mount Union 17-yard line.
One play later, Behrendt found Kumerow from 17 yards out for his school-record 41st touchdown of the season to give UW-Whitewater a 27-14 lead with 44 seconds to play in the half.
McLin caused his second turnover in two defensive plays on the next drive, intercepting Burke and returning it 28 yards to the Purple Raiders’ 28-yard line.
After an outstanding tip-toe catch near the sideline by junior Joe Worth, sophomore Bachar converted a 23-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in the period to make it a 16-point game heading into the locker room.
The Purple Raiders scored on their first two drives of the second half, making it 30-28 midway through the third quarter. Mount Union took its first lead of the contest at the 5:05 mark before Moore gave the Warhawks the lead back for good.