D3 Today: Whitewater vs. Mt. Union
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- The last two seasons for Wisconsin-Whitewater have ended with the Warhawks unable to interrupt Mount Union's unprecedented dominance of Division III football.
They will try again Saturday, again having earned a spot in the NCAA championship game against the powerful Purple Raiders.
"The first time was big, big awe for us," Whitewater senior tailback Justin Beaver, the Gagliardi Trophy winner as the top player in Division III, said this week. "Second time we thought we were over it and still made a lot of little mistakes in the game.
"Hopefully, the third time's a charm for us."
The Warhawks (13-1) lost 35-28 in the 2005 Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl and 35-16 last year, when Mount Union (14-0) claimed its ninth national title in 14 years.
This time, the underdogs feel like they're playing not only for themselves, but for people such as beloved former coach Bob Berezowitz, who retired after last season.
"That's kind of been our motto all year is 'finish,"' quarterback Danny Jones, who joined the Warhawks this year, said. "We're at the point where we need to finish. I think it would be sweet for them, too, to get a little piece of that if we win."
Of course, that's the hardest part, especially against possibly the greatest little dynasty in college football history.
"There is certainly a lot of pressure," Mount Union quarterback Greg Miceli said. "Not just the pressure we put on ourselves to get back here and the expectations of what we think we can achieve, but also the pressure that other people kind of place on us."
Simply getting to Salem, Va., the site of the title game, provides a measure of relief for the Purple Raiders, "but then you do have to win the championship, because it's a bad season if we don't win," senior wide receiver Pierre Garcon said.
In Larry Kehres' 22 seasons as coach at the school of 2,300 students in Alliance, Ohio, there have been few bad weeks.
Mount Union has a 260-20-3 record with Kehres as coach.
"Every year we start out in August trying to get back here," guard Derek Blanchard, a regional finalist for the Gagliardi, said. "Winning a national championship is our ultimate team goal, so it's not so much pressure as it is a team goal for us."
A year ago, Kehres said of all the games he'd ever coached, if he had to lose one, he wouldn't have minded seeing Berezowitz head into retirement a national champ.
The Warhawks hope give their old coach a late retirement gift.
"They've all built a great foundation for us and it's their dream for us to win a national championship," Whitewater defensive back Matt Blaziewske said former Warhawks, "and here we are for the third year in a row. We'll see what we can do."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)