Coppage leads Wis.-Whitewater to Stagg Bowl win
Level Coppage burst through the line, saw all green in front of
him and knew he could turn his late third-and-6 carry into a
That’s not all he was thinking.
”Am I going fast, one? Two, should I zig-zag? And three, is
anybody behind me?” Coppage said after sealing
Wisconsin-Whitewater’s third NCAA Division III national
championship in four years with a 75-yard touchdown run Saturday in
the Warhawks’ 31-21 victory over Mount Union.
Coppage ran for 299 yards, an Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl record, and
three touchdowns and Wisconsin-Whitewater forced five turnovers and
shut out Mount Union in the second half.
The Warhawks completed their second straight 15-0 season,
improved to 57-3 in Lance Leipold’s four years as coach and have
supplanted the Purple Raiders as D-III kings.
”It’s unreal,” said senior defensive back Matt McCulloch, who
had two of the Warhawks’ four interceptions in the game and a
team-best eight tackles. ”I’m happy for the seniors. We deserve
it. You can’t even describe how it feels. It’s unreal. It’s
Coppage, the game’s most outstanding player for the second year
in a row, made it look easy at times. He scored on runs of 54, 11
and 75 yards, the latter with 2:34 to play.
”As the game went on, they were really condensing the holes,”
he said, a champions cap perched on his head. He said the Purple
Raiders’ strategy caused him to start running outside, like on his
11-yard TD. ”After I did that, the inside started opening up for
The Purple Raiders came in with the nation’s top defense,
allowing less than 200 yards per game, and with every intention of
slowing down the 5-foot-8, 170-pound tailback.
”He’s a patient runner and he’ll wait until he sees a gap in
the defense,” Mount Union coach Larry Kehres, whose team lost for
the fourth time in 14 Stagg Bowls, said. ”He can start and
accelerate so tremendously in the first 5, 6 yards, and then
`POOF!’ he’s gone.”
Coppage carried 39 times and went over 2,000 yards for the
season with 25 TDs.
The Purple Raiders (14-1) did all their scoring in less than 4
minutes in the second quarter, with the help of two turnovers, but
otherwise couldn’t solve the Warhawks’ defense.
”They’re kind of ticking me off,” Kehres said of the Warhawks,
with a wink, ”and I might have to kick myself in gear a little bit
to get ready to win three out of the next four.”
The teams set a record by each appearing in the championship
game for the sixth consecutive season. They had shared the mark
with fellow Division III member Augustana College (Ill.), which
played in five straight 1982 to 1986, winning the last four
After a high scoring first half, the defense tightened in the
With both teams using backup quarterbacks because of injuries,
three series ended on interceptions in the third quarter, and when
Mount Union put quarterback-turned-receiver Cecil Shorts behind
center for more mobility in the fourth quarter, he fumbled the ball
away on one possession and got sacked for a 9-yard loss by Luke
Hibner on another key play.
The latter came shortly before Coppage’s long touchdown run
The first half was completely different.
Coppage gave the Warhawks the lead when he broke through the
line and outran three defenders to the end zone from 54 yards away.
After a 25-yard punt by Brandon Mathie went out of bounds at the
Purple Raiders 28 late in the first quarter, the Warhawks drove to
the Mount Union 13, and Eric Kindler’s 30-yard field goal gave
Whitewater a 10-0 advantage.
Three touchdowns in less than 4 minutes gave Mount Union the
”We were excited when we scored the 21 points, and how fast we
did it,” said backup quarterback Matt Piloto, who started because
of an injury to Neal Seaman last week. ”But we knew that we were
going to have to keep on going because they have a great
First, Coppage was stripped of the ball by Nick Driskill and
Charles Diesuel recovered for Mount Union at the Warhawks 40. On
the second play, after a 1-yard run by Jeremy Murray, Piloto hit
Kyle Miller for a 39-yard touchdown play down the right
Whitewater’s backup quarterback Lee Brekki, who played
throughout the playoffs after starter Matt Blanchard was hurt in
the regular-season finale, then threw right to lineman Lambert
Budzinski, and he returned it to the Warhawks 4. Two plays later,
Murray took it in from the 1, his 21st touchdown, and Mount Union
had its first lead of the game at 14-13.
The Purple Raiders made it 21-10 after a three-and-out for the
Warhawks when Piloto found Shorts behind the secondary and hit him
in stride, a 58-yard connection 6:50 before halftime.
But the Warhawks responded, going 65 yards on their ensuing
possession. Coppage went wide around the left side and lunged for
the touchdown from 11 yards out with 2:46 to play.
They got the ball back with 1:56 to play, and a 30-yard pass
from Brekki to Adam Brandes highlighted a seven-play drive to
Brekke’s 31-yard TD pass to Tyler Huber on third-and-9.
That have the Warhawks a 24-21 lead, and their defense – and
Coppage – made it stand up.