Thoughts on Division III's national championship game between UW-Whitewater, Mount Union

Published on: 12/16/2011

The Super Bowl of Division III football is tonight.

And no polls done by coaches or writers or nothing a computer did put the two teams in it.

That's right, for the seventh consecutive year, UW-Whitewater and Mount Union earned the right to square off against each other for Division III's top honor. The game, labeled as the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, is at 6 p.m. on ESPN 2.

Yes, that's right. It's been seven years. The last time the Stagg Bowl featured two teams other than UW-Whitewater and Mount Union was 2004. In 2004, Facebook was just starting, a tweet was only a sound a bird made, Brett Favre was beloved by everyone, Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Braun were still sitting in classrooms taking college exams and this year's freshman classes at UW-Whitewater and Mount Union were barely in middle school.

Back to this year's game: If UW-Whitewater can win and up its winning streak to 45 straight games, it will claim its third straight national championship and fourth in five years.

The Warhawks' opponent tonight, Mount Union, had a couple three-peats of its own from 1996-98 and from 2000-02. And the Purple Raiders, who had some pretty unprecedented winning streaks of their own in winning 55 straight from 2000-03 and 54 from 1996-99, were going for another three-peat in 2007 after defeating UW-Whitewater in the 2005 and 2006 Stagg Bowls.

But the Warhawks won that game, 31-21, in Lance Leipold's first year as head coach and have never looked back.

After losing more than 20 seniors from that squad, they managed to get back to the title game in 2008. They lost to MU in that game, but the Warhawks haven't experienced what a loss feels like since then and have rattled off 44 straight victories, captured two national championships and in the process overtook MU as the beast of Division III college football.

While I usually write simply Waukesha news and sports in this blog, I decided to focus on this game for a few reasons. I'm a recent graduate of UW-Whitewater, attended almost every home game from 2007-10 (and some road games), covered the team in depth for my student newspaper during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, because this game deserves more publicity as well as because many Waukesha area students attend the school.

I also got an opportunity to attend the 2009 championship game - one which UW-Whitewater won, 38-28, behind quarterback Jeff Donovan, a then rising star in running back Levell Coppage and a suffocating defense.

As this year's version of UW-W/MU gets closer, I have recalled that game recently - not for the team's win - but for the events that surrounded the game. For those who follow the team, you'll remember that this was the game that got delayed due to a massive snowstorm that rocked the East Coast as almost two feet of snow hit the area.

I was already down in Virginia, but the fan bus with band members and students ready to cheer their team to a championship couldn't make it around the mountains due to the dangerous conditions and never arrived in Salem.

I was going to have some help in covering the game by some fellow members of my college newspaper staff up in the press box but their seats were empty for the game as they were on that bus. Instead, the bus turned around and many were disappointed they couldn't see their team in person.

But they did the next best thing. They stopped at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Indiana and transformed it into a loud Purple and White cheering section before heading back to Whitewater.

Back in Virginia, a record amount of snow fell, schools were canceled and crews worked around the clock to get the field ready for action.

It was a Winter Wonderland down there and the game was then pushed back from a late morning start to a late afternoon starting time. It was something that the city had rarely seen and that many didn't expect. It's an experience that I also didn't expect but it was sure a memorable one, nonetheless. But what has come to be expected is UW-Whitewater winning football games.

Something I believe they will do again tonight (UW-Whitewater 27, Mount Union 20), even though the weather won't be like it was on that day in December 2009. The latest forecast calls for temperatures in the mid 40s with rain likely.

As someone who has seen this team over the last five years and has talked with many of its players and coaches, I don't think a little rain will slow them down. Nothing really has slowed them down in recent years. Many have asked me recently why this is the case.

There are a number of reasons, one of which is because its players and coaches expect such great things out of each other and have set such a high standard.

Like the perfect Green Bay Packers this year, UW-Whitewater's players and coaches see the big picture but never get away from the task at hand and maintain a game-by-game approach without looking too far ahead. It's a perfect formula that they execute to perfection.

They also relish the fact that they will get everyone's best shot and never shy away from those big moments; they can light up the scoreboard with the best of them while also coming up with the defensive plays when it matters most; they have an administration, coaching staff and support staff that is behind them 100 percent and have a training facility that is state-of-the-art that could probably compete with some Division I schools.

But the main reason, I believe is that with success, breeds more success. Plus, while other teams that don't make the playoffs are sitting at home, UW-Whitewater's players are getting five extra weeks of practicetime every year and continue to have an opportunity to learn and work with its coaches - which has a ripple effect the following year and the process just continues.

Moreover, no player or team wants to be the team that doesn't get back to the title game. For that reason, they are extra motivated in the offseason to get better even after just claiming the year-end top prize. Championships are the only thing these players know.

For example, this year's junior class hasn't lost a game in their college careers and the senior class has gone 57-2 in four years and has a chance to add to their already crowded hand of championship rings.

And when they're on the ESPN network for the seventh straight year, the team has an opportunity to showcase the university and the program. When high school students see that on TV, they want to be apart of it and in turn, UW-Whitewater gets the best talent not selected by Division I schools.

UW-Whitewater's roster is filled with Waukesha County athletes, but only one from the city of Waukesha in freshman defensive lineman Dustin Austin, who went to Waukesha North.

While it will be the game I tune into tonight, the high school basketball docket is filled with local games.

The following varsity games, which all begin at approximately 7:30 p.m., that involve Waukesha schools are as followed:


Arrowhead (3-3) vs. Waukesha North (7-1)

Mukwonago (3-2) vs. Catholic Memorial (4-2)

Waukesha South (0-4) vs. Kettle Moraine (3-4)

Waukesha West (2-3) vs. Pius XI (4-1) - This game will be televised on Time Warner Sports 32.


North (2-2) vs. Arrowhead (2-1)

Catholic Memorial (1-3) vs. Mukwonago (3-1)

Kettle Moraine (1-1) vs. South (3-1)

Pius XI vs. West (1-2)