Wisconsin-Whitewater gets over hump, beats Mount Union for title

Updated: December 15, 2007, 10:47 PM ET
Associated Press

SALEM, Va. -- Justin Beaver turned the biggest week of his career into the biggest one in Wisconsin-Whitewater's football history with a grand performance.

Two days after receiving the Gagliardi Trophy as the best player in NCAA Division III, Beaver ran for 249 yards, including a touchdown and a backbreaking 66-yard burst in the final minutes, to lead the Warhawks to a 31-21 victory against Mount Union.

"It can't get any better than to win a national title in your last game," Beaver said after the Warhawks' first championship in the soggy, cold Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.

His biggest contributions -- a 13-yard touchdown run to make it 24-14 and the 66-yarder to set up a clinching touchdown -- came after his second fumble of the game.

"I've seen so many people make mistakes and put their heads down and I've kind of learned through many things in life that if you do make a mistake, bounce back as hard as you can and give it everything you've got," the 5-foot-9, 200-pound Beaver said.

"That's what I've been doing, I guess."

Beaver's first fumble went into the end zone and was recovered by left tackle Mike Sherman for a touchdown. Mount Union hoped the second would get him off his game.

"We definitely thought so and that the momentum would swing back our way," safety Matt Kostelnik said, "but we didn't execute when we needed to, and that happens."

Beaver, however, rebounded like a player of the year.

"He's a great running back," Kostelnik said. "We expected he was going to get his yards, but we didn't think he was going to get this many yards."

The victory came in the third try for the Warhawks, who lost 35-28 to Mount Union in the 2005 championship game and 35-16 in the rematch last year. This one came under first-year coach Lance Leipold, who said the first two experiences clearly helped.

Awe marked the first trip, he said, and the imminent retirement of beloved coach Bob Berezowitz added to the pressure to finally get that championship last year.

"We didn't have that type of distraction this time around," Leipold said.

Wisconsin-Whitewater (14-1) also ended Mount Union's 37-game winning streak, and deprived the Purple Raiders of their 10th national title in the last 15 years.

The Purple Raiders (14-1) turned the ball over three times on fumbles -- two by quarterback Greg Micheli and one by tailback Nate Kmic -- and never got their vaunted offense untracked. Mount Union came in averaging more than 54 points in the playoffs, but a goal-line stand in the first quarter signaled that the Warhawks were ready.

"That was our bread-and-butter play and we didn't get it in," Mount Union coach Larry Kehres said of the run by Kmic that was stuffed by end Ryan Ogrizovich.

When Mount Union seemed poised to rally in the end, Beaver didn't let them, turning a run into the line into a footrace down the right sideline to the 4.

"The O-line actually looked at me before the play and said, `We're going to open it up for you,"' Beaver said. "When they want to get something done, they do it."

Earlier, Beaver seemed in line for a much less desirable finish.

After Mount Union finally scored on an 11-yard run by Kmic in the third quarter, Beaver fumbled on the next play and the Purple Raiders recovered. They drove quickly for another touchdown, Kmic taking it in on fourth-and-inches to make it 17-14.

Kmic finished with 121 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.

In rainy conditions, both teams struggled on offense until a fumble by Micheli, Matt Blaziewske's recovery and a 15-yard penalty set the Warhawks up at midfield.

Six Beaver runs and one pass later, it was 24-14 with 6:11 to play.

The Purple Raiders trailed 10-0 at halftime, the first time they've been behind at intermission since 2005. Three times they went for it on fourth down, and each time they failed. They also turned the ball over one play after forcing a fumble.

The Warhawks struggled for most of the half, too, but started and ended well.

On their opening drive, Jones completed passes for 36 yards on the first two plays, Beaver had a 26-yard run that would have been a touchdown had he not slipped, and Jones scored on a quarterback sneak on second-and-goal to make it 7-0 after just 4:30.

Mount Union had given up six points in the first quarter in its first 14 games.

After Kmic's fumble, Beaver had runs of 5, 9 and 45 yards to get the ball in Purple Raiders' territory, Jones ended a string of eight straight incompletions with a 10-yard pass to Neil Mrkvicka, and Jeff Schebler kicked a 32-yard field goal.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press