WHITEWATER, Wis. -- It had been a long time since Wisconsin-Whitewater had to rally for a victory -- almost a year.
But with their backs against the wall, the Warhawks rallied for a 27-17 victory over Linfield on Saturday in an NCAA Division III semifinal that clinched their fifth consecutive appearance in the championship game, set for Salem, Va., next Saturday.
Whitewater will again face Mount Union for the title after the Purple Raiders beat Wesley 24-7 in the other semifinal. Whitewater and Mount Union have played for the championship in each of the last five seasons with Whitewater winning the title in 2007.
Whitewater senior quarterback Jeff Donovan was slightly off Saturday, but still paced the Warhawks' (14-0) attack, completing 17 of 26 throws for 276 yards.
"Just about the time you think he's out of rhythm, he starts making plays," Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said.
His biggest play was a 68-yard throw to Jordan Wells late in the fourth quarter. It set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Antwan Anderson that gave the Warhawks a 19-17 lead with 7:28 to play.
For the second straight week, the No. 2 Warhawks struggled to get into an offensive rhythm in the first half and held a 10-7 lead with under a minute to play in the second quarter.
Instead of kicking a field goal from the Linfield 2-yard line, Whitewater went for it and Donovan was sacked and the Wildcats got the ball at their 8.
"I was hoping for huge momentum and should have taken the momentum we had going for us then," Leipold said. "That was a mistake on my part."
Linfield took advantage by marching 78 yards on the first drive of the second half, scoring on Aaron Boehme's 4-yard run to take a 14-10 lead. It was the first time the Warhawks trailed since last year's title game.
Linfield extended its lead with a 35-yard field goal to open the fourth quarter, finishing a 14-play, 72-yard drive that took 7:10 off the clock.
Whitewater scored on its next possession on a 26-yard field goal from Jeff Schebler.
Linfield went 25 yards on its next possession before punting, giving Whitewater the ball at its 23. Donovan completed an 8-yard pass to Aaron Rusch to open the drive, and then found Wells to set up Anderson's go-ahead score.
Linfield's next drive stalled at the Whitewater 49 and on fourth-and-6 the Wildcats opted for a fake punt that lost 2 yards and gave the Warhawks the ball back at the Linfield 29 with 5:24 to play.
"We positioned ourselves to win the football game," Linfield coach Joseph Smith said. "That was my call.
"Ultimately, it ended up being a bad call."
Whitewater went three-and-out on its next possession, but the Wildcats also stalled, with quarterback Aaron Boehme throwing three straight incompletions before he was picked off by Jeremy Diebert.
Two plays later, Levell Coppage ran for a 40-yard touchdown that put the game away with 1:05 left to play.
Boehme threw for 278 yards and a touchdown, but also had three interceptions for the Wildcats (12-1), who gained only 106 yards on the ground with 29 carries.
"Just because it wasn't working, we couldn't give up on it," Smith said. "We had to keep their defense honest."
Linfield's defense allowed 190 rushing yards, mostly on big runs by Coppage (55 yards), Anderson (18) and Donovan (37).