SALEM, Va. (AP) Matt Behrendt was the overshadowed quarterback again. Until they played the game.
The Wisconsin-Whitewater senior threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns and the Warhawks continued their mastery of Mount Union in the NCAA Division III championship game with a 43-34 victory Friday night.
The Warhawks (15-0) extended their winning streak to 32 games, the longest in the nation, and beat the Purple Raiders for the sixth time in the last seven meetings – all in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
Behrendt finished 26 for 38 with two interceptions and was named the most outstanding player for the second year in a row, both times after outplaying Kevin Burke, the Purple Raiders’ two-time Gagliardi Trophy- winning quarterback.
”I love it,” Behrendt said about getting championships over player of the year awards. ”Especially for the team to have these two national championships. You can’t ever take them away. There’s nothing more important than that.”
Behrendt had plenty of help. Jake Kumerow caught eight passes for 130 yards and a score, Jordan Ratliffe ran for 116 yards on 24 carries and Dennis Moore ran for 74 yards and caught two passes for 108 and a critical touchdown.
Mount Union (14-1), the winner of 11 national titles, was appearing in the game for the 10th consecutive season, and arrived having admittedly changed some things up on defense after a 52-14 loss to the Warhawks last year in the title game.
On the field, however, Whitewater trailed for only one play all night, at 31-30 in the third quarter.
On the first play after falling behind, Behrendt hit Moore with a screen pass, and Moore found his blockers, cut back across the field and took it 75 yards for a touchdown, restoring the Warhawks lead to 37-31.
”We had a lot of good blocking downfield,” Moore said. ”We took advantage of it, called it at the perfect time, had a lot of good blocking and the rest is history.”
It was fun to watch, Behrendt said, after dumping the ball off.
”That was the difference-maker,” he said. ”That play was huge.”
The defense had a big hand in things, too.
Burke was 25 of 47 for 323 yards and three touchdowns, but after arriving at his final college game with 49 touchdown passes and just five interceptions through 14 games, the Warhawks defense picked him off four times.
”It’s football,” Purple Raiders safety Alex Kocheff said. ”Somebody’s got to step up and make a play, and they made a play and we didn’t.”
The victory sent coach Lance Leipold out in style. He has accepted the job at Buffalo, and finishes eight years with the Warhawks with a 109-6 record and, remarkably, as many national championships as losses in his career.
Mount Union coach Vince Kehres fell to 28-2 as a coach, both losses to the Warhawks in the Stagg Bowl.
”Every time you lose it hurts,” he said.
Trailing 30-14 at halftime, Mount Union came out looking more like the team that averaged better than 60 points this season, and Burke looking more like the first two-time player of the year.
He led a 67-yard drive finished off with a 29-yard scoring pass to Roman Namdar and, when the Warhawks couldn’t get anything going, a 79-yard drive capped by Logan Nemeth’s 3-yard run made it 30-28.
Behrendt hit Kumerow in the hands on the next drive, and the ball went through his hands and into those of cornerback Tre Jones, who returned it to the 17. The defense held from there, and Edward Ruhnke kicked a 29-yard field goal.
Before halftime, Mount Union made mistakes it hadn’t made all year.
For the second year in a row, Brady Grayvold intercepted Burke’s pass and returned it for a touchdown, making it 20-7.
That made it 20-7, and Mount Union answered quickly. Burke led them on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that he finished off with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Taurice Scott, Burke’s 51st TD pass of the season.
Just as quickly as he seemed to have righted the ship, the Purple Raiders unraveled.
With less than 2 minutes left in the half, Mount Union called timeout and forced a punt. The Purple Riders took over at their 10 and, on the first play, Burke threw to Scott, who was stripped of the ball by Marcus McLin, who also recovered at the 17. One play later, Behrendt hit Kumerow for a sliding touchdown.
Undaunted, the Purple Raiders had Burke throw deep after the ensuing kickoff, and McLin intercepted it and returned it 26 yards to the 28. Four plays later, Lake Bacher’s 23-yard field goal made it 30-14.
Behrendt led touchdown drives on the Warhawks’ first two possessions. He hit Justin Howard from 12 yards and Ricky Finco from 7 to make it 13-0 with 2:55 to play in the opening quarter.
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