Triple Take: Stagg Bowl XLII predictions

We can recycle last year's trophy, uniforms and helmet photo, but not last year's predictions. (City of Salem photo)

We can recycle last year’s trophy, uniforms and helmet photo, but not last year’s predictions. (City of Salem photo)

Over the past 10 years, every time Mount Union and UW-Whitewater have been in the 32-team field, they’ve met in the Stagg Bowl. For the teams’ ninth clash in Salem, we rounded up an expanded group of prognosticators for Triple Take.

Once we get past the novelty and hype, there’s a game to be played. And no two matchups are the same — casts change, strategies change, weather changes. Last year’s lucky bounces may go another way this year. To break it all down, and give you an idea of what to expect tonight, is our seven-man panel.

We predicted last season (everyone was way off) and every Stagg Bowl since 1999. Don’t like any of the picks you see here? Make your own in the comments below; your insight is welcomed.

— Keith McMillan

Pat Coleman, publisher and executive editor
I’ve heard a lot of people compare this game to last year, saying, “how can Mount Union make up 38 points?” The point is, this isn’t 2013 and these are not the 2013 teams. Mount Union just has to score more than UW-Whitewater this time around. What Friday night will show is whether Mount Union has improved enough on defense to hold UWW down. Or whether the 2014 UWW defense can keep Kevin Burke contained, or account for Taurice Scott and Roman Namdar, whom they have never had to deal with before. Because of some of those things, I don’t expect this to be a defensive battle. I expect there will be points scored. This game could come down to a special teams play, and Mount Union has the edge there. But not enough to turn the tide. I look for UW-Whitewater, which has been tested more regularly, to show that here in Salem. UW-Whitewater 34, Mount Union 31.

Keith McMillan, national columnist and managing editor emeritus
Mount Union hung 70 on an elite D-III team last week. Two-time Gagliardi Trophy winner Kevin Burke, who will go down as one of the best in D-III history, is playing like a man on a mission. Wesley coach Mike Drass, after his own team had its butt whooped, said the Stagg Bowl might feature another butt whooping.
UW-Whitewater, meantime, has a hobbled cornerback in Marcus McLin and has had up-and-down safety play. They’ve won their past two games by 4 and 6, and last year’s 52-14 Stagg Bowl win over the Purple Raiders is a distant memory. Shoot, it’s probably what’s fueled Mount Union’s ridiculous run back to Salem.
Realistically, I see three potential outcomes. 1. Burke has a game for the ages and lights up the UW-W defense, even if no passes go near Brady Grayvold. 2. Mykael Bratchett, John Flood IV and the Whitewater defensive line dominate the line of scrimmage, not letting Burke keep on read-option runs and not allowing him time to throw. 3. Tony Koepnick, Johnny Wiederholt and the UW-W offensive line dominate like they did last year (201 rushing yards at 4.9 per carry, no sacks of Matt Behrendt allowed or interceptions thrown); Whitewater keeps the ball out of Burke’s hands and in Dennis Moore’s while the Warhawks win ugly, like the 13-10 game in 2011.
All common sense says take Mount Union. But I’ve watched every one of the Purple Power Stagg Bowls, and what these teams do against everyone else often is little indication of how the game in Salem goes. Backing Burke and his team is perfectly reasonable. But Koepnick, Wiederholt, Spencer Shier, Eli Slonaker and Connor Peters make the difference for me. UW-Whitewater 31, Mount Union 28.

Ryan Tipps, Around the Nation columnist
Some things in life you just can’t unsee – and the total dominance that Mount Union dealt Wesley last Saturday is one of those things. The Purple Raiders are so fast on both sides of the ball, and their special teams are able to ruin an opponent’s drive almost before it starts. Several times on Saturday, Wesley was pinned at or inside its own 10-yard line. Cases like that, it’s possible to have a 60- or 70- yard drive and come away empty-handed. It requires more than momentum to overcome the kind of long field that Mount leaves its opponents.  And then there’s the defense. The Purple Raiders can get so much pressure up front, and they have linebackers and a secondary that flock to the ball so that it’s tough for offenses to stretch their legs in the least. That side of the team is so much improved from a year ago that it should completely change the dynamic of the Stagg Bowl. Hanging in the back of my mind, too, is the fact that UW-Whitewater has needed some extra magic toward the end of the season to win some of its games. Does that sound familiar? It should — it reads like the Mount Union of 2013, the one that ultimately got throttled in the Stagg. I give credit to Whitewater for having the will to win and the poise to regain the upper hand in these games, but this kind of thing will catch up to a team in the end. And the end is Salem: Mount Union 41, UW-Whitewater 24

Adam Turer, Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist
Last year, Mount Union’s defense gave up 140 points on its path to Salem. This year, that number is 52. The Purple Raiders defense entered this season with something to prove, and the unit has shown much improvement from a year ago. UW-Whitewater quarterback Matt Behrendt has thrown four interceptions in the past three games, after tossing just three in his previous 26 starts. This year, it was the Warhawks who eked out quarterfinal and semifinal wins which were not decided until the final minutes. As Mount Union showed in last year’s Stagg Bowl, a team can only bend so many times before it breaks. With several emotional subplots on both sides, I think Kevin Burke finally gets his first win over UW-Whitewater and sends Lance Leipold off to Division I with his first Stagg Bowl loss. Mount Union 42, UW-Whitewater 34

Josh Smith, Around the West columnist
I can’t wait to see if Mount Union continues its dominant playoff run or if UW-Whitewater’s resiliency comes through one more time. Both teams have star players on both sides of the ball and top-notch coaching, so I expect a close game. I think it’s special teams – either a big play or a crucial mistake – that swings this game. It could be as simple as controlling field position. Maybe a punt return by Tim Kennedy or Justin Howard tips the game one way or another. Or perhaps it comes down to Edward Ruhnke or Will Meyer splitting the uprights when it matters most. The Warhawks have managed to gut out close games the past two weeks. I think they find a way to do it again and send Lance Leipold off with as many championships as career losses. UW-Whitewater 31, Mount Union 28

Gary Douglas Lundberg, play-by-play for KOOL 106.5 Whitewater
Every year there seems to be a new story line.  In 2006, it was Bob Berezowitz’s final game.  In ’07 it’s a new head coach and quarterback.  The final game for Larry Kehres in 2012. And now in 2014, it’s Lance Liepold’s (and most of his staff’s) final game. I’m not sure anyone saw last year’s result coming and this year is equally intriguing. Mount looks to be much improved, especially on the defensive side. Whitewater has “bent” on defense particulary in the last half of the season. With Jake Kumerow back, the offense has found its stride again. And for the Purple Raiders, Kevin Burke is … Kevin Burke. I’ve always been an “intangible” guy and the two that I see the most are: Mount looking to payback after last year’s humbling defeat and Whitewater winning one more for their departing head coach and longtime defensive coordinator Brian Borland. It could be a wild one. UW-Whitewater 35, Mount Union 31

Frank Rossi, Stagg Bowl sideline reporter
I originally chose UW-Whitewater to win when I co-hosted the final “In the HuddLLe” show of the season, but that was before Mount Union beat Wesley by 49. So, I decided to take a different approach this year in making my prediction, as I have tended to perform badly in the six prior tries I’ve had. We know that in 2013, UW-Whitewater beat Mount Union by 38 points. I wanted to compare the teams through the first 14 games in each year to see what I could learn statistically:

Mount Union:
2014: Scoring — 844-130 (+714, avg. 51.0) — +20 TO Ratio
2013: Scoring — 686-266 (+420, avg. 30.0) — +10 TO Ratio

2014: Scoring — 558-149 (+409, avg. 29.2) — +25 TO Ratio
2013: Scoring — 501-122 (+379, avg. 27.1) — +31 TO Ratio

Both teams had a better average margin of victory, but Mount Union’s jumped by nearly 22 points. This was likely aided by the improved turnover ratio Mount Union experienced. The question becomes: is this enough to account for more than a 38-point swing Friday night? It seems like the Mount Union defense has leveled the playing field — this didn’t exist in the 2013 stomping and led to the Whitewater dominance in that game.  Add the improvement in offensive efficiency, and I believe Mount Union will win going away. Mount Union 38, UW-Whitewater 27

Listen to our annual Stagg Bowl Webcast on Friday night, beginning at 5 p.m. and featuring the first reveal of the All-America team. Download the Around the Nation podcast and keep an eye out for the final top 25 after the game, where Pat, Keith and a band of guests wrap up the season.


Before a career ends, final thank-yous

Zach Howard, senior backup wide receiver for UW-Whitewater, posted this public note of thanks to his Facebook account on Thursday night. It’s an insight into what Division III football players everywhere could feel on the eve of their final career game. We share it here as part of the run-up to tonight’s Stagg Bowl XLI kickoff.

Zach Howard in the UWW huddle.

As I lay here on the eve of what will be the last game of football I will ever play, so many Continue reading


Triple Take: Stagg Bowl XLI

Salem Stadium stands ready.
City of Salem photo

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This somehow feels familiar.

After a one-year hiatus of these two teams’ season culmination in Salem, we’re again getting to see Mount Union and UW-Whitewater duke it out for the Walnut and Bronze. Oh, but what an exciting trip is has been to get to this point, as both of these two teams won by just one point last weekend.

Pat Coleman and Frank Rossi also gave their pregame thoughts (kept it under 10 minutes!):

Pat, Keith and Ryan bring you an expanded Triple Take this week, with a few guest prognosticators. And, of course, not only are we doing scores, but we’re also throwing in a bit of analysis. It’s been a tradition since 1999.

As always, we welcome your remarks and your own picks in the comments section below!

Pat Coleman, publisher and executive editor
I came into this week with a specific result in mind. Whether I could find enough points to make it happen, though, I wasn’t quite sure. Eventually I end up with about the prediction I’d like. Could I see UW-Whitewater scoring enough points on offense to justify the “just barely more than one score” prediction that was on my mind. Mount Union should score enough points to keep this game close and UW-Whitewater needs to really avoid the early-game issues they’ve had the past two weeks. If so, I think the Whitewater defense outperforms the Mount Union offense.
UW-Whitewater 30, Mount Union 21

Keith McMillan, managing editor and Around the Nation columnist
I usually try to watch as much of both teams as I can and give a serious pick based on expected on-field factors. But I have a couple of problems this year. While I’ve seen all or part of five Mount Union games, I haven’t seen enough UW-Whitewater to comfortably form a really good opinion. (I do plan to watch the Thursday 3 p.m. ESPNU re-air of the UMHB semifinal on DVR before game time, so I’ll be sharp for our annual Web cast). My second problem is that UW-W fans have specifically requested that I pick against them as I have the past two weeks, when they’ve beaten the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in our poll to advance; Now they’re facing No. 1. So, because I really have no idea who’ll win Round 8 (Isn’t that the way it should be?) and because it will make both sides happy, even our picks at 3-3 and the series at 4-4, I’ll take the Purple Raiders. (I’m not as terrible at this as I thought; I’ve picked the past five Stagg Bowl winners correctly in Triple Take, including UW-W in ’09, ’10 and ’11). I just mentioned myself 10  make that 11  times and haven’t mentioned a single player. Yuck. Anyway, it’s scary to think what it means for the rest of D-III if Mount Union replaces 17 starters and its legendary coach and still wins the Stagg Bowl, but they’ve got Kevin Burke, taking his place alongside the great D-III quarterbacks, playmakers around him (look for a big play from Luc Meacham) and a defense that can be gashed but is opportunistic as well. The Warhawks’ front seven will cause problems for the Purple Raiders’ O-line, but in the fourth-quarter play that defines the game, I can’t envision Burke failing. You had your chances, D-III sub-elite class. Here goes nothin’. Mount Union 21, UW-Whitewater 20.

Ryan Tipps, senior editor and former Mid-Atlantic columnist
Year after year when these teams meet, winning seems to wind up being about defense  and most signs point to the Warhawks ultimately being more dominant than the Purple Raiders on that side of the ball. The scores and the stars through the regular and postseasons have shown us a team that can hold the likes of UW-Platteville, Franklin, Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor each to 17 points or less. (For comparison, UMHB’s worst game before last week was a 34-point offensive effort in Week 2.) I have no doubt that Burke and his UMU compatriots will push UW-W to the absolute limit, and Whitewater could get into trouble if Mount’s passing game really takes off (remember 2008?). But Whitewater has beaten the pass, as well as beaten the run, this season, and they’ve made me a believer in the process. Mount Union started the season No. 1 on my ballot and has lived there sporadically since. Since September, I’ve chosen four teams to spend time in the top spot, and Whitewater has beaten two of them in the postseason. Because they’ve done that, there’s little reason to think they couldn’t do it a third time. UW-Whitewater 21, Mount Union 17

Adam Turer, Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist
This is as much a matchup of weaknesses as it is strengths. Casual fans may think this is just another Purple Power coronation, but each of these teams has been exposed, probably moreso than in any other season during this eight-game, nine-year series. The Warhawks have struggled to score early. Falling behind to Mount Union is not a recipe for success. The Purple Raiders have been vulnerable in the secondary, allowing 99 points in the past two games. Matt Behrendt should be salivating. Who do you believe in more: Cole Klotz and the Whitewater defense, or Burke and the Mount Union offense? The past two Stagg Bowls have been defensive struggles. That trend ends this year. Burke and the Purple Raiders will get their points. I expect the Warhawks to try and keep Burke & Co. on the sideline, which means Jordan Ratliffe will be counted on to grind out yards on the ground. This game will hinge on third down — can the Purple Raiders defense get off the field and get the ball back in the hands of the nation’s second-most prolific offense? Mount Union safety Alex Kocheff had the game of his freshman season in last year’s Stagg Bowl. Now, the sophomore starter will need to lead the defense to a bounce-back performance after it was humbled over the past seven quarters. Whitewater has a great defense, but I don’t think the Warhawks have the offense to keep up with the Purple Raiders. Burke will win his third championship in the past four years and the Purple Raiders will be dynastic once more. Mount Union 38, UW-Whitewater 24

Frank Rossi, broadcaster
Anyone who saw the playoff games of these two knows there’s great balance between opposite sides of the ball for these teams. The Mount Union offense looks unstoppable at times, while the UW-Whitewater defense becomes stifling as games wear on. Because of this, we’ll see overtime, or perhaps two, with Burke making a believer out of everyone who doubts the Mount Union mantra, “The guy just wins.” Watch the two-point conversion from last weekend for more information. Mount Union 37, UW-Whitewater 31 (2 OT)

Josh Smith, Around the West columnist
It’s the No. 1 offense versus the No. 1 defense. The adage is “defense wins championships,” but not every defense plays against Mount Union. The job Burke has done leading this brand new cast of players on offense is incredible, and the Purple Raiders’ ability to score points when the game is the line has truly impressive. But the UW-Whitewater defense is stingy. Thanks to their ability to adjust on the fly, the defense has been able to shut teams down in the second half, giving Behrendt and company opportunities to put points on the board. I don’t anticipate a shootout, which leads me to think the “defensive” team has the edge over the “offensive” team. A key turnover is likely to shift the game in one direction or another, and the Warhawks seem to come up with big stops when they are needed. UW-Whitewater 20, Mount Union 17