By Hank Kurz Jr.
SALEM, VA.: Matt Behrendt threw four touchdown passes and Wisconsin-Whitewater’s defense stymied Gagliardi Trophy-winner Kevin Burke and Mount Union in a 52-14 victory in the Division III championship Friday night.
Behrendt hit Jake Kumerow and Tyler Huber for two touchdowns each, and Jordan Ratliffe ran for two touchdowns as the Warhawks (15-0) continued their domination of the series between the two powerhouse programs in Division III.
Whitewater has won four in a row and five of its past six meetings with Mount Union in the Stagg Bowl. The teams have met eight times in the last nine years in the division’s championship game.
The Purple Raiders (14-1), national champions last season when the Warhawks failed to make the postseason, committed four second-half turnovers and suffered their worst loss since falling 48-0 to Wittenberg in 1974. That game took place before their first-year head coach, Vince Kehres, was born.
The Warhawks led 21-14 at halftime and took command in the third quarter, turning a fumble recovery into a touchdown and a defensive stand at their 5 into a field goal that made it 31-14.
Another fumble recovery late in the third period set up Behrendt’s fourth touchdown pass, a 3-yard, sidearm laser to Kumerow just before he stepped out of the right front corner of the end zone. The junior quarterback, voted the most outstanding player, had 40 touchdown passes and one interception this season. He finished 20-of-28 for 249 yards.
Mount Union quarterback Burke, who won the Gagliardi Trophy on Thursday night as the top player in Division III, was turned him away when he tried to make something happen fast for the Purple Riders.
With Whitewater ahead 38-14, Burke threw deep on the ensuing series, and Warhawks cornerback Dylan Morang made a dazzling over-the-shoulder interception near the goal line and returned it to the Whitewater 30.
Four plays later, Jordan Ratliffe’s second touchdown run made it 45-14, and it wasn’t over. Burke threw another interception on the next series, and Brady Grayvold returned it 37 yards for a touchdown, making it 52-14 with 8:23 remaining and letting the crowd of 5,371 know the outcome was decided.
It was the ninth consecutive appearance in the championship game for Mount Union, and its first under the 37-year-old Kehres, who succeeded his father, Larry, as coach after last season.