WHITEWATER — At halftime Saturday, it appeared a familiar big-game script was being followed by the UW-Whitewater football team:
A shaky start, a game-changing play to right the ship — and finally a triumphant second half.
But Whitewater never made it to that third act during its NCAA Division III quarterfinal. The result was a 31-14 victory for John Carroll University of Ohio that brought a bitter — but indisputable — end to the second-ranked Warhawks’ 12-1 season.
After falling behind on John Carroll’s first possession, the Warhawks tied the score when sophomore Famus Hasty’s deflected interception set up a fourth-and-inches touchdown dive by quarterback Cole Wilber.
From there, Whitewater kept the sixth-ranked Blue Streaks (12-1) from mounting a threat during their final five possessions of the first half.
But instead of turning on the jets in the third quarter, the Warhawks were steamrolled by John Carroll to the tune of 17 consecutive points and a 24-7 deficit.
“We were not consistent as a team, offensively and defensively,” Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis said. “We were not able to get things going our way. …. That’s on us. That’s just the reality of it.”
Second-ranked Whitewater, a six-time national champion, entered with a home playoff winning streak of 33 games. But the Warhawks were bowled over by a Blue Streaks team that outplayed them in the trenches, at the skill positions and in the all-important game of confidence.
The Blue Streaks beat the Warhawks’ perennial postseason nemesis, Mount Union, in November, ending the NCAA Division III power’s 112-game regular-season winning streak.
“There was nothing really different about the way we played,” John Carroll coach Tom Arth said. “Our execution was better. At the end of the day, it’s about these guys executing.”
John Carroll’s defense held Whitewater to 228 total yards, 199 yards below its average.
The Blue Streaks’ man-to-man coverage especially shook up Wilber, who completed only 12 of 34 passes for 116 yards and had two third-quarter interceptions that led to 10 John Carroll points.
“They did a great job disrupting our routes,” Bullis said. “They’ve got a great front seven, but their defensive backs really came through.”
“Usually, I (was forced to) hit my third guy (in the pass progression) today,” Wilber said. “(I had to) go back to the basics, go to inside zones and stretches just to try and get something started.”
John Carroll’s pass defense had Whitewater on the ropes so badly that near the end of the third quarter — after Wilber had thrown interceptions on Whitewater’s previous two possessions — Bullis elected to call a running play on third and seven from the Warhawks 38 while trailing, 24-7. The decision led to Whitewater’s eighth and final punt of the day.
Still, the Warhawks kept a ray of hope alive until the late going. On their first possession of the fourth quarter, UWW freshman Josh Ringelberg returned a punt 33 yards to the Blue Streaks’ 42, and Wilber completed three consecutive passes — including a 23-yard strike to senior tight end Brent Campbell to make it 24-14 with 10:51 to play.
The Whitewater defense forced a three-and out, and the offense drove to the John Carroll 19. But Will Meyer was wide right on a field goal try from 36 yards with 8:32 left. Two possessions later, John Carroll’s Sam Kukura ran for a 10-yard score, his second of the day, with 2:24 remaining.
John Carroll’s unflappable freshman quarterback, Anthony Moeglin, completed 16 of 29 passes for 159 yards and a 10-yard TD throw in the third quarter to Nico James, who has caught four of his seven touchdown passes this season in the playoffs. Junior Ro Golphin rushed for 60 yards and a first-quarter score.
“It’s kind of crazy, the success we’ve had the last couple of weeks. Our defense has been amazing,” Moeglin said.
John Carroll expects to play host to UW-Oshkosh (12-1) next week in the semifinal round — the same Oshkosh team that beat up on the Blue Streaks, 33-14, in the season opener.
“That was a very long time ago,” Arth said. “We’ve changed a lot since then, and I imagine they have, too.”
John Carroll 7 0 17 7 — 31
UW-Whitewater 0 7 0 7 — 14
JC — Golphin 8 run (Danko kick)
W — Wilber 1 run (Meyer kick)
JC — James 10 pass from Moeglin (Danko kick)
JC — Kukura 1 run (Danko kick)
JC — FG Danko 31
W — Campbell 23 pass from Wilber (Meyer kick)
JC — Kukura 10 run (Danko kick)
First downs — JC 16, W 11. Rushing (att.-yds.) — JC 41-146, W 35-112. Passing yards — JC 159, W 116. Passing (comp.-att.-int.) — JC 16-29-1, W 12-34-2. Fumbles-lost — JC 0-0, W 0-0. Punts-avg. — JC 8-39.1, W 8-33.2. Penalties-yds. — JC 2-10, W 4-45.
Rushing: JC — Golphin 18-60; W — Patterson 19-81. Passing: JC — Moeglin 16-29-1-159; W — Wilber 12-34-2-116. Receiving: JC — Baniewicz 3-37; W — Hudson 3-45.
UW-Oshkosh 34, St. Thomas (Minn.) 31
The fourth-ranked Titans (12-1) took the lead on a 36-yard field goal from Eli Wettstein with 2:30 remaining and forced the host and third-ranked Tommies (12-1) to commit eight turnovers in St. Paul.
Oshkosh junior quarterback Brett Kasper completed 13 of 26 passes for 237 yards, and junior receiver Sam Mentkowski caught scoring passes of 46, 38 and 32 yards.
The Titans also got three interceptions and nine solo tackles from senior Johnny Eagan.
The Titans opened a 21-7 lead after one quarter, but St. Thomas tied the score at 31-31 on a 14-yard run by Josh Parks with 6:02 remaining.