WHITEWATER — Even when the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater has separated itself by a comfortable margin, the Warhawks have waited until late in the third quarter and fourth quarter to push that margin.
The Warhawks earned a 35-10 victory against Monmouth College in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs on Saturday at Perkins Stadium. They gave themselves a 28-point lead at the half and were never threatened after that, but there were overtones of disappointment from fifth-year head coach Kevin Bullis.
UW-Whitewater quarterback Max Meylor completed a 52-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Wisniewski on the second drive of the second half, but the Warhawks didn’t sustain another scoring drive.
Instead, Meylor threw an interception, Andy Cooper punted four times and UW-Whitewater turned the ball over on downs.
The performance was characterized by Bullis as disappointing more than once.
“I felt like we didn’t keep our edge that we had in the first half,” said Bullis in his weekly phone conference Wednesday. “We came out of the gate fast as heck. We came out executing and playing very physical. I felt like we took our foot off the throttle. That’s something I talked to the team about.”
Should the Warhawks get out to an early lead against Wartburg on Saturday when they kick off at noon inside Perkins Stadium, the coaching staff expects that correction to be made.
The 28-0 lead over Monmouth was the first time all season the Warhawks had more than a two-possession lead at halftime. Twice, UW-Whitewater trailed at the half. Six times, the Warhawks were separated by seven points or fewer at half — they trailed twice.
Bullis regularly refers to the scoreboard as the biggest distraction in the game. The primary focus should always be the execution of a given assignment on each play. The scoreboard shouldn’t dictate how assignments are executed, according to the UW-W coaching staff.
“A lot of times when I say that the scoreboard is a distraction we equate it to us being behind,” Bullis said. “That’s a pretty natural assumption. It also can be when you’re ahead. … We allowed it to be a distraction to us rather than concentrating on the next snap.”
Evidence of distraction
Cooper and the Warhawks had two punts blocked against Monmouth on Saturday. Cooper had one punt blocked against UW-Stout and one blocked against St. Xavier.
“There wasn’t anything wrong with the scheme, it was just execution on our part,” Bullis said. “We had to move some guys around a little bit on punt protection. We made that change during the game. It was one of those corrections that you always get worried that there’s a flaw in the scheme or with how we’re teaching it. We were confident during the game that we had eyes on the scenario, which is why we made the change.”
Defensive POY out
Mackenzie Balanganayi was named Defensive Player of the Year for his productivity in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference season last Thursday. He injured his knee on Saturday and Bullis said he wouldn’t be able to play on in the second round.
“We haven’t gotten the final word on his situation, but he won’t be playing on Saturday,” Bullis said.
The Warhawks are embracing the cliche next-man-up motto to replace the standout junior defensive end.
Senior Jordan Brand, a fellow first-team all-WIAC honoree, leads the defensive linemen. Junior Jermaine Copeland and senior Justin Hansen will be the veterans of the group making up for Balanganayi’s absence.
“We have good depth at the defensive end position,” Bullis said. “Mack is obviously a great player. As coach (Ryan) Cortez said to the D line group, it’s next man up and everybody grab a little extra piece of rope. ...
“We’re fortunate at that position. There are some darn good players there.”