WHITEWATER — University of Wisconsin-Whitewater head coach Kevin Bullis might as well find a comfortable chair, kick back and enjoy the tape of his team’s impressive first half against Wartburg.
The Warhawks dominated in all three aspects to build a 31-7 lead at halftime and rolled to a 41-28 victory over the Knights in an NCAA Division III second round game at Perkins Stadium on Saturday.
The UW-Whitewater defense forced two first-half turnovers, the special teams tipped a punt and Justin Prostinak had a 67-yard touchdown punt return, and the offense capitalized on short fields to blow the game open by halftime.
“The first half was definitely very clean to say the least,” Bullis said. “Obviously you can’t expect that number of explosive plays whether it was the big returns, the takeaways, or the long passes, but it was a very explosive first half.”
The Warhawks will need more explosive plays next week when they take on Mary Hardin-Baylor in a quarterfinal game at a site to be determined. The Warhawks seek redemption after losing, 31-14, to the Cru in the semifinals last season.
“We could not be happier to play them (Mary Hardin-Baylor),” Bullis said. “The moment that game ended a year ago I just hoped and prayed to have the opportunity to face them in 2019. I mean that out of respect for them, but we have something to prove.”
The Warhawks certainly proved they could capitalize on Wartburg mistakes. Whitewater turned an interception, fumble recovery, and tipped punt into an Alex Peete 1-yard touchdown, a Max Meylor 12-yard touchdown pass to Ronny Ponick, and Wojciech Gasienica 36-yard field goal. That made it 17-0 UW-Whitewater.
“You can’t give them short fields and our defense was battling like crazy because of it,” said Wartburg coach Rick Willis regarding Whitewater starting its first four possessions in Wartburg territory. “Turnovers are obviously part of every football game especially when you get this far in the playoffs.”
Wartburg answered with a 10-play 85-yard drive capped by Noah Dodd’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandan Childs.
The Warhawk special teams took over with Ryan Wisniewski answering with a 46-yard kickoff return to that set up Meylor’s 4-yard touchdown run. Then Prostinak tacked on his 67-yard punt return to make it 31-7.
“Their special teams were a lot more cleaned up than ours today,” Willis said. “No doubt about it.”
Dodd got the Knights’ offense rolling in the second half with three touchdown passes to draw to within 41-28 in the fourth quarter. Dodd marched the offense down inside the Warhawk 30 on the next drive until Kaleb Kaminski nabbed an interception deep in Warhawk territory to stop the comeback attempt.
Kaminski later added another interception off a tip to put the finishing touches on the victory.
“I was really pleased in the second with how our defense weathered the storm,” Bullis said. “We knew there was a storm coming.”
And now they get their chance for redemption.