WHITEWATER — The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team is one victory away from clinching another outright Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.
But in the meantime, the Warhawks have renewed their starting quarterback conversation.
Max Meylor replaced starting quarterback Zach Oles late in the first half. He fired two touchdown passes and ran run for another to help No. 3-ranked Whitewater pull away from UW-Stout to earn a 37-17 victory at Perkins Stadium on Saturday.
Ryan Wisniewski had 11 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns while the Warhawk defense added seven sacks to help UW-Whitewater clinch at least a share of the WIAC title with a game against second-place UW-Oshkosh (7-2, 5-1) remaining on the regular-season schedule.
UW-Whitewater can win the outright title and a likely top seed in the NCAA Division III playoffs with a victory at Oshkosh next Saturday.
But the Titans will pose a huge challenge given the Warhawks’ recent stumbles.
“We had missed opportunities and people open in the first half and didn’t hit them and didn’t maintain drives,” Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis said. “Too many penalties on defense and ball security was a problem for us.”
Whitewater’s first-half offensive struggles persisted for a second straight game, managing just a 3-3 tie after one quarter against the Blue Devils, who dropped to 2-4 in the WIAC and 3-6 overall.
Oles finally got things rolling in the second quarter with a quick four-play 67-yard drive capped by his 5-yard touchdown run to make it 10-3.
But Oles struggled to hit open receivers for most of the first half and was replaced by Meylor on the Warahwks’ final drive with 27 seconds left in the half. Meylor quickly threw a 17-yard pass to Wisniewski to the Stout 24 to help set up a Wojciech Gasienica 41-yard field goal and a 13-3 Whitewater lead at halftime.
“Quarterback, defensive back, or wide receiver, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all about competing,” Bullis said. “Zach (Oles) had some things that weren’t falling right for him, and so we put Max in on that last drive of the first half and he put a nice ball in the spot and gave us an opportunity to put three on the board, which was huge for us.”
Stout quarterback Sean Borgerding, meanwhile, kept his team in contention with a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 16-10 late in the third. Borgerding later added a 28-yard touchdown pass to Parker Fossum to keep it a one-possession deficit into the fourth quarter.
“We got away from some of the fundamentals in keeping the quarterback contained in the second half,” UW-Whitewater defensive end Mackenzie Balanganayi said. “A lot of us were lunging at the quarterback instead of taking him to the ground.”
With the game in doubt, Meylor responded with an 18-yard touchdown run with 10 seconds left in the third quarter and two touchdown passes of 7 and 14 yards to Wisniewski in the final eight minutes to put Whitewater out of reach.
“As a backup is tough, but any play you have to be ready and mentally prepared,” said Meylor who completed 11 of 18 passes for 167 yards. “I was a little cold to start, but once you get a couple completions your confidence goes up and the game starts to slow down for you.”
Meylor certainly made the most of his opportunity and now awaits Bullis’ decision on a starting quarterback next Saturday.
“We’ll see on the quarterbacks, “Bullis said. “We’re fortunate to have two very good quarterbacks.”