By Rob Todor
There are many college football rivalries that have been played for more years, but there’s none with more riding on the outcome than Mount Union-Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The teams meet on Saturday for the sixth straight year in the Stagg Bowl, to determine the NCAA Division III championship.
Mount Union has won three of the previous five games, but Whitewater prevailed last season, 38-28.
This season, Whitewater (14-0) has been ranked No. 1 all season in Div. III, and Mount Union (14-0) has been ranked No. 2.
“I think it’s a great matchup of two great programs,” Whitewater coach Lance Leipold said. “I have the utmost respect for [Mount Union coach] Larry Kehres and his program. It just doesn’t happen that these two teams just get to the championship game.”
Both teams have an issue at quarterback.
Mount Union starter Neal Seaman, a sophomore, was injured early in the first quarter of the Purple Raiders’ 34-14 win over Bethel in the semifinals last Saturday.
Backup Matt Piloto, also a sophomore, came in relief and threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns.
Kehres would only say this week that Seaman had a leg injury, but wouldn’t go into detail or whether Seaman could play on Saturday.
“When you lose your starter you’re concerned,” Kehres said. “Matt had not had a lot of playing time. He was a little jittery on his first few series but he settled in and made some throws and the guys around him got excited.
“Good teams realize you have to have good depth,” added Kehres. “That’s a specific, key position. It’s critical that your backup be ready.”
Whitewater quarterback Matt Blanchard threw for 21 touchdowns and just one interception during the regular season, but has missed the entire playoffs with injury. His backup, Lee Brekke, has passed for 722 yards and 10 touchdowns in four postseason contests. He’s also thrown four interceptions, something Leipold said can’t happen against Mount Union.
“We’ve got to secure the football and can’t turn it over,” he said. “We had a few turnovers at Wesley [in the Warhawks’ 27-7 win in the semifinals].”
Both coaches were asked if their teams’ domination was a good thing for Division III.
“It’s a good thing for Mount Union and Whitewater, but quite honestly I’m not sure it’s a good thing [for the division],” Kehres said. “It’s probably not for Lance and me to evaluate. I have to focus on my team, and Lance has to focus on his team.”
Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. in Salem, Va., and will be televised on ESPNU.