By Bryce Meade, UWEC Sports Information
WHITEWATER, Wis. (Blugolds.com) - In a rainy, sloppy game that saw six fumbles, several botched snaps, and 23 penalties, the No. 3 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks were able to hold off a late comeback surge in the fourth quarter to keep their undefeated record intact, and prevent the UW-Eau Claire football team from upsetting a top-six ranked Division III opponent for the second consecutive week.
The Warhawks got on the board early in the first quarter when running back Alex Peete broke several tackles and rambled in from 45 yards out. After forcing Eau Claire to punt on the following possession, Whitewater once again drove into Blugold territory. The drive ended with a 41-yard field goal attempt which was blocked by Victor Martinelli (Jr. – Milton) to keep the score 7-0.
The stop provided the Blugolds with a chance to close the gap when they drove 49 yards to the Whitewater 21-yard line, but a 38-yard field goal try from Brad Goetsch (Jr. – Schofield/DC Everest) late in the quarter just missed. The first quarter ended with Whitewater owning a 7-0 lead.
The Warhawks were stifled again on their next possession, as they were forced into a turnover on downs. After Eau Claire took control at their own 37, it appeared that the offense finally broke through with a big play, as Jonathan Malueg (So. – Stoughton) found Joe Swanson (Jr. – Osceola) for a 43-yard gain. Swanson was called for offensive pass interference and the Blugolds were once again forced into a 4th and long. An errant snap on the punt attempt turned the ball back over to Whitewater on the Eau Claire 15-yard line. At the 11:00 mark in the second quarter, inclement weather sent both teams off the field and into the locker room.
After play resumed following the nearly 40-minute weather delay, Whitewater capitalized on the Blugold miscue and added a field goal to increase their lead to 10-0.
With just over a minute remaining in the half, another special teams mistake shifted the game's momentum. This time it was the Warhawks' punting unit botching a snap, setting the Blugolds up at their opponent's six-yard line. Conrad Bolz (Jr. – Medford) took a jet sweep in for a touchdown on the next play to bring the Blugolds within three at the half, 10-7.
The Whitewater defense forced a critical turnover early in the second half when Keshaun Story (Fr. – Andover, MN/Centennial) broke loose for a 25-yard run, but was stripped by a Warhawk defender. The fumble recovery set up a 64-yard drive that was capped off by Peete's second rushing touchdown of the afternoon to put Whitewater up 16-7.
Eau Claire once again fumbled away the ball on their next possession which led to a Jarrod Ware rushing touchdown and a successful two-point attempt to extend the lead to 24-7 with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
After a Blugold punt early in the fourth, it looked like Eau Claire had finally stopped the Warhawk offense, but gave the ball right back on a muffed punt. Whitewater took advantage and soaked up another four minutes of clock, however, they were unable to build upon their 24-7 advantage and were forced to hand the ball back to Eau Claire.
Needing a touchdown to chip into the lead, the Blugolds drove 78 yards on 11 plays to get back on the board with a one-yard Malueg rush on a read option keeper to pull within 10 points with 1:25 left.
A failed onside kick attempt gave the ball back to the Warhawks. Casper Clark gave Eau Claire some hope late, when he stripped Ware with under a minute to play. Victor Martinelli fell on the ball and Eau Claire took over at the Whitewater 24-yard line.
A subsequent turnover on downs ended the comeback threat, as the Warhawks held off the Blugolds to win 24-14.
Malueg totaled 119 yards on 11-25 passing. Austin Belot (Jr. – Neenah) ran for 66 yards and Keshaun Story added 55 yards on the ground for the Blugolds. Darius Jones hauled in five receptions for 60 yards. Cam Swanson (Sr. – Auburndale/Marshfield) and Sam Romanski (Sr. – Wausau/East) led the Blugold defense with seven tackles each.
The Blugolds drop their WIAC opener and fall to 2-2 overall on the season. Next Saturday Eau Claire will host UW-River Falls in their homecoming game at 1:10 PM. Follow the action on Blugold Game Day or on the 'UWEC Blugolds' app from your mobile device.