Perhaps not many of you know, but there was a National Championship game played in college football Friday night. The reason you are likely unaware of this is because the game was played between the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the University of Mount Union who compete at the Division III level. The Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks defeated the Mount Union Purple Raiders 13-10 to finish 15-0, earn their 3rd consecutive National Championship, as well as their 3rd consecutive undefeated season, and perhaps most impressively bring their current winning steak to 45 games. You think this game was meaningless? Try telling that to these kids, coaches, and schools, for who this game meant everything.
The game was played at the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl which is located in Salem, Virginia, in front of a crowd of 3,784 people. The temperature was only 38 degrees, and a steady rain fell for most of the game. The game was televised nationally on ESPN 2, but nobody seemed to notice. Despite the lack of attention, imperfect conditions, and obscure location, something about this bowl game was different. Something about it was beautiful. It was simply a game of football being played in its purest form.
There was no excessive television contract involved, no NCAA violations to be spoken of, and no talk of Head Coaches breaking promises and commitments by leaving their schools and players behind. This match-up wasn't decided by a group of computers, or a series of polls. No folks, this National Champion was decided by a playoff system consisting of 32 teams.
After dominating for much of the game, the Wisconsin-Whitewater defense finally yielded and allowed a Mount Union field goal with 11:23 left in the 4th quarter. The Warhawk offense quickly answered back with a drive of their own that would lead to 3 points and extend their lead to 13-3, seemingly putting the game out of reach as the Mount Union offense had seemed to be stuck in neutral for much of the night.
However the Mount Union offense sprang to life with an 8 play, 72 yard drive, lasting all of 2:14. The drive was capped off by a beautiful touchdown toss from Matt Piloto to A.J. Claycomb. The PAT was good, suddenly making it a 3 point game with the score at 13-10 and 3:20 to play.
Following the kickoff the Mount Union defense rose to the occasion. After burning their final timeouts and holding the Warhawk offense to a three and out, the Warhawks were forced to punt. Mount Union got the ball back with 2:12 to play and one last shot on offense to send this game to overtime or possibly even go for the win. But the Warhawk defense would have none of that tonight as they held strong allowing only one first down, before forcing the Purple Raiders to turn it over on downs. Defensive back Ryan Wenkman had the highlight of the series as he made an acrobatic pass deflection, and nearly came down with the interception.
It was fitting that the turning point of this defensive showdown came on a turnover. With 4:04 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Loussaint Minett strip sacked Piloto, and Cole Klotz pounced on the loose ball at the 1 yard line. The following play Levell Coppage burst into the endzone for the game's first touchdown to put the Warhawks up 10-0.
At the Division III level of college sports there are no athletic scholarships, but it didn't seem to matter to these players. They sell out, giving it everything they have, not for money, or fame, or the incentive of illegal benefits. These players work hard all year to reach this game, and tonight they were out there for each other, for their schools, and most of all for the love of their sport, and there is something truly beautiful about that.