We arrived in Whitewater for last Saturday's NCAA Division III semifinal football game between the Warhawks and St. Paul's University of St. Thomas in a car bearing Minnesota license plates, so it wasn't surprising when we were approached by a fan of the home team almost immediately.
"Welcome to Whitewater," said the cheerful fan, clad in purple. "What a great day for football, huh? I hope we beat you guys on a last-second touchdown!"
Wishful thinking. The game, a 20-0 Warhawks victory, was effectively over at halftime. A Whitewater game has been decided by less than two touchdowns only once this year, a three-point victory at Oshkosh on Oct. 22. That also represents the closest score of the Warhawks' current 44-game winning streak, which dates to a loss to Mount Union in the 2008 Division III championship game.
The Purple Raiders of Alliance, Ohio, have been Whitewater's opponents in the last six title games, where the series is tied at three wins apiece. Mount Union owns 10 titles and has played in 14 of the last 18 Stagg Bowls, while Whitewater claims three titles in its six trips.
In Division III, such dominance doesn't come from harvesting talented recruits from football hotbeds like Florida or from running revolutionary offensive schemes. Execution and discipline are what jump off the field at a Whitewater game. On defense, the front seven maintain their gaps and contain the running game, rarely getting tricked by counters or reverses. On offense, the Warhawks are committed to the run and use it to exhaust defenses and loosen up the secondary for an efficient passing attack.
And the five extra weeks of practice they get every year by advancing in the playoffs can't hurt.