By Angela Kelm
Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
The No. 3 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team defeated No. 9 UW-La Crosse 34-31 courtesy of a late field goal to open Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play Saturday at Veterans Field in La Crosse.
The Warhawks posted 479 yards of total offense including 347 yards through the air while the defense held the Eagles to 293 yards of offense. Tommy Coates had a career game with three touchdown receptions while Jeffery Isotalo-McGuire nailed the game-winning field goal to lead UW-Whitewater.
UW-La Crosse marched down the field in their first possession of the game going 65 yards in 12 plays capped by a seven-yard touchdown catch for an early 7-0 Eagle lead.
The Warhawks responded in kind. Coates opened his day with a 28-yard reception for a first down. He put the book ends on the drive hauling in a five-yard strike from quarterback Evan Lewandowski for UW-W’s first score of the game. Isotalo-McGuire made it 7-7 with the extra point.
Those were the only two full possessions of the first quarter. UW-L’s second drive of the game set up a 40-yard field goal. That kick was the first play of the second quarter to give the Eagles a 10-7 advantage.
Once again, UW-W had the response courtesy of the Lewandowski-Coates connection. Lewandowski led the Warhawks on the 74-yard drive hitting four different receivers while Tamir Thomas took over on the ground. The final play was the signature Lewandowski-Coates fade in the endzone, this time from 12-yards out. With the extra point, UW-W took a 14-10 lead.
The UW-La Crosse special teams crew came up with a big-time play nearing the end of the second quarter. Blocking their third field goal attempt in the last three quarters played, the Eagles scooped up the loose ball and ran it back to reclaim the lead 17-14.
The Warhawks nearly matched the special teams magic as Jaylon Edmonson took the return through a big hole up the middle of the field for a season-long 68-yard return to give UW-W great field position. On the second play of the drive from the UW-L 15, Lewandowski was chased out of the pocket to his right. Throwing across his body, his pass was picked off in the endzone. The Eagles took the lead into the intermission.
UW-Whitewater received the opening kick of the second half with the offense taking over at their own 15. Three consecutive first down plays had the Warhawks on La Crosse’s half of the field. On third and four, Lewandowski hit Coates for a new set of downs at the Eagle 14. Makaio Harn took the handoff for two yards to set up another Lewandowski-Coates touchdown connection on the next play. With 8:45 left in the third, UW-W recaptured the lead 21-17.
The teeter-totter battle continued with La Crosse marching 67 yards in 12 plays capped by a 25-yard pass play to sway the lead back into the Eagles’ favor 24-21.
On the first play of Whitewater’s next drive, Lewandowski dropped back, surveyed and stepped up to find a wide-open Steven Hein in the middle of the field, good for 61-yards. Two plays later, Lewandowski found Hein once again, this time open in the endzone. Isotalo-McGuire’s kick reclaimed the lead for UW-W 28-24 with 1:07 left in the third.
A couple of big pass plays for the Eagles on their next drive had UW-L going 75-yards in 10 plays over a span of just over four minutes for another score. With 11:45 to go, La Crosse held a 31-28 advantage.
The Warhawks faced third and long in their next drive after a false start pushed them back to the UWW 43. Lewandowski hit Hein up the right side for 30-yards and a first down. Following short to no gains the next two plays, another false start had Whitewater facing third and 16 from the UW-L 33. The offensive line gave Lewandowski all day to throw, allowing him to go through his entire progression until he found Shelvin Garrett for 21-yards, down to the 12. A rush for no gain followed by an incompletion had the Warhawk offense needing to convert another third down. The Eagle defense got to Lewandowski forcing him to scramble and step up in the pocket. He looked for Nick Wind in the endzone, but the pass fell incomplete. The field goal team headed out onto the field. The snap and hold were good and Isotalo-McGuire split the uprights to tie the game 31-31 with 5:25 to play.
The Warhawk defense stiffened on the Eagles’ next drive. On third and long, the UW-L quarterback found his receiver up the middle but Shane McGrail came in for the hit jarring the ball loose. Luke Nelson jumped on the fumble to give the Warhawks the ball at the Eagle 35.
Edmonson darted through a big hole for a 17-yard scamper on the first play of the Warhawk drive. UW-Whitewater relied on the run game to take as much time as possible off the clock and keep UW-La Crosse from having much, if any, time left. A couple of short gains made it third down with three to go from the Eagle 11. Preston Strasburg took the handoff toward the left side of the line, but a La Crosse defender was able to grab and hold on to his ankle for just a two-yard gain forcing fourth and one at the nine-yard line. The field goal unit came on after an Eagle timeout but the kick sailed wide left leaving 1:53 on the clock for La Crosse.
Once again, the UW-W defense came up with a huge takeaway. On the first play from scrimmage for UW-L, the ball sailed on the Eagle quarterback and Egon Hein hauled in the errant pass for the interception at the La Crosse 36.
The Warhawks managed the clock to set up another field goal attempt taking a timeout with seven seconds left. As UW-W took the field, the Eagles called a timeout in an attempt to ice the Warhawk kicker. Isotalo-McGuire was not phased, hitting the 39-yarder to give UW-W a 34-31 lead with just three seconds left.
The Eagles downed the kickoff to allow for one more offensive play, but the Warhawk defense held for the win.
Lewandowski registered career highs in yards, touchdown passes and longest completion going 26-34 for 347 yards, including a 61-yarder, and four touchdowns. Hein hauled in four catches for 117 yards and a touchdown while Coates added eight receptions for 105 yards and three scores. Edmonson led UW-Whitewater on the ground with 62 yards on 11 attempts.
Ryan Liszka and Shane McGrail tallied career highs with 11 tackles each. Egon Hein added eight tackles including 1.5 for a loss of eight yards, the big interception and a pass broken up. The Warhawk defense put the pressure on the quarterback with seven quarterback hurries recorded in the game.
Editor’s note: Next Saturday, October 8, the Warhawks (3-1, 1-0) travel to play UW-EC (1-3, 0-1) at 1:00 p.m. The Blugolds will be coming off a 73-29 loss to UW-Stout on October 1.