The No. 5 ranked University of Wisconsin-Whitewater football team forced four turnovers and took advantage of a pair of big plays on special teams Saturday during a 26-12 victory over No. 11 Bethel (Minn.) in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III Championship at Perkins Stadium.
The Warhawks (13-0 overall) will face No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) next Saturday, Dec. 8, at a time and location to be determined in their 11th appearance in the national semifinals.
For the third consecutive game, junior running back Ronny Ponick and sophomore running back Alex Peete each rushed for 100 or more yards. Ponick carried 21 times for 117 yards and two touchdowns, while Peete posted 24 carries for 123 yards and one score.
Junior linebacker Jacob Erbs led the defense with nine tackles, including two for a loss. Sophomore defensive lineman Mackenzie Balanganayi also recorded two tackles for a loss.
Senior defensive back Bailey Breunig blocked his second punt in as many weeks to give UW-Whitewater the ball at the Bethel 19-yard line. Four plays later, a 30-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Wojciech Gasienica put the Warhawks ahead 3-0 with 6:55 to play in the first quarter.
Sophomore defensive back Mark McGrath collected the team’s first interception on the next drive, picking off Jaran Roste on a tipped ball and returning it 26 yards to the BU 16-yard line.
Ponick and Peete combined for all 16 yards on the next drive, with Ponick finishing it off on a five-yard touchdown run with 3:46 on the clock.
On the third play of the Royals’ next drive, Breunig intercepted Roste and returned it 18 yards to Bethel’s 27-yard line.
Ponick sprinted around right end on the first play of the next drive for a 27-yard touchdown to make it 16-0 with 2:02 on the clock.
The Royals (11-2) botched a punt snap on their next drive, and Balanganayi buried the punter at the Bethel 11-yard line to give UW-Whitewater red zone field position for the second time of the day.
On third-and-goal on the next drive, Peete reached over the goal line for a touchdown to make it 23-0 with 13:31 to play in the second quarter.
The Royals swung the momentum over the remainder of the quarter, scoring a pair of touchdowns while holding the Warhawks without a first down on the other end to close the deficit to 23-12 into the half.
Junior linebacker Matt Anderson brought momentum back to UW-Whitewater late in the third quarter. With 4:28 remaining, he intercepted a jump ball in the end zone on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line to halt a Bethel scoring opportunity.
After a three-and-out by the Royals later in the quarter, the Warhawks made it a 14-point game with a nine-play, 49-yard drive capped by Gasienica’s 22-yard field goal.
UW-Whitewater made another defensive stop on the next drive, and junior defensive back Garrett Purdy gave the team the ball back with an interception at the 5:09 mark of the fourth quarter.
From there, the Warhawks ran out the clock with Ponick and Peete to punch their ticket to next Saturday’s semifinal.