Race

Wisconsin-Whitewater leans on tradition after first loss in 47 games

Courtesy of Wisconsin-Whitewater Sports Information

Sophomore quarterback Matt Behrendt hits a boulder with a sledgehammer. "Pound the Rock" is carried out on a weekly basis and serves as the team's mantra.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, quarterback Lee Brekke’s name was misspelled. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

A massive boulder overlooks Perkins Stadium. It is cracked, worn and beaten.

Every Thursday, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater offense gathers to watch selected teammates take turns hoisting a sledgehammer above their heads before crashing the mallet into the rock.

“It’s really been the mindset of this team for the last decade,” right tackle Grant Poenitsch said. “Football’s about being ruthless in everything you do.”

“Pound the Rock” is physically carried out on a weekly basis and serves as the unit’s mantra. Every week of every football season since 2005, UWW goes to work, grinding away in preparation for the upcoming opponent.

And on every weekend since Sept. 5, 2009 — a three-year span of 46 games — the Warhawks walked off the field victorious. Head coach Lance Leipold’s program owned the longest active winning streak in all of college football.

Until Sept. 15.

The locker room contained a mixture of silent disbelief and irrepressible anger after Buffalo State defeated the Warhawks 7-6 to end its three-year run of perfection.

“We have some guys on this team who have never lost before, so they don’t really know that feeling,” quarterback Lee Brekke said.

Once the loss sunk in, the reality of the situation hit the Whitewater players. In Monday’s film session, the truth was inescapable. Missed assignments, or “MAs,” two interceptions and other simple mistakes cost UWW the game.

Adjustments were needed as the team looked to rebound from defeat ahead of its Sept. 22 matchup with in-state rival University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

The Warhawks got back to what fueled the program’s impressive three-year run. They got back to pounding the rock.

“You go back to getting better at what you can do and those are the things that you can control,” Leipold said Wednesday. “And we talk about it a lot in our program. That’s kind of another facet of that ‘Pound the Rock.’ We control our focus, we control our preparation and we control our effort.”

Inside the locker of each UWW offensive player rests a small piece of paper. On that sheet is a smaller square image of the doomed rock with bold, black text. It reminds the players that the rock represents the program’s proud past, present and future.

Leipold and Brekke said the team needed to improve its intensity coming off the loss.

The team’s effort was fine all season, they said, but only a real increase in intensity would eliminate costly errors. Throughout the week preceding the Stevens Point game, the group renewed its focus in the film room and on the practice field. The Warhawks had always tried, but now their thoughts and efforts were tuned in to cleaning up fatal errors.

By Thursday, offensive coordinator Steve Dinkel’s players were sick of hitting each other. They needed an opponent to get after to wash away the previous Saturday’s disappointment. With the game still two days away, though, they made due with the rock.

“The atmosphere yesterday was better than ever,” Brekke said. “I think the guys just kind of understood what more of ‘Pound the Rock’ means than ever than the last couple years just with coming off the loss last weekend, and just really understanding coming as a team what ‘Pounding the Rock’ means and what we need to do this weekend.”

Prior to the Buffalo State loss, UWW was approaching college football’s longest winning streak of 55 games, set by Mount Union. Leipold said he preferred to focus on going 1-0 each week. With his team yet to put together a complete game in 2012 on offense, defense and special teams, there was cause for concern ahead of then-No. 19 Buffalo State’s visit.

At the end of Saturday’s game, the scoreboard read 34-7, Whitewater.

The win also sent a clear message from the three-time defending national champions to the rest of the country. UWW is still pounding the rock, and it’s still working.

Said Leipold: “‘Pound the Rock’ sounds great when you’re winning, but when you lose it means more than it ever has before.”

 

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