SALEM, Va — Levell Coppage ran for 299 yards and three touchdowns and Wisconsin-Whitewater forced five turnovers and shut out Mount Union in the second half to win its second consecutive NCAA Division III football national championship, 31-21 on Saturday.
The Warhawks completed their second straight 15-0 season, and won their third national championship in four years. They are 57-3 in Lance Leipold's four seasons as coach.
The Purple Raiders (14-1), winners of 10 championships in 13 prior trips to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl under coach Larry Kehres, did all their scoring in a span of less than 4 minutes in the second quarter, but otherwise couldn't solve the Warhawks' defense.
Coppage did plenty, too, scoring on runs of 54, 11 and 75 yards, the latter with 2:34 to play on third-and-6. The Purple Raiders stacked the line, and once Coppage burst through, he sailed down the middle of the field for the clinching touchdown. The run also gave him a Stagg Bowl record for individual rushing yardage, accomplished on 39 carries.
The teams set a record by each appearing in the championship game for the sixth consecutive season. They had shared the mark with fellow Division III member Augustana College (Ill.), which played in five straight 1982 to 1986, winning the last four games.
After a high scoring first half, the defense tightened in the second half.
With both teams using backup quarterbacks because of injuries, three series ended on interceptions in the third quarter, and when Mount Union put quarterback-turned-receiver Cecil Shorts behind center for more mobility in the fourth quarter, he fumbled the ball away on one possession and got sacked for a 9-yard loss by Luke Hibner on another key play.
When Coppage added his third long touchdown run, the Warhawks had sealed it.
The first half was completely different.
Coppage gave the Warhawks the lead when he broke through the line and outran three defenders to the end zone from 54 yards away. After a 25-yard punt by Brandon Mathie went out of bounds at the Purple Raiders 28 late in the first quarter, the Warhawks' drove to the Mount Union 13, and Eric Kindler's 30-yard field goal gave Whitewater a 10-0 advantage.
Three touchdowns in less than 4 minutes gave Mount Union the lead.
Coppage fumbled and Charles Diesuel recovered for Mount Union at the Warhawks 40. On the second play, Matt Piloto hit Kyle Miller for a 39-yard touchdown play down the right sideline.
Whitewater's Lee Brekki then threw right to lineman Lambert Budzinski, and he returned it to the 4. Two plays later, Jeremy Murray took it in from the 1, his 21st touchdown, and Mount Union lead 14-13. The Purpe Riders made it 21-10 after a three-and-out for the Warhawks when Piloto found Shorts behind the secondary and hit him in stride, a 58-yard connection 6:50 before halftime.
But the Warhawks went 65 yards on their ensuing possession, Coppage going wide around the left side and lunging for the touchdown from 11 yards out with 2:46 to play. They got the ball back with 1:56 to play, and a 30-yard pass from Brekki to Adam Brandes highlighted a seven-play, 77-yard drive to Brekke's 31-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Huber on third-and-9.
That put Wisconsin-Whitewater back in front, 24-21, heading into halftime.