Football wary of Whitewater

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At first glance, Eau Claire has little to worry about heading into Saturday’s game at UW-Whitewater.

The Blugolds (3-1 WIAC, 6-1 overall) have sole possession of first place in the WIAC after a 23-14 Homecoming win over UW-Platteville.

Whitewater (1-3, 4-3), on the other hand, has lost two in a row and was blanked 21-0 by UW-La Crosse Saturday. The Warhawks have sole possession of last place in the conference.

All of those numbers, including the fact that Eau Claire has won the past three meetings between the two teams, provide plenty of reasons why Eau Claire is the favorite on paper. Those numbers mean very little, however, to coach Todd Hoffner and his team.

“We expect them to come out with all guns firing,” Hoffner said. “They’re the dangerous team in the conference now because they came into the season with high expectations and are currently not where they want to be.”

With the exception of Saturday’s game at La Crosse, offense hasn’t been the problem for Whitewater. The Warhawks are averaging 31.6 points per game and have plenty of weapons, including running back Chad Wurth, quarterbacks Randy Borgardt and Reggie Strauss and wide receiver Steve Tenhagen.

Tenhagen is averaging 95.7 yards per game and has 12 touchdowns, tops in the WIAC. Even more menacing than his stats, though, is his size. Tenhagen’s 6-foot-4-inch, 216-pound frame could pose a problem for smaller defensive backs like sophomore Mike LaBarbera.

“I won’t be able to push him around much,” said the 5-foot-10-inch LaBarbera. “I’ll have to use my speed and quickness to keep him in front of me.”

One of the Blugolds’ biggest offensive threats, senior running back Darrell Souhrada is closing in on a few Blugold records once again.

Souhrada, who missed the first three games with a hamstring injury, is just 207 yards shy of Lee Weigel’s career rushing record of 4,105 yards and six touchdowns short of Chad Hoiska’s career mark of 58.

Souhrada broke Weigel’s single-season rushing record last year when he racked up 1,588 yards.

Two of the past three games between Eau Claire and Whitewater have been decided in overtime. The Blugolds won a Homecoming thriller 31-28 during the magical 1998 season and topped the Warhawks 23-17 last season when Brad Gawronski returned an interception for the game-winning score.

On their last trip to Whitewater in 1999, the ‘Golds shut out the Warhawks 14-0.

Winning on the road has been difficult for WIAC teams thus far this season. Of the 16 conference games played, the home team was victorious in 11. The Blugolds’ only loss came Oct. 6 at UW-River Falls.

While the Blugolds have a good shot at winning their first outright conference title since 1983 (they shared the title in 1998 with River Falls, UW- Stevens Point and Whitewater), they’re not letting their first-place status get to their heads.

“There’s a little more pressure now, but at the same time we feel that there are teams that still might not be respecting us,” LaBarbera said. “Our point of view is that we’re still coming after teams.”