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UWL at Whitewater football

UW-La Crosse defenders rally to tackle Whitewater running back Alex Peete during Saturday's game. The eagles were intercepted late in a 21-7 loss to the third-ranked Warhawks.

For all sad words of tongue and pen when it comes to sports, the saddest are these: ‘What might have been.’

For the UW-La Crosse football team these words are a reminder of its reality.

What might have been if quarterback Evan Lewandowski isn’t intercepted inside the Whitewater 10-yard line when the Eagles were marching to take the lead against the third-ranked Warhawks with 4:41 left on Saturday?

What might have been if the Eagles aren’t flagged for a 12 men on the field penalty on fourth-and-5 with 45 seconds left? With no timeouts, would Lewandowski and the offense — which had been driving up and down the field the majority of the second half — been able to score a touchdown? Considering Lewandowski can throw it a mile and has two receivers in Cole Spieker and Cam Sorenson who can go get it, I like the chances in that situation.

What might have been without back-to-back tipped passes being intercepted when the Eagles were up 20-7 against Platteville on Oct. 5? The Eagles had great field position and had been unstoppable until a slightly tipped pass sent the ball right to a Platteville defender. UW-L didn’t score again while the Pioneers scored 31 unanswered points to win 38-20.

What might have been if Isaac Fruechte stayed at UW-L? Does the offense find its footing earlier? Do the Eagles beat Dickinson State? That would have been one of those statement wins for which coach Mike Schmidt is searching.

But the biggest of these questions come from the Whitewater game.

So much was riding on this game for the Eagles. They had a shot at a WIAC title, which became more attainable after Platteville lost to Oshkosh on Saturday. The Eagles could have been part of a three-way tie for first place with the other two teams — Whitewater and Oshkosh — still having to play each other the final day of the regular season.

A WIAC title means playoffs, and the postseason is something UW-L hasn’t experienced since 2006. It could have changed the program.

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UWL at Whitewater football

UW-La Crosse quarterback Evan Lewandowski looks down the field against Whitewater on Saturday. 

Entering Saturday, I really thought La Crosse was going to win. I had predicted 24-21 Eagles before the game and was feeling extremely confident when the Eagles took a 10-0 lead and were thoroughly outplaying the No. 3 team in the country through the first two-plus quarters. They looked like they belonged with the elite of the elite. But then, when it mattered most, they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot.

First, it was the decision to go on fourth-and-1 at midfield up 10-7 late in the third quarter. I had originally been all for the decision. You are on the road against the country’s third-ranked team, one you hadn’t beaten in your last 16 tries and your offense had just scored a touchdown the drive before.

But the Eagles were scrambling — moving guys into the desired position as the play clocked ticked below 5 seconds. The play appeared doomed from the start. Lewandowski was given the option of throwing a bubble screen, handing it off, or keeping the ball himself. He made what Schmidt called a ‘bad read’ and kept the ball, getting tackled by a pair of defenders a yard behind the line of scrimmage.

The second mistake came with 4:41 left.

That is when Lewandowski threw the interception. After the game, Schmidt said they liked the look, but it was a different formation and that he wishes he would have called a timeout, because “they weren’t in a great alignment.” It resulted in what ended up being the game-finishing interception.

The clincher came on fourth-and-5 after UW-L called a timeout. But the Eagles seemed confused when they went back on the field. Soon, Joey Roth was sprinting off the field and Whitewater snapped it. Roth was the 12th man. First down Whitewater. Game over.

Inexcusable.

It’s something that should never happen, and Schmidt said as much after the game. But it did. And now the Eagles are left thinking about what could have been, as they enter the final two weeks of the season with essentially nothing to play for except pride for the 13th consecutive season.

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