Mount Union always seems to be in Wisconsin-Whitewater's way, just never this early in the postseason.
It's a matchup fit for the Division III final in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, which is when these small-school powers have met in nine of the last 10 seasons.
But the showdown is coming a week early this year, in the semifinals on Saturday at Mount Union.
''These two teams have played each other so many times ... you play somebody that much, it gets to be a rivalry,'' Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis said.
A one-sided one at that in recent seasons.
The Stagg Bowl, held every year in Salem, Virginia, has turned into Whitewater's playground. The two-time defending national champions have won their last five against Mount Union, all in the finals.
''It feels different. Usually you face Mount Union, it's in the national championship,'' said Jordan Ratliffe, Whitewater's 1,600-yard rusher. ''Same preparation, nothing going to change.''
Except for the venue in this case. What amounts to a subpar season for Whitewater (12-1) left the Warhawks on the same side of the playoff bracket with top-seeded Mount Union (13-0).
With Bullis in his first season as head coach taking over for Lance Leipold, who moved to FBS school Buffalo, Whitewater had its 36-game winning streak snapped after losing to conference rival Wisconsin-Oshkosh 10-7 on Oct. 10.
They haven't lost since, including a win over Oshkosh on the road in the quarterfinals last week.
But the road hasn't been easy. To beat Oshkosh, Whitewater needed to score 21 points in the third quarter and fend off a 2-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 31-29 victory.
The Warhawks also beat Wheaton 31-17 in the playoffs on the road a week earlier. It's more time away from home than usual in the postseason for Whitewater.
Now it's on to Alliance, Ohio, for a semifinal game at Mount Union Stadium. Whitewater hasn't played at Mount Union since a 40-17 loss in 2003, though Bullis is trying to depict this meeting as just another contest away from home against the Purple Raiders.
''I look at this way - we've never played them at home (in the postseason) so it's always been an away game for us,'' Bullis said. ''This time it happens to be at their place than at Salem.''
The fans in Alliance will be pumped. Boasting the top scoring offense (55.0 points) and defense (7.6 points), Mount Union has the ideal conditions to break through against Whitewater.
Bullis said he'll rely on the juniors and seniors on his team who have faced Mount Union the last two seasons to steady this year's squad, just like they've done since the loss to Oshkosh.
''How our kids reacted, and the seniors ... was fantastic,'' Bullis said. ''In a sense of grabbing control of the team, really coming together.''
The winner of Saturday's game would advance to the Stagg Bowl on Dec. 18 against the winner of the semifinal game between St. Thomas (Minn.) and Linfield.
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP