November 27, 2012

Unbeaten Titans, Wildcats Battle For Final Four Spot

UW-Oshkosh challenges Linfield College's 25-game home win streak when the two teams meet in a quarterfinal-round game of the NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday (Dec. 1) in McMinnville, Ore. Kickoff for the contest is noon (PST) at Maxwell Field.

The winner will face Hobart College (N.Y.) or the University of St. Thomas (Minn.) in a semifinal on Dec. 8. The national championship game (Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl) is set for Dec. 14 in Salem, Va.

UW-Oshkosh (12-0), ranked fifth in the country, is continuing its first playoff appearance in program history. The third-ranked Wildcats (11-0) are in the NCAA Division III playoffs for the ninth time, including a national championship from 2004. Last season, Linfield fell to Wesley College (Del.), 49-34, in the second round. Linfield owns 57 consecutive winning seasons and captured NAIA Division II titles in 1982, 1984 and 1986.

UW-Oshkosh has overcome early deficits in both of its postseason victories. Last Saturday against Bethel University (Minn.), the Titans were down 14-0 before scoring the game's final 37 points. Running back Cole Myhra totaled 218 yards and three touchdowns to lead the comeback. The defense allowed just 28 rushing yards while intercepting three passes.

In the playoff opener against The College of St. Scholastica (Minn.), UW-Oshkosh scored 55 unanswered points after trailing 10-0. The Titans rushed for 413 yards, including a career-high 198 by Myhra. Nate Wara also threw three touchdowns.

Linebacker Ryan Stefaniak has been a defensive force during the playoffs. In two games, he totaled 21 tackles (seven for loss), three pass breakups, one sack and a safety. Stefaniak's second-quarter interception against Bethel set up a touchdown and gave UW-Oshkosh the momentum.

The Titans posted a 7-0 record to win their first Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) title in 36 years. During October, UW-Oshkosh earned consecutive triumphs over three-time defending national champion UW-Whitewater (28-13) and 14th-ranked UW-Platteville (34-13).

Wara, making his 43rd consecutive start, averages 234 passing yards and 60 rushing yards per game. The WIAC Player of the Year has thrown 28 touchdowns while running for another seven scores. Myhra is the leading ground threat with 1,461 yards and 15 touchdowns. Caleb Voss tops the receiving group with 1,107 yards and 12 touchdowns on 54 catches.

Defensively, linebacker Taylor Goodman paces the Titans with 88 tackles and three forced fumbles. Cornerback Tim Filter also ranks among the national leaders with eight interceptions.

With the top pass rush in the country, Linfield will try to slow the UW-Oshkosh offense. The Wildcats own NCAA Division III highs of 60 sacks and 121 tackles for loss. Northwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year Dominque Forrest leads the unit with 78 tackles and four interceptions.

Mickey Inns was named NWC Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 3,041 yards and 29 touchdowns. His three targets with at least 45 receptions are Charlie Poppen (51 for 801 yards), Lucas Jepson (45 for 621) and Deidre Wiersma (55 for 617). John Shaffer is Linfield's leading rusher with 466 yards and seven touchdowns.

This was the fourth year in a row that Linfield posted a perfect NWC record (6-0). The Wildcats came away with a 31-24 win over Pacific Lutheran University (Wash.) during September. Linfield then defeated the Lutes, 27-24, in their first-round playoff meeting.

The Wildcats forced seven turnovers during a 30-14 victory over North Central College (Ill.) last Saturday. Forrest took back an interception 73 yards for a touchdown, while Jepson added a 64-yard touchdown catch. North Central outgained Linfield, 416-331, in the contest.