An early 21-point hole was too much to overcome as UW-Oshkosh fell to the University of St. Thomas, 28-14, in a semifinal of the NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday (Dec. 8) in St. Paul, Minn. The Titans conclude the season with a program-best 13-1 record.
St. Thomas (14-0) advances to play the University of Mount Union (Ohio) in the national title game next Friday (Nov. 14) in Salem, Va.
On the first play of the game, UW-Oshkosh had an off-target option pitch fumbled in the backfield. Ayo Idowu picked up the ball and rumbled 25 yards for a touchdown.
The Titans ran four plays on their next possession before lining up to punt. Kyle Coyne came through the line and blocked the kick, setting up the Tommies 24 yards from the end zone. Six plays later, Matt O'Connell rolled right and threw back to his left, where Logan Marks hauled in a six-yard touchdown to make it 14-0 after four minutes of play.
St. Thomas forced a three-and-out to get the ball back. The Tommies then went on a 16-play, 75-yard drive that included seven runs by Brenton Braddock. On third down, O'Connell found Dan Ferrazzo for 15 yards just short of the goal line. O'Connell snuck it in from there to make it 21-0 with 1:51 on the first-quarter clock.
The only score of the second period came when the Titans were trapped deep in their own territory. Nate Wara (Sr. • Oshkosh) launched a pass down the right sideline, and Cory Wipperfurth (Jr. • DeForest) made a leaping catch near the 40-yard line. He eluded a defender and raced away for the 77-yard touchdown.
In a span of 90 seconds, the next three drives ended with turnovers. Frank Martin (Sr. • Greenleaf) picked off a pass, but on the ensuing snap, Idowu forced a fumble and the Tommies' Riley Dombek recovered. Zach Wettengel (Sr. • Appleton) then posted an interception of his own.
UW-Oshkosh began the second half down by 14, but the Titans built momentum with a defensive stop and a third-down conversion of 38 yards to Voss. Wara then underthrew a deep ball that Tyler Erstad intercepted in the end zone. UW-Oshkosh committed just 10 turnovers in 13 games before today, when it had four. Wara played with a broken finger on his throwing hand since the second half of last week's game.
"No one will ever know what these kids had to overcome," Coach Pat Cerroni said. "It was a dream season for all of us."
St. Thomas took advantage with an 80-yard drive to go ahead, 28-7. Braddock started the series with runs of 13 and seven yards. O'Connell ran a quarterback sweep eight yards for the clinching touchdown late in the third quarter.
The Titans refused to quit, using receptions of 14 and 11 yards from Voss and 11 by Cole Myhra (Jr. • Menomonee Falls). On third-and-goal from the 1, Wara jumped over the pile for a score. It was the 103rd total touchdown of Wara's career.
UW-Oshkosh held St. Thomas to just one score during the final 46 minutes. The Titans couldn't pull any closer, however, as their next two drives ended with a failed fourth-and-two and a lost fumble.
Besides 9-of-20 success on third down, St. Thomas converted all three of its fourth-down attempts in the contest.
"Our defense was playing well," St. Thomas coach Glenn Caruso said. "That was a calculated risk we felt we could take."
The Tommies, who won their 17th straight home game, held UW-Oshkosh to 25 rushing yards on 28 attempts. St. Thomas pounded away with its own ground attack, totaling 58 carries for 191 yards. Braddock led the way with 117 yards on 30 attempts.
O'Connell, Wisconsin's high school leader for total offense and touchdowns, finished the day 14-for-23 with 156 passing yards. Ferrazzo made six catches for 63 yards. On the final play of the first half, Charlie Dowdle hauled in a Hail Mary for 45 yards, but he was down at the 1 as time ran out.
Wara completed 20-of-34 throws for 266 yards. Voss booked 99 yards on his seven receptions to cap an outstanding season. His 1,333 yards are the most by a WIAC receiver since 1987.
UW-Oshkosh's rushing game consisted of 18 yards on seven carries by Myhra and 11 yards on three carries from Wipperfurth. The Titans totaled 291 yards overall, while the Tommies had 347. St. Thomas also held a 20-13 advantage in first downs.
Taylor Goodman (Sr. • South Wayne) paced the Titan defense with 12 tackles and a sack. The Tommies used nine stops (1.5 sacks) by Harry Pitera and eight tackles by Tremayne William.
By Jon Feyen