November 14, 2013

Titans, Pioneers Fight For Likely NCAA Playoff Spot

Eighth-ranked UW-Oshkosh and 10th-ranked UW-Platteville will decide a likely playoff bid when they meet on Saturday (Nov. 16) at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium. The battle of top-10 teams will start at 2 p.m.

Saturday's winner gains excellent position for an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III Football Championship, which begins on Nov. 23. UW-Oshkosh made its first playoff appearance last season, while UW-Platteville has never qualified for postseason play.

Both the Titans and Pioneers own an 8-1 record (5-1 WIAC), with their lone defeat to fifth-ranked UW-Whitewater. UW-Oshkosh fell to the Warhawks, 17-14, on Oct. 26. UW-Platteville lost in Whitewater, 35-16, on Nov. 2.

The contest will feature two potent offenses that average over 34 points – but they score in different ways. UW-Oshkosh runs 65 percent of the time, while UW-Platteville throws on 62 percent of its plays. The Pioneers' aerial attack faces a Titan defense that ranks fifth nationally with 18 interceptions.

UW-Platteville has passed for 430+ yards in three games this season. John Kelly ranks third nationally with 29 touchdown throws while completing 68 percent of his passes. He totaled 442 yards and seven touchdowns during a 49-27 win over UW-Eau Claire on Oct. 5.

The WIAC's top three receivers are all Pioneers. Ryley Bailey owns 70 receptions for 824 yards, while Paul Reit has 56 catches and Trevor Whitehead 50. Whitehead leads the group with 11 scores. Tailback Andy Puccini broke out last Saturday, rushing for 221 yards in a 20-10 victory against UW-La Crosse.

While UW-Oshkosh owns the conference's sack leader in Cody Huemmer (9), the Pioneers boast the second and third-ranked pass rushers. Andrew Robinson compiled 8.5 sacks and Andrew Belken recorded six. Jacob Zilbar tops UW-Platteville with 77 tackles, and Rob Austin leads the WIAC with 15 passes defended.

The Titans have rushed for 240+ yards in three of their last four games. Cole Myhra is up to 907 yards and 17 touchdowns on the year, while also grabbing 30 receptions. Last Saturday, Caleb Voss totaled 101 receiving yards and four touchdowns in the Titans' 42-14 victory over UW-Eau Claire. Quarterback Nick Olla is completing 64 percent of his passes for 2,020 yards and 16 touchdowns during 2013 – his first year as a starter.

Myhra has scored 18 touchdowns this year after totaling a school-record 19 last season. Voss tied the program mark with 24 career receiving touchdowns, and he needs 109 yards to set the school record. They are part of a UW-Oshkosh senior class that holds a program-best 32 victories.

UW-Oshkosh's defense leads the WIAC in sacks (30), but the Pioneers have allowed just six all season. The red zone will also be crucial. UW-Platteville scores touchdowns on 75 percent of its trips, while the Titans have yielded touchdowns just 43 percent of the time.

The Titans are led on defense by Austin Blashka, Reese Dziedzic and Ryan Stefaniak. Blashka ranks first the WIAC with five interceptions. Dziedzic paces UW-Oshkosh with 67 tackles, while Stefaniak owns 49 stops, including nine for loss.

Last season, UW-Oshkosh counted a 34-13 win in the battle of top-20 teams. The Titans forced two turnovers and held the Pioneers scoreless for the final 21 minutes. UW-Platteville owns a slight edge in the all-time series at 47-46-4, but UW-Oshkosh took the last four meetings.

These two squads are among the hottest in the nation. UW-Oshkosh has won 23 of its last 25 games, while UW-Platteville has captured 20 of its last 23.

By Jon Feyen