Dylan Hecker rushed for 186 yards and three touchdowns as UW-Oshkosh never trailed on the way to a 23-17 win over John Carroll University (Ohio) in a matchup of highly ranked football teams in the season opener on Saturday (Sept. 2) in University Heights, Ohio.
John Carroll University cut the UW-Oshkosh lead to 23-17 with 3:24 to play. Facing a fourth-and 2 from the UW-Oshkosh 44-yard line, Titans punter Turner Geisthardt ran for 4 yards out of the punt formation to seal the victory.
After a scoreless opening quarter, Hecker scored on runs of 2 and 69 yards during the second period for a 13-3 Titan lead. The Blue Streaks cut their deficit to 13-10 at halftime, but UW-Oshkosh extended its cushion to 23-10 entering the fourth quarter on a 32-yard field goal by Greg Rand and an 11-yard scoring run by Hecker.
UW-Oshkosh, ranked fourth in the NCAA Division III by D3football.com, outrushed eighth-ranked John Carroll University, 306-51, and owned a 345-260 advantage in total yards. The Titans, who eliminated the Blue Streaks in the semifinal round of last year's NCAA postseason, have won each of the three meetings between the programs – all in the past 12 months.
Hecker, who extended his school record to 48 career rushing touchdowns, notched his fifth three-touchdown game. He logged 28 carries as the Titans attempted 49 runs and 14 passes.
Titans quarterback Brett Kasper went 4-for-13 passing for 34 yards.
Dom Todarello paced the Titan receiving corps with two catches for 21 yards.
Derrick Jennings Jr. led the stout UW-Oshkosh defense with a career-high nine tackles.
Both teams punted three times during the scoreless first quarter that included a combined 62 yards of offense.
Following the Blue Streaks' fourth consecutive punt, UW-Oshkosh marched 89 yards in seven plays, culminating in Hecker's 2-yard run. Hecker accounted for 28 yards on six carries during the scoring drive, which also included a 65-yard run by Kallas to the 1-yard line. However, the score remained 6-0 at the 7:25 mark of the second quarter as Eli Wettstein missed the ensuing extra point attempt.
John Carroll University intercepted a Kasper pass at the Titans 24-yard line on the first play of the next UW-Oshkosh drive, but the Blue Streaks gained just two total yards and settled for a 39-yard field goal by Matt Danko that made the score 6-3.
The teams traded touchdowns during the final three minutes of the first half as Hecker scampered 69 yards to the end zone on a 3-and-11 play with 2:05 remaining in the second quarter. John Carroll University's Eddie Williamson then hauled in a tipped pass from Anthony Moeglin and raced 72 yards on his only catch of the game to close within 13-10 with 1:43 to go before intermission.
Rand connected on a 32-yard field goal to conclude an 11-play, 47-yard drive, extending the Titans' lead to 16-10 at the 7:14 mark of the third period.
The Titans made it a two-score game on their next possession, driving 62 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. The decisive scoring drive nearly ended in a turnover as Kasper fumbled, but UW-Oshkosh offensive lineman Alex Wendorf scooped up the ball and advanced to the John Carroll University 13-yard line. Hecker gained 3 yards on fourth-and-2 from the Blue Streaks' 14-yard line and reached the end zone on the following play, increasing the Titan lead to 23-10 with 1:17 remaining in the third quarter.
The ensuing Blue Streaks drive stalled on the UW-Oshkosh 25-yard line when quarterback Riley Larkin's pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-9.
John Carroll University gained possession for the final time at its own 15-yard line with 8:48 left in the game. The Blue Streaks mounted an 18-play drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Larkin to Danny Disbrow on fourth-and-goal with 3:22 to go. Larkin completed 5 of 13 passes for 35 yards and had a carry for 22 yards during the possession.
On the final drive of the game, Hecker rushed three times for eight yards, and the Blue Streaks called their final two timeouts to set up Geisthardt's fateful fake punt with less than two minutes to play.
Moeglin started at quarterback for John Carroll University, completing 8 of 19 passes for 120 yards and one touchdown. Larkin went 9-for-21 passing for 89 yards and one score.
Larkin led the Blue Streaks with just 13 yards rushing on three carries while Sam Kukura and Arin Pruitt were held to 12 yards apiece. Ro Golphin, who earned All-North Region second team accolades a year ago for John Carroll University, was limited to eight yards on seven rushes as the Blue Streaks averaged 1.8 yards per carry.
John Carroll University's Brian Kornowski had a game-high eight receptions for 60 yards.
Blue Streaks All-America first team linebacker Mason McKenrick led all players with 13 tackles while Todd Green made 12 stops and Tyler Moran 10. Moran had an interception for the game's lone turnover.
UW-Oshkosh returns home to face first-time opponent Virginia University of Lynchburg next Saturday (Sept. 9) at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.