Titans Open WIAC Play With Win Over Defending League Champion

Sam Mentkowski caught 10 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, including a school-record 96-yard score.
Sam Mentkowski caught 10 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns, including a school-record 96-yard score.

Nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh never trailed en route to defeating reigning WIAC football champion UW-Whitewater, 37-20, as Brett Kasper threw for 339 yards and three touchdowns, including a pair of long scoring strikes to Sam Mentkowski, and Dylan Hecker logged a career-high 32 carries for 190 yards and one score on Saturday (Sept. 30) at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.

UW-Oshkosh (3-0, 1-0 WIAC), ranked third in the NCAA Division III by D3football.com, held a 13-0 lead at halftime and 23-7 late in the third quarter, but UW-Whitewater trimmed its deficit to 23-20 with 10:49 remaining. The Titans then answered with touchdowns on their next two possessions to secure the victory.

UW-Whitewater (1-3, 0-1 WIAC), which has won six of the last 10 national titles, suffered a loss in its league opener for the first time since 2001.

The Titans and Warhawks have split their last four meetings, but UW-Oshkosh beat UW-Whitewater in Oshkosh for just the third time since 1982. The Titans have now won 19 of their last 20 home games overall.

Kasper completed 24 of 33 passes on Saturday, including a school-record 96-yard touchdown to Mentkowski that gave the Titans a 7-0 advantage with 1:41 left in the opening quarter.

Mentkowski matched his career high with 10 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns. His receiving yardage was the second most in his career and the fourth-best output in the 123 years of the program.

Hecker, who added five catches for 48 yards, extended his school record totals to 49 rushing touchdowns and 300 points. He becomes the 10th player in WIAC history to reach 300 career points.

UW-Oshkosh's Turner Geisthardt accounted for 13 points on Saturday, connecting on 3 of 4 field goals and all four of his extra point attempts. Geisthardt, who entered the day with one made field goal in his career, converted kicks from 38, 29 and 38 yards.

UW-Oshkosh, which punted just once the entire game, owned considerable advantages in yards (589-411), first downs (31-13), time of possession (39:15 to 20:45) and turnovers (4-1). The Titans possessed the ball for at least 11 minutes during each of the final three periods.

UW-Whitewater averaged 8.6 yards per play, including 16.1 yards per pass attempt, but the Titans had 83 offensive snaps while the Warhawks managed just 48.

UW-Whitewater's Cole Wilber went 9-for-14 passing for 226 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

Drew Patterson paced the Warhawk backfield with 23 carries for 147 yards and one score. Canton Larson led UW-Whitewater with three receptions for 43 yards while Jarrod Ware chipped in two catches for 77 yards and Marcus Hudson had two grabs for 68 yards and a score.

UW-Oshkosh's Brandon Hughes, who went into Saturday's contest with one tackle, had a team-leading seven stops, including five solo, against the Warhawks.

Derrick Jennings Jr., Jon Kallas and Jamier Szymanski each added six tackles for the Titans. Jennings Jr. registered a fumble recovery and an interception while Taylor Ripplinger and Cole Yoder both intercepted passes for UW-Oshkosh. Szymanski notched the team's lone sack and forced a fumble.

The Warhawks' Bryce Leszczynski led all players with 14 tackles, including nine solo. Jacob Erbs recorded 10 tackles and recovered a fumble for UW-Whitewater.

After UW-Whitewater punted after three plays on its first possession, UW-Oshkosh drove 55 yards in 11 plays before Geisthardt missed a 34-yard field goal attempt with 8:06 remaining in the first quarter.

The ensuing Warhawk drive stalled at the UW-Oshkosh 35-yard line, but UW-Whitewater punter Michael Schwichtenberg pinned the Titans at their own 2-yard line. After a 2-yard rush by Hecker, Kasper then heaved a pass down the right sideline to Mentkowski, who scampered the final 58 yards into the end zone to complete the longest pass play in program history.

The teams exchanged punts on the following two possessions before UW-Oshkosh mounted a 17-play, 66-yard march that took 8:01 off the clock. Kasper completed five passes on the drive that also featured a 20-yard run by Mitch Gerhartz to the UW-Whitewater 12-yard line. However, the Titans committed back-to-back penalties and settled for a 38-yard field goal from Geisthardt to increase their lead to 10-0 at the 3:45 mark of the second quarter.

UW-Oshkosh forced UW-Whitewater to punt once again after three plays and gained possession at its own 40-yard line following a 10-yard return by Mentkowski. The Titans reached Warhawk territory on Hecker's 14-yard run on the first play of the drive, and another Hecker rush for 14 yards on third-and-2 advanced the ball to the UW-Whitewater 24-yard line before Kasper connected with Dom Todarello for an 11-yard pass. Geisthardt drilled a 29-yard field goal four plays later to extend UW-Oshkosh's advantage to 13-0 with 15 seconds left before intermission.

Wilber found Larson on a 39-yard pass as time expired in the first half, but Larson's attempted lateral was snatched out of the air by Jennings Jr., presrving the Titans' 13-0 halftime lead.

Todarello returned the opening second-half kickoff 61 yards to the UW-Whitewater 39-yard line, and the Titans upped their lead to 16-0 five plays later on Geisthardt's third field goal of the game.

UW-Whitewater broke up the Titans' shutout on its next drive as Wilber passed to a wide-open Hudson, who waltzed into the end zone from 53 yards out to cut the Warhawks' deficit to 16-7 with 10:14 left in the third quarter.

The Titans responded with a touchdown of their own to cap a nine-play, 69-yard drive as Hecker ran untouched around the right side from 11 yards. Kasper extended the drive with a 12-yard pass to Andy Jones on third-and-10 from the Titan 47-yard line before completing passes to Riley Kallas for 15 yards and Todarello for 11 on consecutive plays to set up Hecker's scoring run for a 23-7 lead.

The Warhawks answered quickly with a touchdown despite starting their ensuing drive at their own 6-yard line following a mishandled kickoff return. Wilber sparked the possession with a 62-yard pass to Ware on the first play. Wilber then connected with Ware once again for 15 yards to the UW-Oshkosh 14-yard line, and Patterson finished the 94-second drive with runs of 10 and 4 yards to the end zone, trimming the UW-Oshkosh advantage to 23-13 with four minutes remaining in the third period.

UW-Oshkosh appeared to be driving for the game's fifth straight score on the next possession, gaining 78 yards on 13 plays and taking six minutes off the clock. However, Hecker fumbled at the UW-Whitewater goal line on first-and-goal from the 4-yard line.

The Warhawks seized the momentum, reaching the end zone in six plays to cut their deficit to 23-20 on a 1-yard run up the middle by Tony Gumina on third-and-goal. UW-Whitewater's drive featured a 31-yard pass from Wilber to Jack Deichl and a 40-yard run by Patterson.

The Titans made it a two-score game once again with a touchdown on the next possession. Starting at its own 28-yard line with 10:49 remaining in the game, Kasper found Mentkowski for a 13-yard pass on third-and-4 before hitting Mentkowski for a 53-yard score on the following play. Geisthardt's extra point upped the UW-Oshkosh lead to 30-20 with 8:33 to go.

On the second play of the next UW-Whitewater drive, Ripplinger intercepted Wilber's deep pass at the Titan 37-yard line, and UW-Oshkosh tacked on an insurance score nine plays later as Kasper shoveled a pass to Kallas for a 5-yard touchdown that provided the final score with 2:56 left. Hecker gained 55 yards on six rushes during the possession, including a 31-yard run on second-and-4 from the UW-Oshkosh 43-yard line.

Wilber tossed his third interception of the game on UW-Whitewater's last possession. With just over two minutes to play, Yoder snagged Wilber's wayward pass at the Titan 3-yard line and returned the ball to the 33 before a first-down carry by Hecker and two kneel-downs concluded the game.

UW-Oshkosh produced its best scoring output against UW-Whitewater since the Titans defeated the Warhawks, 49-13, on Nov. 8, 1969.

The Titans host their homecoming contest against UW-Stevens Point next Saturday (Oct. 7).