Brett Kasper threw for 314 yards and tied his career high with four touchdowns, Mitch Gerhartz ran for 172 yards and a score, and the nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh football team earned a 42-28 comeback victory at UW-La Crosse on Saturday (Oct. 21).
Trailing 28-21 early in the second half, UW-Oshkosh responded with 21 unanswered points on three straight possessions during the third quarter to secure the win. A pair of touchdown passes from Kasper to Sam Mentkowski in the span of 81 seconds gave the Titans the lead for good at 35-28 before JP Peerenboom ran for a 19-yard score to conclude the scoring with 2:06 left in the third period.
The Titans then preserved the victory by registering a pair of interceptions and forcing an incompletion on fourth down deep in their own territory during the fourth quarter.
UW-Oshkosh (6-0, 4-0 WIAC), ranked third in the NCAA Division III by D3football.com, maintains a one-game lead in the WIAC standings with three contests remaining.
UW-La Crosse (5-2, 2-2 WIAC), which suffered its fourth consecutive home loss and seventh in a row overall to UW-Oshkosh, falls to fourth in the conference, one game behind both 10th-ranked UW-Platteville (6-1, 3-1) and defending league champion UW-Whitewater (4-3, 3-1).
In a matchup that pitted the top two scoring teams in the WIAC, the Titans and Eagles combined for 1,070 yards of offense on Saturday, including 556 by UW-Oshkosh. The Titans entered the contest averaging 42.2 points per game and the Eagles 34.5.
UW-Oshkosh passed for 317 yards on 25 attempts and ran for 239 yards on 39 carries. UW-La Crosse countered with 414 yards through the air on 57 passes and 100 yards on the ground in 31 rushes. The teams combined for five turnovers – all interceptions – including three committed by the Eagles.
Kasper went 12-for-25 passing with two interceptions while averaging 26.4 yards per completion and throwing for four scores for the second time this year. Kasper passes accounted for seven of the Titans' nine offensive plays of more than 20 yards on the day. Kasper's fourth career four-touchdown game moved him into eighth in WIAC history with 70 passing scores during his four seasons.
Gerhartz logged a season-high 18 carries, averaged 9.6 yards per rush and notched his first touchdown of the year.
Mentkowski had four catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns, including an 82-yard scoring strike. He surpassed 100 yards receiving for the third time this season and the seventh time in his career.
UW-Oshkosh's Chad Redmer added a pair of touchdown receptions and 32 yards on his only two grabs of the game, marking the first multiple-touchdown contest of his career.
Scott Skornicka paced the Titan defense with a career-high 13 tackles, including nine solo, and three pass breakups.
AJ Plewa added a season-best eight tackles for UW-Oshkosh, which also received seven tackles and one interception from Jon Kallas while Derrick Jennings Jr. had six tackles, including a half-sack, three pass breakups and two interceptions. Kallas snared his second interception of the season while Jennings Jr. claimed the team lead with his fourth of the year.
UW-La Crosse quarterback Drew David connected on 35 of 57 passes for 414 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. He entered the contest with 150 yards passing and two scores on the year.
The Eagles' Nick Holcomb had 15 catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns. He went into the game with a WIAC-leading 722 yards receiving and 10 scores, which ranked sixth in the country.
Jalen Clark led the UW-La Crosse offensive backfield with 13 rushes for 45 yards and a pair of short touchdown runs.
UW-La Crosse's Luke Winnen had a team-best eight tackles while Peter Kissling and Brandon McKandes registered interceptions for the Eagles.
The teams exchanged punts on the game's first four possessions as they combined to muster just 55 yards in 16 plays.
After taking over at their own 19-yard line on their third possession, the Titans mounted a six-play touchdown drive that lasted just two minutes, 17 seconds. Kasper connected with Dom Todarello for 33 yards on the first play. Kasper fumbled on a third-and-9 play near midfield, but after Kasper recovered the loose ball, UW-La Crosse was assessed an unsportsmanlike penalty that granted the Titans a first down at the Eagles' 32-yard line.
Following a short run, Redmer caught a contested Kasper pass and reached the end zone from 28 yards out for a 7-0 advantage at the 6:41 mark of the first quarter.
Jennings Jr. intercepted a David pass on the ensuing UW-La Crosse possession, but David atoned for the miscue by leading the Eagles on a game-tying drive late in the opening period.
David completed all six of his passes for 69 yards as UW-La Crosse drove 80 yards in nine plays, including a 12-yard touchdown pass from David to Holcomb that knotted the score at 7 with 76 seconds to play in the first quarter.
UW-Oshkosh faced its first deficit of the season when David led the Eagles on a 17-play, 90-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 5-yard run by Clark. David passed for 60 yards and ran for 11 more during the possession that gave UW-La Crosse a 14-7 lead with 8:38 left in the second quarter.
The Titans answered quickly with a touchdown of their own to knot the score at 14. A 9-yard pass from Kasper to Gerhartz gained a first down, and Kasper connected with Mentkowski for a 39-yard pass play two plays later. Gerhartz then raced 21 yards to the end zone to conclude a six-play, 77-yard drive at the 5:40 mark of the second period.
David and the Eagles reclaimed the lead once again as he hit Holcomb for a 13-yard score with 74 seconds to play in the first half. David passed for 71 yards and ran for another 2 during the drive as UW-La Crosse marched 77 yards in 12 plays.
UW-Oshkosh regained possession at its own 30-yard line with 69 seconds before intermission. However, Kasper engineered a game-tying drive that included a 17-yard run by Gerhartz and passes of 26 yards to Gerhartz and 28 yards to Mentkowski. On first-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Kasper hit Redmer for a touchdown with 15 ticks left in the opening half before Turner Geisthardt's extra point tied the game for the third time at 21.
UW-La Crosse took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove 76 yards in seven plays, retaking a 28-21 advantage on a 2-yard touchdown run by Clark with 11:50 to go in the third quarter. The go-ahead score was set up by David passes to Holcomb for 13 and 43 yards.
UW-Oshkosh responded once again with a touchdown on its next possession to knot the score at 28. Gerhartz rushed five times for 59 yards during the drive before Kasper passed to Mentkowski for a 14-yard score to cap a 12-play, 82-yard march.
UW-La Crosse pinned UW-Oshkosh at its own 18-yard line following a 47-yard punt by Sean Parker, but Kasper hit Mentkowski for an 82-yard touchdown pass on the next play from scrimmage, giving the Titans the lead for good at 35-28 with 5:24 left in the third quarter.
The Titans received the ball back at their own 20-yard line after the Eagles second straight punt. Chad Walton ran for 13 yards and caught a Kasper pass for 48 yards on the first two plays of the drive before Peerenboom ran the final 19 yards to the end zone at the 2:06 mark of the third period.
The Eagles' final four possessions resulted in a pair of interceptions and two failed fourth-down attempts. David's fourth-down pass from the UW-Oshkosh 29-yard yard line fell incomplete on the first play of the final quarter. Ripplinger then broke up a David pass on fourth-and-goal from the Titan 3-yard line with just over 11 minutes remaining, and David tossed interceptions on the Eagles' last two possessions.
The Titans have won just seven games in La Crosse since the series began in 1919. UW-Oshkosh's last three road victories over the Eagles were by scores of 41-7 in 2012, 21-18 in 2014 and 31-13 in 2015.
UW-Oshkosh hosts UW-River Falls next Saturday (Oct. 28) at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.
Photo courtesy of Jim Lund