Mitch Gerhartz and Dom Todarello both scored a pair of touchdowns, including a 1-yard plunge by Gerhartz late in the fourth quarter that provided the difference, as the nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh football team pulled out a 31-28 victory over UW-River Falls on Saturday (Oct. 28) at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.
UW-River Falls reclaimed a 28-24 advantage on Michael Diggins' third rushing touchdown of the game with 6:53 to play, but the Titans answered with a 10-play, 61-yard drive that culminated on Gerhartz's 1-yard touchdown run at the 3:09 mark.
The Falcons had a first-and-10 at the UW-Oshkosh 35-yard line on its final possession. However, UW-River Falls quarterback Ben Beckman gained 3 yards on a scramble and tossed three incompletions to end UW-River Falls' upset bid. Facing a fourth-and-17 from the Titan 42-yard line following a holding penalty on the Falcons, Beckman was flushed out of the pocket, and his short pass fell untouched to the turf near the line of scrimmage with 69 seconds left.
UW-Oshkosh (7-0, 5-0 WIAC), ranked third in the NCAA Division III by D3football.com, secured its 12th straight win over UW-River Falls and its 12th consecutive home victory overall.
The Titans, who advanced to last season's Division III championship game, remain the lone unbeaten team in the WIAC, maintaining their one-game lead over defending league champion UW-Whitewater with two contests left.
UW-River Falls (3-5, 1-4 WIAC) owned advantages over the Titans in total yards (469-317), rushing yards (147-111), passing yards (322-206), first downs (24-17) and time of possession (38:36 to 21:24). The Falcons converted 9 of 16 first downs while limiting UW-Oshkosh to 4-for-10 on third downs. Neither team committed a turnover in the game's 134 offensive plays.
UW-Oshkosh went into the 62nd meeting between the teams leading the conference in per-game scoring (42.2), scrimmage yards (500.7), rushing yards (264.5) and time of possession (33:52). UW-River Falls entered the game allowing a league-low 14.3 points and 76.6 yards rushing per contest.
Titans quarterback Brett Kasper went 15-for-22 passing for 206 yards with one touchdown.
Todarello amassed 255 all-purpose yards, including a team-leading 63 yards rushing on six carries and 136 yards on three kickoff returns. Todarello established a school record with a 98-yard kickoff return for a score that tied the game at 7 late in the first quarter. He also added a 31-yard touchdown reception that provided the Titans a 21-14 lead in the second period.
Gerhartz rushed 19 times for 43 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown run that knotted the score at 14 during the second quarter.
UW-Oshkosh's Scott Skornicka led all players with 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
On the game's first three possessions, UW-Oshkosh was stopped a yard shy of a first down on fourth-and-3 from the Falcons' 29-yard line, UW-River Falls' Angel Bautista missed a 33-yard field goal, and the Titans were forced to punt after gaining seven yards in six plays.
UW-River Falls gained possession at its own 42-yard line to start its second possession, which ended after three plays on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Beckman to Trenton Monson with 1:56 left in the first quarter.
UW-Oshkosh answered quickly as Todarello took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards to the end zone to break the previous school record of 95 yards set by Nick Kilton in 2002.
The Falcons regained a 14-7 lead on their next possession as Diggins accounted for all 56 yards during the scoring drive. Diggins caught one pass for 14 yards and ran seven times for the remaining 42 yards during the nine-play drive that was capped by a 3-yard run at the 12:06 mark of the second period.
The Titans responded once again, knotting the score at 14 with an eight-play, 66-yard drive. Kasper connected with Mentkowski for a 31-yard completion and with Riley Kallas for 12 yards to set up Gerhartz's 7-yard rushing score. Gerhartz rushed six times for 23 yards during the possession.
UW-Oshkosh then took over at the UW-River Falls 31-yard line after the Falcons' Owen Schommer mustered a 22-yard punt. On the next play, Kasper passed to Todarello, who broke a pair of tackles and raced for a 31-yard score for a 21-14 UW-Oshkosh advantage with 6:50 remaining in the first half.
Facing its first deficit of the contest, UW-River Falls marched to the UW-Oshkosh 18-yard line before Skornicka and Szymanski tackled Diggins for no gain on fourth-and-2.
The Titans regained possession with 72 seconds before intermission. Kasper completed three straight passes to reach the UW-River Falls 34-yard line. On third-and-1 from the Falcon's 25-yard line, Kasper scampered 13 yards to pick up a first down with six seconds left. Following an incomplete pass, Turner Geisthardt drilled a 19-yard field goal for a 24-14 lead as time expired in the second quarter.
UW-River Falls had a mere 35-31 advantage in offensive plays and 235-215 edge in yards during the first half despite possessing the ball for 19 minutes, 26 seconds.
The Falcons' Janari Glover returned the opening second-half kickoff 35 yards to the UW-River Falls 47-yard line. Beckman completed three passes for 43 yards before a penalty on the Titans allowed UW-River Falls a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line. Diggins gained nine yards on a pair of carries before he barreled into the end zone on third down to trim the Falcon deficit to 24-21 with 10:50 to play in the third quarter.
The teams exchanged punts on the following three possessions, and Bautista missed a potential game-tying 40-yard field goal early in the final period after the Falcons marched 63 yards the previous 16 plays during a span of more than eight minutes.
Following UW-Oshkosh's third consecutive punt of the second half, Beckman and Diggins sparked a go-ahead touchdown drive midway through the final quarter. Beckman went 4-for-5 passing for 55 yards, including a 32-yard connection with Nicholas Studer, as the Falcons marched 70 yards in eight plays, regaining the lead at 28-24 on a 5-yard scoring run by Diggins with 6:53 to play.
UW-Oshkosh kept its unbeaten season intact by responding with its only drive of the second half that crossed midfield. Kasper picked up a pair of first downs with an 8-yard pass to Mentkowski and a 22-yard connection with Todarello that advanced the ball to the Falcons' 28-yard line. Todarello then rushed for 15 yards on third-and-2 from the UW-River Falls' 20-yard line. Kasper tossed an incomplete pass, and Gerhartz ran twice to set up a fourth-and-goal from inside the UW-River Falls 1-yard line.
After a Falcon timeout, Gerhartz capped the comeback with his second score of the game at the 3:09 mark.
Beckman completed three passes to Studer for 44 yards on UW-River Falls' final drive.
Beckman concluded the game 24-for-40 passing for 322 yards with one score. He entered the game with a .357 completion percentage and 233 yards passing on the year.
Diggins, the WIAC's leading rusher, had 26 carries for 104 yards and three touchdowns. He now has 966 yards and 12 scores on the ground this season.
The Falcons' Studer led all players with 12 receptions for 155 yards. Monson added six catches for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Joey Leonard recorded eight tackles to lead UW-River Falls while Max Praschak and Jay Robinson collected seven stops apiece. Praschak and Rakeem Felder notched sacks for the Falcons.
UW-Oshkosh conducts its regular-season home finale against UW-Eau Claire next Saturday (Nov. 4).