Brett Kasper threw for three long touchdowns in the first half as UW-Oshkosh clinched a berth to the NCAA Division III Football Championship and secured at least a share of the WIAC title with a 42-7 victory over UW-Eau Claire on Saturday (Nov. 4) at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.
UW-Oshkosh (8-0, 6-0) earns the WIAC's automatic berth to the 32-team NCAA postseason that begins Nov. 18. The Titans, who will be making their third straight and fourth overall trip to the Division III Championship, reached the national title game last year after advancing to the semifinal round in 2012 to the quarterfinal round in 2015.
The Titans also claimed at least a share of their third conference title in the last six seasons and 10th overall. UW-Oshkosh claimed WIAC crowns in 1920, 1923, 1928, 1935, 1968, 1972, 1976, 2012 and 2015.
UW-Oshkosh maintains a one-game lead in the conference standings over defending league champion UW-Whitewater (6-3, 5-1 WIAC) with one game remaining. The Titans clinched the WIAC's automatic berth on Saturday by virtue of their 37-20 win over UW-Whitewater on Sept. 30.
The Titans, ranked third in the country by D3football.com, will seek to finish unbeaten in league play when they play at UW-Stout next Saturday (Nov. 11) during the regular-season finale. UW-Oshkosh previously won each of its WIAC contests in 1923, 1935, 1972, 2012 and 2015.
During Saturday's triumph over UW-Eau Claire, the Titans pulled away with the final 35 points of the contest. UW-Oshkosh concluded the game with a 536-195 advantage in yards, including 275-89 passing.
UW-Oshkosh limited the Blugolds to just 10 first downs, including four in the second half. The Titans averaged 6.7 yards per carry and 14.5 yards per pass attempt.
Kasper completed 13 of 19 passes for 275 yards with first-half touchdown throws of 55, 70 and 30 yards. His 70-yard scoring connection with Sam Mentkowski gave the Titans the lead for good at 13-7 late in the first quarter.
Mitch Gerhartz led UW-Oshkosh with 121 yards rushing on just nine carries for a 13.4 average. He raced for a career-long 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Chad Walton added 12 rushes for 92 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to mark his second career game with two rushing scores.
UW-Oshkosh's Jamier Szymanski had a career-high 10 tackles for the Titans, who also received six stops from Scott Skornicka and five from Derrick Jennings Jr. Nick Boyd and Skornicka both collected sacks while Kollyn Beyer snared his third interception of the year for UW-Oshkosh.
The Titans claimed a 7-0 lead on their second possession as Kasper hit Kallas for a 55-yard touchdown pass to cap a four-play, 74-yard drive that lasted just 98 seconds.
UW-Eau Claire (1-8, 0-6 WIAC) answered with a 6-yard touchdown pass from J.T. DenHartog to LeeShaun Evans that knotted the score at 7 with 4:37 left in the first quarter. DenHartog accounted for 44 of the Blugolds' 45 yards on the scoring drive, passing for 31 yards and rushing for 13 more.
UW-Oshkosh's Dom Todarello returned the ensuing kickoff 22 yards to the UW-Eau Claire 30-yard line. Then Kasper hit Mentkowski with a pass over the middle on the Titans' first play of the drive. Mentkowski then outran the Blugolds for a 70-yard score that provided the Titans a 13-7 advantage it wouldn't relinquish.
The Titans increased their lead to 19-7 on the next possession when Kasper hit Peerenboom for a 30-yard touchdown pass with 13:19 left in the second quarter. Peerenboom rushed three times for 19 yards during the seven-play, 61-yard scoring drive while Kasper went 3-for-3 passing for 43 yards.
The teams exchanged punts on the next two possessions before UW-Oshkosh's AJ Plewa broke up a DenHartog pass on fourth-and-1 from the Titan 24-yard line.
UW-Oshkosh proceeded to complete its second one-play touchdown drive of the contest as Gerhartz remained in bounds while shedding tacklers near the sideline and finished his career-long 76-yard run to the end zone. Greg Rand's resulting extra point extended the Titan lead to 26-7 with 2:51 to play in the first half.
Rand later drilled a 22-yard field goal to extend the UW-Oshkosh advantage to 29-7 late in the third quarter, and Walton had touchdown runs of 2 and 37 yards during the final period to cap the scoring.
UW-Eau Claire's six possessions in the second half resulted in four punts and a pair of incompletions on fourth down in UW-Oshkosh territory.
DenHartog concluded the game 11-for-26 passing for 89 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also had a team-leading 23 carries for 73 yards. DenHartog entered the contest leading the Blugolds in both passing and rushing yards.
Darius Jones led UW-Eau Claire with four catches for 41 yards. Evans made three grabs for 29 yards and his second touchdown of the season.
UW-Eau Claire's Ross Curran and Trevor Nelson had a game-high 10 tackles apiece. Nelson also recorded one of the team's three sacks, and Jordan Wollin recovered a fumble for the Blugolds.
UW-Oshkosh, which extended its winning streak to seven games over the Blugolds, has won 22 of its last 23 WIAC contests and 23 of its past 24 home games. The Titans have outscored UW-Eau Claire by a combined 301-76 score in their last seven meetings.