Titans Begin NCAA Postseason Against High-Scoring Muskies

Titans Begin NCAA Postseason Against High-Scoring Muskies

UW-Oshkosh begins its third straight and fourth overall NCAA Division III Football Championship appearance by hosting high-scoring Lakeland University on Saturday (Nov. 18). Kickoff is set for noon at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.

UW-Oshkosh (9-0), ranked third in the country by D3football.com, earned an automatic berth to the 32-team NCAA postseason after completing the sixth perfect WIAC season in the program's 123-year history. The Titans compiled a 7-0 record in WIAC play to win their 10th league title.

The Titans own a 9-3 record in three previous trips to the Division III Championship. UW-Oshkosh advanced to the national championship game last season after reaching the quarterfinal round in 2015 and semifinal round in 2012. The Titans' .750 winning percentage in NCAA postseason play is third-best in Division III history.

Lakeland University (8-2) clinched an automatic berth to the national tournament by finishing first in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC) with a 6-0 record.

The Muskies lead the country with 289 first downs while ranking second nationally with 577.7 yards per game, fifth with 46.5 points per contest and sixth with 331.4 passing yards per game.

Lakeland University, which averaged 53 points per game during NACC play, is seeking its first win in its fifth appearance in the Division III Championship. The Muskies lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2005, 2009, 2015 and 2016 by a combined 219-62 score, including a 45-27 loss at UW-Whitewater last season.

UW-Oshkosh won its last meeting with Lakeland University, 62-7, on Sept. 15, 2007, in Oshkosh. The Titans and Muskies are the only two Wisconsin programs in this year's Division III Championship.

The winner of Saturday's contest between the Titans and Muskies will advance to play in the second round on Nov. 25 against the victor of North Central College (Ill.) (9-1) and Saint John's University (Minn.) (9-1).

UW-Oshkosh, which has won 12 consecutive home games, will attempt to counter the Muskies' prolific offense with a defense that ranks 19th in the nation by allowing a 100.48 passing efficiency rating. The Titans are 15th nationally with a +1.11 turnover margin per contest.

The UW-Oshkosh offense led the WIAC with 39.7 points per contest while ranking fifth in the country with a 184.60 passing efficiency rating. The Titans also list 10th in the nation with four interceptions thrown and 10 turnovers lost, 13th with a .660 completion percentage, 14th with 15.65 yards per completion and 18th with 4.44 tackles for loss allowed per game.

Lakeland University's defense ranks fourth nationally with 9.5 tackles for loss per game and eighth with 13 fumble recoveries.

On special teams, UW-Oshkosh is second in the country by averaging 28 yards per kickoff return and 17th with 14.45 yards per punt return. Lakeland University allows just 12.93 yards on kickoff returns to rank third in the nation. However, the Muskies are 237th among 243 teams with 93 penalties and 15.11 yards per kickoff return.

UW-Oshkosh's unbeaten regular season included a 23-17 victory at then-eighth-ranked John Carroll University (Ohio) in the opener on Sept. 2 and a 28-14 win at then-ninth-ranked UW-Platteville on Oct. 14.

The Titans also secured wins by scores of 74-7 over Virginia University of Lynchburg on Sept. 9, 37-20 over UW-Whitewater on Sept. 30, and 49-14 over UW-Stevens Point on Oct. 7, 42-28 at UW-La Crosse on Oct. 21, 31-28 over UW-River Falls on Oct 28, 42-7 over UW-Eau Claire on Nov. 4, and 31-0 over UW-Stout last Saturday (Nov. 11).

Lakeland University, which has scored at least 21 points during each of its last 17 games, opened the season with a 43-29 victory over Carroll University on Sept. 2 before suffering consecutive road setbacks of 37-35 at Hope College (Mich.) on Sept. 16 and 56-22 at UW-Platteville on Sept. 23.

The Muskies defeated Concordia University Wisconsin, 60-14, on Sept. 30 to begin their current seven-game winning streak. Lakeland University has since won by scores of 47-40 over Adrian College (Mich.) on Oct. 7, 57-21 over Benedictine University (Ill.) on Oct. 14, 48-0 at Wisconsin Lutheran College on Oct. 21, 47-38 at Aurora University (Ill.), 49-13 over Concordia University Chicago (Ill.) on Nov. 4 and 57-31 over Rockford University (Ill.) last Saturday.

UW-Oshkosh had 22 selections on the All-WIAC team, including Offensive Player of the Year Brett Kasper, Special Team Player of the Year Dom Todarello and Coach of the Year Pat Cerroni.

Cerroni won the league's top coaching award for the third time. He has led the Titans to an 86-34 record in 11 seasons.

Kasper, who was also named WIAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2015, has completed 125 of 191 passes for 2,034 yards with a league-leading 21 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.

Kasper paces the WIAC with 226 passing yards per game, 16.27 yards per completion, 10.65 yards per pass attempt, a .654 completion percentage and a 187.0 passing efficiency rating. He ranks third in the NCAA Division III in yards per pass attempt and passing efficiency rating while listing sixth nationally in yards per completion.

Todarello, the only Division III player to return a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns this season, is averaging a conference-leading 26.1 yards on 22 kickoff returns. He is also averaging 14.1 yards on eight punt returns. Todarello returned a kickoff a school-record 98 yards for a score against UW-River Falls. He returned a punt 61 yards to the end zone against Virginia University of Lynchburg.

Todarello was also selected to the All-WIAC First Team as an all-purpose back after catching 19 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns while adding 29 carries for 198 yards.

UW-Oshkosh was also represented on the All-WIAC First Team by running back Dylan Hecker; wide receiver Sam Mentkowski; offensive linemen Tyler Powers, Ty Summers and Alex Wendorf; linebacker Derrick Jennings Jr.; defensive back Cole Yoder; placekicker Turner Geisthardt; and special teams player Derek Polkowski.

The Titan offensive line of Polkowski, Powers, Summers, Wendorf, Andrew Grignon, Cody Moon, Austin Summers and Alex Wipperfurth has combined to allow just 10 sacks while paving the way for 15 players to accumulate 2,156 rushing yards, average 5.3 yards per carry and score 24 rushing touchdowns.

Hecker leads the team with 118 rushes for 664 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is UW-Oshkosh's all-time leader with 55 career rushing scores and 336 points.

Mitch Gerhartz has added 531 rushing yards and five touchdowns for the Titans, who have also received 280 yards on the ground and two scores from JP Peerenboom and 254 rushing yards and three touchdowns from Chad Walton. Gerhartz ranks 20th in the country with 6.81 yards per carry.

Mentkowski headlines UW-Oshkosh's aerial attack with 44 receptions for 984 yards and eight touchdowns. He ranks 16th nationally with 22.36 yards per catch and 20th with 109.3 receiving yards per contest.

Jon Kallas and Scott Skornicka spearhead the UW-Oshkosh defense with 56 and 55 tackles, respectively, followed by Jamier Szymanski with 48 stops and Jennings Jr. with 44.

Skornicka and Szymanski have a team-leading 11 tackles for loss while Skornicka has five of the Titans' 17 sacks.

Jennings Jr. leads the squad with four interceptions and one fumble recovery. Yoder has recorded 37 tackles and three interceptions.

Geisthardt has connected on 6 of 8 field goals and 37 of 38 extra points while averaging 41.4 yards on 29 punts, including 12 inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

Lakeland University is led by head coach Colin Bruton, who boasts a 23-9 record and Division III Championship appearances in each of his three seasons at the school.

Muskies quarterback Michael Whitley, the two-time reigning NACC Offensive Player of the Year, led Lakeland University's potent offense before suffering an injury two weeks ago against Concordia University Chicago. He has completed 248 of 381 passes for 2,979 yards with 32 touchdowns and five interceptions, ranking fourth in the country with 332.1 passing yards per game, fifth nationally with 27.56 completions per contest and ninth in touchdown passes.

Freshman Johnathan Hagerty replaced Whitley at quarterback last Saturday against Rockford University and threw for 244 yards and six touchdowns during his first career start. Hagerty is expected to be the starting quarterback for Saturday's game.

The Muskies have rushed for 2,458 yards on 6.4 yards per carry with 24 touchdowns.

Dezmon Eddie leads Lakeland University with 115 rushes for 912 yards and nine scores. He has added 30 receptions for 431 yards and eight touchdowns. Eddie ranks fourth in the nation with 7.93 yards per carry and 17th with 17 total touchdowns.

Lakeland University's deep receiving corps features three players with at least 57 catches and five with at least six touchdown catches.

The Muskies' Allante Gardner has 70 receptions for 806 yards and seven touchdowns. Jody Harrison follows with 63 grabs for 685 yards and seven scores while Dezmen Morse has 57 catches for 652 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns. Jamal Hawkins-Sconiers has chipped in 27 receptions for 435 yards and six scores.

Gardner also leads the Muskies by averaging 6.2 yards on 12 punt returns. Eddie is averaging a team-leading 16.3 yards on 11 kickoff returns.

Donte Rowell highlights the Lakeland University defense with 73 tackles while Diante Moses and Jerry Stokes have added 70 and 65 stops, respectively.

The Muskies have 95 tackles for loss on the year, including 16 apiece from Stokes and Mario Rafe. McNemon Vincent has accounted for 8.5 of Lakeland University's 31 sacks.

Lakeland University's Oman Smothers ranks sixth in the nation with seven interceptions. The Muskies have 13 fumble recoveries, including four by Moses and three by Mason Ross.

Lakeland University has attempted just two field goals all season, including a long of 31 yards, as placekicker Conrad Foss has made 1 of 2 field goals and 39 of 46 extra points.

Muskies punter Jawon Turner is averaging 33.7 yards on 21 punts, including one inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

UW-Oshkosh won its three previous NCAA Division III First Round games, all at home, by a combined 152-23 score, including a 49-13 victory over Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.) last season.

2017 NCAA Division III Football Championship Interactive Bracket