Two of the last six unbeaten teams in the country battle when UW-Oshkosh hosts Wartburg College in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday (Dec. 2). Kickoff is set for 12:05 p.m. at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.
UW-Oshkosh (11-0), ranked third by D3football.com, is in the national quarterfinals for the third straight season and the fourth time overall in four NCAA postseason appearances.
The Titans, who played in last year's national championship game, rank third in Division III history with a .786 winning percentage (11-3 record) in NCAA postseason play.
UW-Oshkosh advanced to the semifinals in 2012 and to the quarterfinals in 2015.
UW-Oshkosh reached the quarterfinals of this year's 32-team tournament with home wins of 63-0 over Lakeland University on Nov. 18 and 42-21 over ninth-ranked North Central College (Ill.) last Saturday (Nov. 25).
Seventeenth-ranked Wartburg College (12-0) moved to the quarterfinals for the fourth time in program history with home victories of 35-34 in overtime over Franklin College (Ind.) on Nov. 18 and 49-7 over 25th-ranked Trine University (Ind.) last Saturday.
The Knights are seeking to advance to the semifinal round for the first time in its 12 Division III Championship appearances. Wartburg College, which owns a 10-11 record in the NCAA postseason, previously reached the quarterfinals in 1994, 2008 and 2014.
UW-Oshkosh and Wartburg College earned automatic berths to the NCAA postseason field. The Titans completed the sixth perfect WIAC season in school history with a 7-0 record while the Knights finished 8-0 in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (IIAC) for their fifth perfect league record in program annals.
The winner between UW-Oshkosh and Wartburg College will move on to play in the semifinal round next Saturday (Dec. 9) against the victor of 15th-ranked Frostburg State University (Md.) (11-1) at second-ranked University of Mount Union (Ohio) (12-0).
UW-Oshkosh has won 14 consecutive home games by a combined 579-200 score while Wartburg College has been victorious in its last five road contests.
Wartburg College won both of its two prior meetings with UW-Oshkosh, defeating the Titans by scores of 31-10 on Sept. 1, 2001, in Waverly, Iowa, and 24-20 on Sept. 7, 2002, in Oshkosh.
The Knights have a 1-3 record against WIAC teams in the Division III Championship, including a 26-21 win over UW-Stevens Point during the first round in 2008. UW-
La Crosse ousted Wartburg College from the 1993 national tournament by a 55-26 score in the regional round while UW-Whitewater defeated the Knights during the quarterfinals in both 2008 (34-17) and 2014 (37-33).
UW-Oshkosh will be facing an IIAC opponent in the NCAA Championship for the first time.
Saturday's quarterfinal game features a pair of prolific offenses led by quarterbacks – UW-Oshkosh's Brett Kasper and Wartburg College's Matt Sacia – who were named among the 10 semifinalists for the Gagliardi Trophy, which is awarded annually to the most outstanding Division III football player.
UW-Oshkosh ranks among the top 20 Division III teams in several offensive categories, including second in passing efficiency rating (195.88), sixth in interceptions thrown (4), seventh in completion percentage (.673), ninth in tackles for loss allowed per game (4.09) and scoring average (42).
The Titans also list 11th nationally in yards per game (484.6), 13th in yards per completion (15.77) and first downs (260), 14th in turnovers lost (10), 17th in third-down conversion rate (.473) and 18th in rushing yards per contest (245.3).
The UW-Oshkosh offense has produced 72 plays of 20 yards or more this season, including 19 big plays during the Titans' two NCAA playoff games.
Wartburg College leads the country by committing just nine turnovers on the year. The Knights also boast a division-leading +1.67 average turnover margin while UW-Oshkosh lists eighth nationally at +1.27.
The Knights also rank third nationally in interceptions thrown (3), fourth in first downs (294), sixth in passing efficiency rating (174.52) and ninth in completion percentage (.671).
In addition to its high-powered offense, Wartburg College has recorded one safety, scored three times on defensive fumble returns and tallied touchdowns on a blocked punt, an interception return and a kickoff return.
UW-Oshkosh's Kasper, who earned his second WIAC Offensive Player of the Year award this season, has completed 153 of 229 passes for 2,472 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions. His career totals of 9,233 passing yards and 85 touchdown passes are program records.
Kasper, who tied the school record with six touchdown passes last Saturday, ranks second in the country this season with a 197.0 passing efficiency rating. He also lists third with 10.77 yards per pass attempt, sixth with 16.08 yards per completion, 11th in touchdown passes and 13th with a .670 completion percentage. Kasper has completed 44 passes that gained at least 20 yards this year, including 20 for touchdowns.
Dylan Hecker leads the Titans with 136 carries for 825 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games played this season. Hecker holds school records with 56 career rushing scores and 342 points.
Six UW-Oshkosh ball carriers have surpassed 100 rushing yards this season, including Mitch Gerhartz with 591, JP Peerenboom with 372 and Chad Walton with 361. Gerhartz has six rushing touchdowns this year while Walton and Peerenboom have added four and three ground scores, respectively.
Sam Mentkowski paces UW-Oshkosh receivers with 52 catches for 1,167 yards and 11 touchdowns. The program record-holder with 165 career receptions and 2,831 receiving yards, Mentkowski ranks 15th in the nation this season with 22.44 yards per catch. Nine of Mentkowski's touchdown catches this season have gone for more than 30 yards, including a 96-yard score that broke the school record.
Dom Todarello, the WIAC Special Teams Player of the Year, has added 28 receptions for 354 yards and seven touchdowns. Todarello, one of four Division III players with a kickoff and a punt return for touchdowns this year, is averaging 26.1 yards on 24 kickoff returns and 14 yards on nine punt returns.
The UW-Oshkosh offensive line, led by All-WIAC first team selections Tyler Powers, Ty Summers and Alex Wendorf, has surrendered just 45 tackles for loss and 12 sacks while paving the way for 15 ball carriers to average 5.6 yards per carry and notch 28 rushing touchdowns.
Jon Kallas has a team-leading 73 tackles for a UW-Oshkosh defense that ranks 13th in the country with 20 interceptions.
The Titans also rank 15th in passing efficiency rating defense (97.62), 17th in red zone defense (.600) and 20th in scoring defense (14.2). UW-Oshkosh has surrendered just 26 plays of 20 yards or more this season, including three big-play touchdowns.
The UW-Oshkosh special team units are ranked second nationally in kickoff return average (27.86) and 18th in punt return average (14.33).
Titans placekicker and punter Turner Geisthardt has connected on 6 of 9 field goals, including a long of 43 yards, and 52 of 53 extra points. Geisthardt, who also handles kickoff duties for UW-Oshkosh, is averaging 41.2 yards on his 34 punts, including a long of 55 yards and 13 inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
Wartburg College's Sacia, the IIAC's Offensive Most Valuable Player, has completed 218 of 324 passes for 2,958 yards with a school-record 33 touchdowns and three interceptions this season.
Sacia is fifth in the nation with a 175.7 passing efficiency rating while listing sixth in touchdown passes, 12th in completion percentage (.673), 14th in yards per pass attempt (9.13) and 18th in passing yards.
Sacia's top target this season is Riley Brockway, who has a school-record 83 receptions, ranks fourth in the nation with a program-best 1,315 yards and lists 14th in the country with 14 touchdowns.
Brockway, who owns the Wartburg College record with 181 career catches, is averaging 7.9 yards on 12 punt returns this year.
The Knights' aerial attack also includes 43 catches for 456 yards and four touchdowns from Denison Harrington, and 34 grabs for 619 yards and seven scores from Griffin Brennecke.
Wartburg College running backs have compiled 2,556 rushing yards on 4.8 yards per carry and 26 ground scores.
Dylan Binion leads the Knights with 201 rushes for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns while Connor Schrader has added 111 carries for 618 yards and eight scores.
The Wartburg College defense ranks fourth in the red zone (.500), ninth in interceptions (21), and 12th in turnovers gained (29) and defensive touchdowns (4). The Knights have collected 30 sacks among their 87 tackles for loss.
Rob Rottler has a team-high 116 tackles for the Knights, who have also received 96 tackles from Tony Anstoetter, 76 stops from JoJo McNair and 71 from Connor Frerichs.
Wartburg College's Troy Heik and Dillon Radamacher share the team lead with five sacks while McNair has a team-leading six interceptions. McNair is the Knights' leading kickoff returner, averaging 24.7 yards on 22 returns.
Peyton Imhof has added five interceptions and two fumble recoveries for the Knights.
Brayton Brandt and Jordan Johnson have split time at placekicker for Wartburg College, with Johnson making 3 of 4 field goals and 27 of 29 extra points over the last seven games and Brandt converting 4 of 7 field goals and 29 of 35 extra points during the first seven contests of the year.
Brandt has a season-long field goal of 36 yards while Johnson has connected from as far as 32 yards.
Wartburg College punter Jake Pisarik is averaging 37.2 yards per punt, including a season long of 77 yards and 17 inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
UW-Oshkosh head coach Pat Cerroni has an 88-34 record (.721 winning percentage) in 11 seasons while Wartburg College's Rick Willis sports a 167-40 mark (.807) in 19 years.