Dylan Hecker had a career-high five touchdowns, including four rushing, to lead UW-Oshkosh to a 41-27 victory over Wartburg College (Iowa) during the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday (Dec. 2) at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.
Hecker scored three 1-yard rushing touchdowns and caught a 43-yard scoring pass before giving the Titans a 41-20 lead with a 9-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter.
Wartburg College, which held a 7-0 advantage in the first quarter, tied the score at 20 with 8:15 left in the third quarter. However, Hecker punctuated three straight UW-Oshkosh scoring drives with rushing touchdowns during a span of less than 10 minutes over the final two quarters.
UW-Oshkosh (12-0), ranked third in the country by D3football.com, advances to play next Saturday (Dec. 9) against second-ranked University of Mount Union (Ohio) in the semifinal round of the Division III Championship.
The Titans, who reached the national championship game last season, are in the semifinal round for the third time in four NCAA postseason appearances. University of Mount Union (13-0), which owns a division-record 12 national titles, moved on to this year's semifinal round with a 70-37 home win over 15th-ranked Frostburg State University (Md.).
Hecker, the UW-Oshkosh career record holder with 60 rushing touchdowns and 372 points, concluded Saturday's quarterfinal triumph with 15 carries for 71 yards and three receptions for a career-high 106 yards.
UW-Oshkosh held advantages in scrimmage yards (503-336), rushing yards (247-73) and first downs (24-22) as the Titans defeated the Knights for the first time in three meetings. Wartburg College previously handed the Titans losses by scores of 31-10 in 2001 and 24-20 in 2002.
The 17th-ranked Knights (12-1) were held to a season-low 73 rushing yards despite possessing the ball for nearly 34 minutes (33:46).
UW-Oshkosh's Brett Kasper went 16-for-25 passing for 256 yards with two touchdowns, lifting his season total to a school-record 32 scoring passes on the year. Kasper eclipsed the previous program mark of 31 touchdown passes set by Brian Tomalak in 1997.
Mitch Gerhartz paced the Titans with 16 rushes for 128 yards as UW-Oshkosh did not have a run for negative yardage on 39 totes until a pair of team rushes at the end of the game.
Sam Mentkowski had eight catches for 120 yards and one touchdown for the Titans. He has scored touchdowns in nine games this season and surpassed 100 receiving yards seven times.
The UW-Oshkosh offensive line, led by starters Cody Moon, Tyler Powers, Austin Summers, Ty Summers, Alex Wendorf and Alex Wipperfurth, did not yield a tackle for loss against a Wartburg College defense that entered with 30 sacks among its 87 tackles for loss.
The Titans averaged 6.3 yards on 39 carries and 16 yards per completion.
Wartburg College's Tony Anstoetter recovered a Hecker fumble near midfield on the game's opening possession, and the Knights thwarted the second UW-Oshkosh drive as punter Turner Geisthardt was stopped two yards shy of a first down on a fourth-down play in Titan territory.
After gaining possession at the UW-Oshkosh 38-yard line, Wartburg College capped a seven-play drive with a 2-yard touchdown run by quarterback Matt Sacia with 7:09 left in the first quarter.
UW-Oshkosh answered with a seven-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a 1-yard run by Hecker at the 3:47 mark of the opening period. Dom Todarello sparked the Titans' drive, which also included a pass interference penalty on the Knights, with a 26-yard run on the second play of the possession.
Heimer notched a strip-sack on the second play of the ensuing Knights possession. Watson pounced on the loose ball at the Wartburg College 46-yard line, and the Titans cashed in the turnover three plays later as Hecker caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Kasper. Geisthardt, who made 5 of 6 extra points on the day, pushed his point-after attempt wide as UW-Oshkosh maintained a 13-7 lead with 70 seconds to play in the first quarter.
Wartburg College's 15-play drive then stalled at the Titan 8-yard line, but placekicker Jordan Johnson split the uprights to trim the Knights' deficit to 13-10 at the 8:04 mark of the second quarter.
A 29-yard touchdown pass from Kasper to Mentkowski increased UW-Oshkosh's advantage to 20-10 with 6:18 remaining in the second period, but the Knights answered with a 5-yard scoring pass from Sacia to Matt Mulford on fourth-and-1, pulling Wartburg College within 20-17 with 63 seconds to play before intermission.
Wartburg College's Johnson converted a 26-yard field goal to tie the score at 20 with 8:15 left in the third period, but Hecker scored touchdowns on runs of 1, 1 and 9 yards to conclude the next three UW-Oshkosh possessions.
The Titans' go-ahead score was set up by a 41-yard pass from Kasper to Mentkowski to the Wartburg College 1-yard line.
On the first play of the next UW-Oshkosh drive, Kasper connected with Hecker for a 59-yard pass to reach the Wartburg College 15-yard line. Hecker then ran for 14 yards to the Knights' 1-yard line and crossed over the goal line two plays later for a 34-20 advantage with 3:07 left in the third quarter.
UW-Oshkosh's Trenton LaCombe tackled Sacia after a 4-yard gain on a fourth-and-12 play early in the fourth period before the Titans marched 85 yards in nine plays, including five runs for 53 yards by Gerhartz that set up Hecker's spinning 9-yard run into the end zone for a 41-20 advantage with 7:53 to play in the contest.
Wartburg College pulled within 41-27 on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Sacia to Riley Brockway at the 4:13 mark, but UW-Oshkosh's Jacob Grant snared the resulting onside kick, and the Titans gained three first downs en route to running off the final 4:13 from the clock.
Sacia ended the game 25 of 36 passing for 263 yards with two touchdowns for Wartburg College.
Brockway led the Knights with eight receptions for 82 yards and a score while Griffin Brennecke chipped in six catches for 82 yards. Dylan Binion had a team-best 77 yards on 17 carries.
Wartburg College's Anstoetter led all players with 14 tackles, including 12 solo, while adding a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Peyton Imhoff and Rob Rottler contributed nine and seven tackles, respectively, for the Knights.
UW-Oshkosh improved its record to 12-3 in the NCAA postseason. The Titans' .800 winning percentage in the national tournament ranks third in the country.
The Titans have won their last 15 home games by a combined 620-227 score.