UW-Oshkosh opens its second straight and third overall NCAA Division III Football Championship appearance by hosting Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.) on Saturday (Nov. 19). Kickoff for the first meeting between the teams is set for noon at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.
UW-Oshkosh (9-1), which earned its first at-large berth into the NCAA postseason, is ranked fourth in the country by D3football.com. The Titans, who finished second to second-ranked UW-Whitewater (10-0) in the WIAC standings, gained the league's automatic bid into the 32-team national tournament in 2012 and 2015, advancing to the third round a year ago and to the semifinals in the program's NCAA debut.
Washington University (8-2), making its third Division III Championship appearance, earned an automatic bid into the national tournament by winning the Southern Athletic Association (SAA). It was the Bears first season in the league after playing 26 years in the University Athletic Association.
The winner between UW-Oshkosh and Washington University will play in the second round on Nov. 26 against the victor of a contest that features 12th-ranked UW-Platteville (8-2) visiting ninth-ranked Saint John's University (Minn.) (9-1).
The Bears, who have won all five of their road games this season, tied Berry College (Ga.) atop the SAA standings with 7-1 records, but Washington University won the tiebreaker by virtue of its 34-10 victory over Berry College on Oct. 1.
Washington University is seeking its first NCAA postseason win after suffering first round defeats in both 1999 and 2013.
The Titans enter this year's national tournament among the national statistical leaders on both offense and defense.
The UW-Oshkosh rushing attack ranks 14th nationally with 265.1 yards per game while the defense lists eighth by allowing just 12 points per game and 15th by yielding 260.5 yards per contest.
The Titan offensive line's 33 tackles for loss allowed ranks second in the nation and its seven sacks surrendered lists seventh.
Washington University boasts the country's fifth-best aerial attack with 366.9 yards passing per game. The Bears also rank 16th in the nation with 498.8 total yards per contest.
UW-Oshkosh will attempt to counter the potent Washington University passing game with a defense that ranks 12th with a 94.52 opponent's passing efficiency.
The Bears have also intercepted 20 passes, the seventh-highest total in the country, and rank second in the nation with a 40.57-yard net punting average while listing sixth by allowing just 1.25 yards per punt return.
The Titans have produced 64 offensive plays of at least 20 yards, including 22 on touchdowns, while the UW-Oshkosh defense has surrendered just 15 plays of 20-plus yards, including three scores. UW-Oshkosh is also outscoring opponents, 251-33, during the first half this season.
UW-Oshkosh, which has trailed for less than 12 minutes the entire season, opened the year with four straight wins by an average of 46 points before suffering a 17-14 setback at UW-Whitewater on a last-minute touchdown. The Titans rebounded to win their past five contests by an average of 22 points. Last Saturday (Nov. 12), UW-Oshkosh never trailed en route to a 48-13 triumph at UW-Eau Claire.
Washington University, averaging 39 points per game, split its first two contests of the year before rattling off five straight wins. The Bears have scored at least 28 points in each game this year, including victories of 49-46 over Hendrix College (Ark.) on Nov. 5 and 43-34 at the University of Chicago (Ill.) last Saturday.
UW-Oshkosh's running game, averaging 6.9 yards per carry, has featured 18 different ball carriers as 10 Titans have scored rushing touchdowns and eight players have more than 100 rushing yards.
Dylan Hecker, an All-WIAC first team selection, leads the Titan backfield with 769 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Devon Linzenmeyer, voted to the all-league second team, has added 587 yards and seven touchdowns on 8.5 yards per carry.
UW-Oshkosh's 100-yard rushers also include Chad Walton with 248 yards and four touchdowns, Mitch Gerhartz with 241 yards and two scores, Dom Todarello with 189 yards, CJ Blackburn with 184 yards and two touchdowns, Beau Ash with 111 yards and Riley Kallas with 101 yards and one score.
Titans quarterback Brett Kasper has completed 136 of 218 passes for 1,797 yards with 13 touchdowns. He leads the WIAC with 8.24 yards per pass attempt and a .624 completion percentage.
The UW-Oshkosh receiving corps is led by Dom Todarello, who has hauled in 31 catches for 443 yards and five touchdowns. He was also named to the All-WIAC First Team as a special teams player by averaging 16.8 yards per punt return that includes a school-record 87-yard return for a score.
Blackburn, named to the All-WIAC First Team as an all-purpose back has contributed 27 receptions for 354 yards and two touchdowns while Evan Thammahong and Chad Redmer have chipped in 18 and 14 grabs, respectively. Blackburn also paces the team by averaging 22 yards per kickoff return.
The UW-Oshkosh defense is spearheaded by a pair of all-league linebackers in Reese Dziedzic and Branden Lloyd, who were both selected to the WIAC's First Team for the second year in a row. Dziedzic, the Titans' leading tackler for the fourth consecutive season, has 63 stops while Lloyd has 43 tackles, including a team-leading 2.5 sacks, to go along with one fumble recovery and one interception.
UW-Oshkosh also features two All-WIAC First Team players in the secondary – Cameron Brown and Johnny Eagan. Brown has 41 tackles and a team-high eight pass breakups while Eagan has made 34 stops and a team-best four interceptions.
On special teams, UW-Oshkosh placekicker Eli Wettstein has converted 12 of 16 field goals, including a long of 50 yards, and made 46 of 51 extra points. Titans punter Turner Geisthardt is averaging 41.3 yards per boot, including a long of 62 yards and placed 11 of his 26 punts inside the 20-yard line.
The Washington University offense is headlined by quarterback J.J. Tomlin, who has completed 281 of 437 passes for 3,539 yards with 35 touchdowns. He ranks fourth in the country in touchdown passes and fifth in passing yards.
Bears wide receiver Kevin Hammarlund, who has recorded more than 100 receiving yards in each of the past seven games, has amassed 87 catches for a school-record 1,249 yards with 13 touchdowns. He ranks sixth nationally in both receptions and receiving yards while listing 11th in receiving scores.
Washington University's Matt Page has added 62 receptions for 866 yards and 11 touchdowns. Marcus Ramspott has contributed 45 grabs for 569 yards and three scores for the Bears, who have also received 33 catches for 340 yards and five touchdowns from Matt Goldberg.
The Bears' running game, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, is led by Austin Smestad's 137 rushes for 750 yards and 12 touchdowns. Logan Bash has added 123 carries for 494 yards and one score out of the Washington University backfield. Smestad has also caught 15 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns.
Jake Coon leads the Bears' defense with 100 tackles and four interceptions while Ben Marcus follows with 96 stops and four interceptions.
Washington University has also racked up 21 sacks, including a team-best 6.5 from Josiah Situmeang. Nine Bears have recorded interceptions, including two each by Max Barnett, Brian Crowe, Chandler Elmore, Nate Lowis and Dylan Newcomb.
Bears placekicker Dan Kalvaitis has connected on 9 of 11 field goals, including a long of 41 yards, and made 44 of 46 extra points. Washington University punter Johnny Davidson averages 41.1 yards per kick, including a long of 58 yards, while placing 16 of his 42 boots inside the 20-yard line.
UW-Oshkosh has won 15 of its last 16 home games and outscored opponents by a combined 638-167 count in those contests. The Titans own a 5-2 NCAA postseason record and an all-time mark of 447-500-45 (122 seasons).