The powerful UW-Oshkosh rushing attack will face a formidable University of St. Thomas (Minn.) defense when the Titans play the defending national runner-up Tommies during the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday (Dec. 3) in St. Paul, Minn. Kickoff is set for noon at O'Shaughnessy Stadium.
UW-Oshkosh (11-1), ranked fourth in the country by D3football.com, advanced to the national quarterfinals with a 31-14 home victory over ninth-ranked Saint John's University (Minn.) (10-2) on Nov. 26. The Titans pulled away by scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Third-ranked University of St. Thomas (12-0) cruised into the quarterfinals with a 55-6 win at home over Coe College (Iowa) (11-1) on Nov. 26. The Tommies held a 41-0 advantage at halftime.
The winner between the Titans and Tommies will advance to the semifinals on Dec. 10 against the victor of second-ranked UW-Whitewater (12-0) and sixth-ranked John Carroll University (Ohio) (11-1).
UW-Oshkosh and University of St. Thomas will be meeting for the fifth time and the first since the Tommies ousted the Titans from the 2012 NCAA postseason by a 28-14 score during the semifinal round in St. Paul. The teams have split the four previous matchups, including Titan wins by scores of 23-21 in 1968 and 34-20 in 1969. The Tommies won the first meeting, 67-0, in 1914.
The Titans, who have trailed for less than 12 minutes the entire season, placed second to UW-Whitewater in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) standings while the Tommies finished atop the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) ledger, one game ahead of Saint John's University.
UW-Oshkosh, making its second straight and third overall NCAA postseason appearance, owns a 7-2 record in the NCAA tournament. The Titans also reached the quarterfinals last season and advanced to the 2012 semifinals in their playoff debut.
University of St. Thomas has an 18-7 record in eight Division III Championship appearances. The Tommies lost to the University of Mount Union (Ohio) in the national championship game in both 2012 (28-10) and 2015 (49-35).
University of St. Thomas and UW-Oshkosh had three common opponents this season – Saint John's University, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout. The Tommies defeated the trio by a combined 132-44 score while the Titans outscored the three programs, 124-44, this year.
UW-Oshkosh enters the quarterfinals ranked seventh nationally with 282.8 rushing yards per game, but University of St. Thomas sports the third-best run defense, yielding 61.9 yards on the ground per contest.
The Tommies, who have given up four rushing touchdowns this season, have ceded just 228 total rushing yards over their last six games and held three opponents to negative yardage on the ground this year.
University of St. Thomas' 10.5 points allowed per game ranks second in the Division III while their 48.4 points per contest list third. UW-Oshkosh has the fifth-best scoring defense in the country at 12.3 points per game, and the Titan offense is averaging 41 points to rank 14th nationally.
The Titans have produced 77 plays of at least 20 yards this season, including 26 on touchdowns, while the UW-Oshkosh defense has yielded just 17 plays of 20+ yards, including three scores.
UW-Oshkosh has allowed just two total plays of 20 yards or more against its five opponents that qualified for this year's Division III Championship – John Carroll University, Saint John's University, UW-Platteville, UW-Whitewater and Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.). Washington University connected on passes of 20 and 37 yards against the Titans during UW-Oshkosh's 49-13 victory in the first round of the NCAA postseason.
The Titans offensive line of center Tyler Powers, guards Tyler Powers and Austin Summers, tackles Vincent Basile and Austin Haase, and tight end Cody Moon have helped the team rank second in the nation by allowing just 3.50 tackles for loss per contest and ninth by giving up 0.75 sacks per contest.
UW-Oshkosh also lists among the top 20 teams nationally with a 95.37 passing efficiency rating allowed (10th), 261.8 total yards yielded per game (12th), 29 turnovers gained (16th), a +1.25 turnover margin (16th), 18 interceptions gained (20th) and six interceptions thrown (20th).
The Titan running game has notched 41 touchdowns and averages 7.1 yards per carry. UW-Oshkosh has featured 18 ball carriers this season, including eight who have rushed for more than 100 yards on the year and 10 who have scored touchdowns.
Dylan Hecker paces UW-Oshkosh with 967 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. His 7.38 yards per carry lists seventh nationally while his touchdown total ranks 19th.
Also topping 100 rushing yards on the season for the Titans are Devon Linzenmeyer with 735 yards and 10 touchdowns, Mitch Gerhartz with 456 yards and three scores, Chad Walton with 311 yards and four touchdowns, Dom Todarello with 257 yards, CJ Blackburn with 184 yards and two scores, Beau Ash with 122 yards, and Riley Kallas with 115 yards and one touchdown.
Linzenmeyer has added 16 receptions for 199 yards and one touchdown.
Titans quarterback Brett Kasper has completed 158 of 258 passes for 2,086 yards with 16 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Todarello leads the UW-Oshkosh receiving corps with 37 catches for 499 yards and six touchdowns. He also ranks fourth in the country by averaging 15.2 yards per punt return.
Blackburn has 27 receptions for 354 and two touchdowns for the Titans while Evan Thammahong has chipped in 20 grabs for 169 yards and one score.
UW-Oshkosh's defense is highlighted by linebackers Reese Dziedzic, Steve Forner and Branden Lloyd. Dziedzic, the Titans' leading tackler each of the past four seasons, has 73 tackles, including two sacks, one fumble recovery and one interceptions this year.
Forner and Lloyd have 57 and 51 tackles, respectively, with eight stops for loss apiece. Forner has notched two sacks while Lloyd leads the squad with 3.5 sacks to go along with one fumble recovery and one interception.
Cameron Brown leads the UW-Oshkosh defensive backfield with 48 tackles, followed by 47 stops from Johnny Eagan and 46 from Cole Yoder. Brown and Eagan are tied for team lead with eight pass breakups while Eagan and Yoder have collected five and four interceptions, respectively.
On special teams, UW-Oshkosh placekicker Eli Wettstein has connected on 13 of 18 field goal attempts, including a long of 50 yards, and 57 of 62 extra point tries. Titans punter Turner Geisthardt is averaging 39.9 yards per kick, including a long of 62 yards, and placed 12 of his 34 boots inside the 20-yard line.
UW-Oshkosh placed eight players on the All-WIAC First Team, including two-time honorees Blackburn at all-purpose back, Dziedzic and Lloyd at linebacker, Eagan at defensive back and Hecker at running back. Rounding out the Titans' first team selections were Basile at offensive line, Brown at defensive back and Todarello at special teams.
The vaunted University of St. Thomas defense also lists fourth in the nation with 218.8 total yards allowed per contest, fifth with both five defensive touchdowns and 9.9 tackles for loss per game, sixth with a 93.07 opponent passing efficiency rating, 10th with both 31 turnovers gained and 20 interceptions, 17th with 146 first downs allowed and 19th by surrendering 156.9 passing yards per game.
Adam Brant leads the Tommies with 59 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks.
University of St. Thomas' Michael Alada paces the country with 11 interceptions while Ryan Winter has a team-best six sacks.
Micah Hausman has racked up 12.5 tackles for loss, including 4.5 sacks for the Tommies, who have also received 38.5 tackles from Ben Celichowski, 37 stops from Jesse Addo and 36.5 from Steve Harrell.
Nineteen Tommies have registered sacks this season, including Addo with five quarterback takedowns, Anthony King-Foreman with 4.5 and Harrell with four. Celichowski and Matt Mitchell have a team-best two fumble recoveries apiece.
Offensively, University of St. Thomas has rolled up at least 40 points during eight games this season, including MIAC victories of 73-7 over St. Olaf College, 71-20 over Hamline University and 62-10 over Carleton College. The Tommies, who are outscoring opponents by a 347-60 count during the first half this season, opened the NCAA tournament with a 43-0 drubbing of University of Northwestern-St. Paul (Minn.).
The Tommies rank eighth in the country with 4.00 tackles for loss allowed per game while also listing among the top 20 nationally with 15.35 yards per completion (12th), 269 first downs (15th), 0.83 sacks allowed per contest (16th), a 160.11 passing efficiency rating (17th) and 483.5 total yards per game (20th).
The University of St. Thomas offense is led by quarterback Alex Fenske, the MIAC Most Valuable Player. Fenske has connected on 162 of 277 passes for 2,724 yards with 26 touchdowns and four interceptions. He ranks second nationally with 16.81 yards per completion, sixth with 9.83 yards per pass attempt and 10th with a 169.2 passing efficiency rating.
Eight Tommies have at least 10 receptions this season, including Nick Waldvogel with a team-leading 61 catches for 817 yards and six touchdowns. Waldvogel is also among the team leaders on special teams by averaging 8 yards on 32 punt returns and 24.5 yards on kickoff returns.
Jackson Hull has 23 receptions for 400 yards and eight scores while Joe Reed has 20 grabs for 720 yards and a team-best nine touchdowns. Luke Iverson has added 21 receptions for 279 yards and three scores, and Tanner Vik has contributed 12 catches for 345 yards and three touchdowns.
Reed doubles as the team's punter. He averages 36.8 yards per kick, including a long of 49 yards, with two of his 13 boots placed inside the 20-yard line.
The University of St. Thomas ground game has piled up 44 rushing touchdowns, 206 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry.
The Tommie tandem of Tucker Trettel and Josh Parks has combined for 1,737 rushing yards on 6.5 yards per carry with 25 touchdowns. Trettel has a team-best 922 rushing yards and 14 scores while Parks has 815 yards and 11 touchdowns on a team-high 6.8 yards per carry.
On special teams, University of St. Thomas has attempted just five goals. Tommies placekicker Bryan Stensapir has made 2 of 4 field goal attempts, including a long of 46 yards, and 41 of 43 extra point tries.
The Tommies had 13 players garner All-MIAC first team accolades. Joining Fenske on the league's top offensive team were Will Hilbert and Sean Scharlau at offensive line, Hull at tight end, Trettel at running back and Waldvogel at wide receiver. Hilbert was tabbed the MIAC's top interior lineman while Waldvogel also earned league first team honors as a return specialist.
University of St. Thomas defensive players earning All-MIAC first team laurels were Alada at cornerback, Celichowski at safety, King-Foreman and Winter at defensive line and Addo, Brant and Harrell at linebacker.
University of St. Thomas, which has won 57 of its last 60 home games, owns a 16-2 record at O'Shaughnessy Stadium during the NCAA postseason. The Tommies have won 13 straight Division III playoff home games since falling, 12-7, to MIAC rival Bethel University in the quarterfinal round of the 2010 NCAA tournament.
UW-Oshkosh has split its two previous road games in the NCAA postseason, both in 2012. The Titans downed Linfield College, 31-24, in overtime in McMinnville, Ore., during the quarterfinal round before losing to the Tommies in the semifinals.
The national championship game (Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl) will be held Dec. 16 in Salem, Va.