Unbeaten UW-Oshkosh hosts once-beaten North Central College (Ill.) in a battle of national top-10 teams during the second round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday (Nov. 25). Kickoff is set for noon at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.
UW-Oshkosh (10-0), ranked third in the country by D3football.com, is seeking its third straight and fourth overall trip to the national quarterfinals. The Titans reached last year's national title game after advancing to the semifinal round in 2012 and to the quarterfinal round in 2015.
The Titans boast a 10-3 record in four NCAA postseason appearances. UW-Oshkosh's .769 winning percentage in the national tournament ranks third in the division.
Ninth-ranked North Central College (10-1) sports a 12-9 record in 10 national tournament appearances. The Cardinals reached the semifinal round in 2013 and advanced to the third round in 2010.
UW-Oshkosh won its first-round contest, 63-0, at home over Lakeland University (8-3) last Saturday (Nov. 18) while North Central College advanced to the second round with a 17-7 victory at home over sixth-ranked Saint John's University (Minn.) (9-2).
The Titans and North Central College will be meeting for the second time. The Cardinals defeated UW-Oshkosh, 21-0, in 1930.
UW-Oshkosh has won 13 consecutive home games by a combined 537-179 score while North Central College has been victorious in 13 of its last 14 road contests.
UW-Oshkosh secured the WIAC's automatic berth to the 32-team NCAA postseason by posting a 7-0 record in league play, marking the sixth perfect conference season in program history.
North Central College earned an automatic berth to this year's NCAA postseason by winning the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) title with a 7-1 record. The Cardinals, whose lone loss this season was a 42-20 decision at league rival Wheaton College (Ill.) on Oct. 16, shared the CCIW championship with Illinois Wesleyan University. North Central College gained the league's automatic bid by virtue of its 26-13 win over Illinois Wesleyan University on Sept. 16.
Saturday's matchup will feature North Central College's disruptive defense facing UW-Oshkosh's big-play offense.
North Central College ranks fourth nationally with 4.18 sacks per game, ninth by allowing 74.1 rushing yards per contest and 16th with 8.5 tackles for loss per game.
UW-Oshkosh will attempt to counter the Cardinals' stout defense with an offense that has produced 62 plays of at least 20 yards this season, including 41 passes. The Titans have also yielded just 24 plays of 20 yards or more.
North Central College has amassed 52 offensive plays that have gained at 20 yards this year while giving up 49 big plays, including 39 through the air.
The Titans list third in the country in passing efficiency rating (188.27), fifth in turnovers lost (10), seventh in interceptions thrown (4), and 11th in scoring average (42) and completion percentage (.664).
The Cardinals also rank fifth nationally in red zone offense (.917) and 20th in kickoff return defense (15.66) while the Titans list second in the country with a 28-yard average on kickoff returns and 18th in red zone offense (.878).
UW-Oshkosh boasts the sixth-best turnover margin in the nation at +1.40 per game and rank 12th in interceptions gained (19), 13th in passing efficiency rating defense (96.12), 17th in tackles for loss allowed per contest (4.30) and 19th in per-game scoring defense (13.5).
North Central College heads into Saturday's contest averaging 39 points and 445 yards per game. The Cardinals have gained 2,214 yards with 35 touchdowns on the ground and 2,681 yards with 20 touchdowns through the air.
The Cardinal defense is surrendering 17.1 points and 294.5 yards per contest. North Central College has allowed just seven rushing touchdowns and 2.4 yards per carry on the year.
The Titans have amassed 2,433 rushing yards on 5.4 yards per carry to go along with 28 ground scores while passing for 2,310 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Kasper, who earned his second WIAC Offensive Player of the Year award this season, is among 10 semifinalists for the Gagliardi Trophy, which is presented annually to the most outstanding football player in NCAA Division III.
Kasper has completed 136 of 206 passes for 2,201 yards with 24 touchdowns and four interceptions this year. He ranks second nationally with a 190.3 passing efficiency rating while listing third in country with 10.68 yards per pass attempt, sixth with 16.18 yards per completion and 14th with a .660 completion percentage. Kasper has 8,962 career passing yards and needs just 22 yards through the air on Saturday to establish a school record.
Hecker, the program's all-time leader with 56 rushing touchdowns and 342 points, paces the Titans this season with 122 carries for 712 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Mentkowski has hauled in a team-high 48 catches for 1,050 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The school record holder with 2,714 receiving yards, Mentkowski ranks 18th in the nation with 21.88 yards per reception this year.
Six of UW-Oshkosh's 16 ball carries have surpassed 100 rushing yards on the year, including Mitch Gerhartz with 567, Chad Walton with 362, JP Peerenboom with 322, Dom Todarello with 218 and Riley Kallas with 115. Gerhartz has six rushing scores this season while Walton has four and Peerenboom three.
Todarello is second on the squad with 23 receptions for 276 yards and five touchdowns. Kallas and Chad Redmer have added three touchdown grabs apiece.
Todarello, the WIAC Special Teams Player of the Year, is one of four Division III players to return both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown this season. He ranks 18th in the nation with 26.1 yards per kickoff return while leading the Titans with 14.1 yards per punt return.
The UW-Oshkosh defense, which has recorded shutouts in its last two games, has created 24 turnovers and collected 17 sacks. The Titans have outscored their last three opponents by a combined 136-7 score, including wins of 31-0 over UW-Stout on Nov. 11 and 42-7 over UW-Eau Claire on Nov. 4.
Skornicka has a team-best five sacks while Jennings Jr. has eight tackles for loss, five interceptions and one fumble recovery. Kollyn Beyer and Cole Yoder have added three interceptions apiece for UW-Oshkosh.
UW-Oshkosh placekicker and punter Turner Geisthardt has connected on 6 of 8 field goals, including a long of 43 yards, and 46 of 47 extra points. He is also averaging 41.5 yards on 32 punts, including a long of 55 yards and 13 inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
North Central College boasts a Gagliardi Trophy semifinalist of its own in running back Austin Breunig, the CCIW Offensive Player of the Year.
Breunig has logged 212 carries for 1,266 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year. He sat out last Saturday's NCAA opener (injury) in favor of Dominick Muoghalu, who had 40 rushes for 180 yards and a score in the Cardinals' victory over Saint John's University.
Breunig has added 26 catches for 411 yards and four touchdowns. His 19 total touchdowns rank 11th in the country.
Cardinals quarterback Broc Rutter has completed 188 of 295 passes for 2,660 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He lists 16th nationally with 9.02 yards per pass attempt.
Four Cardinals have recorded at least 26 receptions this year, including a team-high 48 grabs for 659 yards and four touchdowns by Andrew Kamienski. Michael Sfikas has added 30 catches for 447 yards and three scores and Cory Hartema 26 receptions for 325 yards. Four of Joshua Ruiz's 13 catches have gone for scores this season.
Derrek Warkenthien spearheads the North Central College defense with 80 tackles, including 20 for loss.
Tom Sora has 73 tackles, including nine for loss for the Cardinals, who have received sacks from 16 different players, interceptions from 11 players and fumble recoveries from eight players.
Talha Ayhan has accounted for a team-leading seven of North Central College's 46 sacks.
Pat Cravens has handled 21 of the Cardinals' 36 punt returns, averaging 12.5 yards with a long of 50 yards.
North Central College placekicker Liam Crotty has converted 13 of 15 field goals, including a long of 39 yards, and 46 of 56 extra points. He lists eighth nationally with a .867 success rate on field goals.
Cardinals punter Zane Lodico is averaging 39.9 yards on his 35 punts, including a long of 72 yards and six inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Lodico also leads the team by averaging 21.4 yards on 16 kickoff returns and ranks third on the squad with 61 carries for 335 yards and three touchdowns.
The winner between UW-Oshkosh and North Central College advances to the quarterfinal round to face the victor of Trine University (Ind.) (11-0) and Wartburg College (Iowa) (11-0). That contest will be played Saturday in Waverly, Iowa.