Derrick Jennings Jr. recorded three interceptions, including one for a 68-yard touchdown as time expired, and the nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh football team held on for a 20-9 season-opening victory over first-time opponent Carthage College on Saturday (Sept. 1) in Kenosha.
UW-Oshkosh (1-0), ranked fourth in the NCAA Division III by D3football.com, reclaimed a 14-9 lead on a 4-yard touchdown run by Cody Moon with 85 seconds remaining. Jennings Jr. then preserved the win with his ninth career interception and long return on a 3rd-and-20 play from the Titan 43-yard line.
Carthage College (0-1) took its lone lead of the game at 9-6 on a 44-yard field goal by Lance Unland with 12:14 to play in the final period.
The Titans, commencing the 124th season in program history, have won 33 of their last 38 season openers.
Jennings Jr., who collected seven tackles and 1.5 sacks, also blocked an extra point. His block during the second quarter allowed UW-Oshkosh to maintain a 7-6 advantage at halftime.
Carthage College owned a 329-206 yardage advantage, including 206-39 passing, but the Titans forced four turnovers while committing two. The Red Men ran 40 of their 74 plays in UW-Oshkosh territory but had four drives end with interceptions, one halt on a turnover on downs and one other cease with a missed field goal.
Mitch Gerhartz led a balanced UW-Oshkosh rushing attack with 16 carries for 69 yards and one touchdown. Dom Todarello added 56 yards on seven rushes as seven Titan ballcarriers combined for 43 carries for 167 yards and a pair of scores. Moon's short go-ahead scoring run on the Titans' final offensive play came on his second career carry and his second of the contest.
UW-Oshkosh quarterbacks Johnny Duranso and Kyle Radovich combined to complete 10 of 19 passes. Duranso, making his first collegiate start, went 6-for-13 passing for 30 yards.
Todarello caught two passes for a team-leading 12 yards. Riley Kallas led the Titans with three grabs for 9 yards.
Scott Skornicka paced the Titan defense with 11 tackles, including eight solo, three for loss and one sack.
The teams exchanged punts on the first two possessions of the game before the Red Men recovered a fumble deep in its own territory on the Titans' second drive. Carthage College's Unland then missed a 47-yard field goal before UW-Oshkosh marched 71 yards in eight plays, culminating in an 11-yard touchdown run from Gerhartz and an extra point by Peyton Peterson for a 7-0 lead with 11 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Carthage College had a first-and-goal from the UW-Oshkosh 10-yard line early in the second quarter, but the drive stalled at the 5 following an incompletion by Dury on fourth down as Christian Bettin was credited with a pass breakup.
Jennings Jr. picked off a Dury pass on a first-down play at the UW-Oshkosh 5-yard line with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half.
Red Men defensive back Amani Dennis intercepted a Duranso pass and returned the ball for 12 yards to the UW-Oshkosh 29-yard line. Two plays later Dury found Bret Patton in the end zone to trim the Carthage College deficit to 7-6, but Jennings Jr. notched his first career blocked kick to preserve the Titans' slim advantage with 5:13 left in the second period.
The first two Carthage College drives of the second half ended in Dury interceptions, while UW-Oshkosh did not cross its own 30-yard line during the third period, resulting in three consecutive Turner Geisthardt punts.
Unland's long field goal provided the Red Men with the lead, but after forcing a Carthage College punt with 6:45 remaining, the Titans mounted the eventual game-winning drive that featured six straight carries to reach midfield. A pass interference penalty on the Red Men gave UW-Oshkosh a first-and-goal from the Carthage College 7-yard line. Gerhartz then ran for 3 yards ahead of Moon's touchdown run.
Carthage College began its final drive at its own 20-yard line, and a Dury 24-yard pass to Lafayette McGary moved the ball to midfield. The Red Men committed a holding penalty to set up first-and-20 from the UW-Oshkosh 43-yard line. A pair of incompletions preceded Jennings Jr.'s game-sealing interception return for a touchdown.
Dury concluded the game 14 of 32 passing for 192 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.
Carthage College's Evan French caught nine passes for 131 yards while McGary accounted for 108 rushing yards on 22 carries.
Malik Thigpen led the Red Men defense with eight tackles. Djogi Bumba and Emmet Trost added seven stops apiece for Carthage College.
The season opener was the first of five consecutive road games for the Titans, who head to NCAA Division II member Davenport University next Saturday (Sept. 8) in Caledonia, Mich.
Photo courtesy of Steve Frommell, D3Photography.com
Derrick Jennings Jr. Game-Ending 68-Yard Interception Return