The nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh football team faces a stern test when it travels to play NCAA Division II member Davenport University on Saturday (Sept. 8) in Caledonia, Mich.
UW-Oshkosh (1-0) is playing a Division II program for the first time since a 33-22 loss to Minnesota State University Mankato in 2006. The Titans won a pair of games over Division II Upper Iowa University earlier this century, defeating the Peacocks by scores of 33-21 in 2004 and 38-3 in 2003. UW-Oshkosh's most recent foray to the higher NCAA divisions resulted in a 41-3 setback at Division I Football Bowl Subdivision member South Dakota State University in 2014.
The Titans, ranked fourth in the NCAA Division III by D3football.com, opened the 2018 season with a 20-9 win at first-time opponent Carthage College last Saturday (Sept. 1). UW-Oshkosh pulled out the victory by scoring a go-ahead rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter before returning an interception for a score on the final play of the game.
Davenport University (1-0) dominated Robert Morris University (Ill.), 44-7, last Saturday. The Panthers, in their third year as a program and their second in Division II, owned a 39-0 lead late in the third quarter against Robert Morris University and limited its National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) foe to -6 rushing yards and eight first downs while throwing for 345 yards and five touchdowns. Robert Morris University defeated UW-Oshkosh in two recent season openers, slipping past the Titans by scores of 27-19 in 2013 and 23-21 in 2014.
UW-Oshkosh, the reigning WIAC champion, has reached at least the quarterfinal round of the Division III Championship each of the last three years and four times overall since 2012. The Titans, winners of three of the last six WIAC titles, advanced to the national semifinals a year ago after playing in the Division III title game in 2016, the quarterfinal round in 2015 and the semifinals in 2012.
During its first two seasons, Davenport University compiled records of 1-10 in 2017 as a member of the Division II Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and 6-5 in 2016 as an NAIA independent.
UW-Oshkosh enters Saturday's matchup unbeaten despite being outgained, 329-206, and throwing for just 39 yards in its season-opening win at Carthage College. However, the Titans also amassed 39 passing yards in last year's season-opening victory over John Carroll University (Ohio) before going on to compete in the Division III semifinals.
The Titans created four turnovers – all on interceptions – last Saturday, including three from senior linebacker Derrick Jennings Jr. Jennings Jr., a 2017 D3football.com First Team All-American, is tied for the Division III lead in interceptions. He sealed the Titan win with a 68-yard return for a touchdown on the game's final play.
Senior defensive back Cole Yoder added an interception against Carthage College while senior linebacker Scott Skornicka paced the Titans with 11 tackles, including eight solo. Jennings Jr. chipped in seven tackles and 1.5 of the team's three sacks.
UW-Oshkosh sophomore quarterback Johnny Duranso completed 6 of 13 passes for 30 yards with an interception during his first collegiate start last Saturday. Titan sophomore backup Kyle Radavich went 4-for-6 passing for 9 yards. The game featured both players throwing their first collegiate passes.
Junior running back Mitch Gerhartz led seven UW-Oshkosh ballcarriers with 16 rushes for 69 yards and one touchdown. Senior tight end Cody Moon provided the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter with a 4-yard run on his second carry of his career.
The UW-Oshkosh receiving corps was led by senior Dom Todarello, junior Riley Kallas and sophomore Ryan Hayes. Todarello had two catches for 12 yards, Kallas three grabs for 9 yards and Hayes one reception for 10 yards. Todarello also averaged 26.7 yards on his three kickoff returns.
UW-Oshkosh's starting offensive line of senior center Tyler Powers, senior guards Alex Wendorf and Jason Wright, and junior tackle Alex Wipperfurth and senior tackle Austin Summers did not allow a sack last weekend while helping the Titans gain 167 yards rushing on 43 carries.
Titans junior placekicker Peyton Peterson, who has not attempted a career field goal, made both of his extra points.
UW-Oshkosh senior punter Turner Geisthardt averaged 41.3 yards on nine punts, including a long of 53 yards and two inside the 20-yard line.
Davenport University ranks third in Division II with 95 yards allowed, three interceptions gained and a 42.24 passing efficiency rating defense. The Panthers also list fourth in the division in rushing yards (-6) and first downs (8) allowed, and eighth with 345 passing yards.
Panthers redshirt junior quarterback Deondre Ford completed 14 of 25 passes for 271 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in the season opener. The transfer from Division I University of Kansas exited after throwing for a 58-yard touchdown on the Panthers' first possession of the second half. He ranks eighth in Division II with 19.36 yards per completion.
Thirteen Panthers caught passes in the season opener, including Nate Couturier with a team-leading three receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns. Couturier's touchdown total lists ninth in Division II. Seniors Steven Jerome and Deondre Moore, and junior Daronte Powers, each added touchdown receptions for Davenport University.
Davenport University had 150 rushing yards on 40 carries against Robert Morris University. Junior Michael Catching led the way with 11 rushes for 60 yards while junior Seth Acda added nine totes for 36 yards and one touchdown.
The stout Panther defense was led by junior safety Chad Hill and senior linebacker Brent Showers, who collected six and five tackles, respectively, last Saturday.
Senior defensive end Eddie Rolle, a transfer from Western Michigan University, chipped in four tackles, including two for loss and the team's lone sack. Hill, senior defensive back Paris Ratliff and senior cornerback Brian Williams have accounted for Davenport University's three interceptions.
On special teams Davenport University had two extra points blocked and connected on a 32-yard field goal. Panthers senior punter Julian Castro averaged 31.7 yards on his three punts.
UW-Oshkosh, which is playing its second in a string of five straight road games to open the season, has won its past nine away games and 22 of its last 26 contests on the road.