Playoff bound

Nate Proell

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After a 42-7 victory over the UW-Eau Claire Blugolds Saturday at Titan Stadium, the UW Oshkosh Titans football team has clinched at least a share of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title. With a record of 8-0, this WIAC title will be the Titans’ third in the past six seasons and the 10th in program history.

The Titans’ victory also gives them an automatic berth to the NCAA D-III Championship playoff tournament for the third straight season.

Titans head coach Pat Cerroni said earning at least a share of the conference title is an achievement on its own, but the real goal is to win the WIAC outright to ensure home games in the playoffs. In order for the Titans to do that, they must win their final game of the regular season against 3-3 UW-Stout this Saturday.

“The playoffs begin right now,” Cerroni said. “When we go to Stout, it’s a big game. Not only to win the conference outright but more importantly to get home games in the playoffs. That’s what our goals are. That’s a huge part of achieving our goals is to win it outright, and guarantee at least three home games. That’s a hell of a deal.”

By halftime of the game, senior starting quarterback Brett Kasper had completed nine of 13 passes for 213 yards. Kasper had three touchdowns at the half as well, the first of which was 55 yards to sophomore wide receiver Riley Kallas in the first quarter. His second was a 70-yard connection to senior wide receiver Sam Mentkowski, and his third came in the second quarter with a 30-yard touchdown pass to sophomore running back JP Peerenboom.

Kasper said the team realizes it is not finished with the regular season just yet. He said earning a share of the conference title is the ultimate goal, and the team is not satisfied until it reaches its full potential.

“It didn’t really feel like we clinched a playoff berth; our goals are set on winning the conference title,” Kasper said. “We know we have one more game to do that. We are focused on this week and we want this conference outright. Obviously we don’t want to share it with Whitewater.”

Junior running back Chad Walton, who had two key touchdowns late in the game to put the Blugolds out of contention for good, agreed with Kasper that the team has its sights set on higher goals.

“We are going in like this is a playoff game really,” Walton said. “This is a must-win, and we don’t want to share the conference at all. We want this for ourselves.”

In the game against the Blugolds, the Titans were up 29-7 at the end of the third quarter. However, Kasper remained active until the beginning of the fourth when Walton had a touchdown rush to put the Titans up 36-7.

Walton had one more score in the fourth with a 37-yard rush to put the Titans ahead with the eventual final score of 42-7.

After back and forth possessions with no scores to begin the game, the Titans struck first on their second drive with the 55-yard touchdown. The Blugolds scored on the following drive to tie the game. However, the tie did not last long as the following drive was Kasper’s 70-yard touchdown to Mentkowski.

Although Titans’ senior kicker Turner Geisthardt’s extra point attempt was blocked, the Titans were up on the Blugolds 13-7 with 4:21 to play in the first quarter.

Kasper’s 30-yard touchdown to Peerenboom came at the beginning of the second quarter to make the score 19-7 after senior kicker Greg Rand’s extra point attempt was blocked.

UWO scored one more time in the first half as sophomore running back Mitch Gerhartz had a 76-yard touchdown rush to make the lead 26-7 at the half.

The second half got off to a slow start for both teams until halfway through when Kasper lead the Titans 54 yards in 11 plays before facing a fourth and two at the Eau Claire four yard line. Rand’s field goal attempt was good and the Titans’ lead was now 29-7 with 1:34 to play in the third quarter.

The Titan’s first possession in the fourth quarter resulted in Kasper leading the Titans 71 yards in six plays, which included a 35-yard completion to Mentkowski before Walton rushed for a 2-yard touchdown. The score was 36-7 with 8:29 to play in the game.

UWO had one more score in the game as the offense went 68 yards in five plays before Walton rushed for a 37-yard touchdown, his second of the game. The touchdown brought the Titans’ lead to 42-7 with 4:46 to play in the game. After forcing the Blugolds to punt on their following drive, Oshkosh ran the clock out with 50 seconds to play in the game.

The Titans conclude their season on the road this Saturday at UW-Stout.