Undefeated season helps push UWO to playoffs

Nate Proell

Brett Kasper reads the defense for a read-option play with Mitch Gerhartz. Combined, both provided 314 yards Saturday.
[/media-credit] Brett Kasper reads the defense for a read-option play with Mitch Gerhartz. Combined, both provided 314 yards Saturday.

After recording its first shutout of the season, the undefeated UW Oshkosh Titans football team won the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference outright after a 31-0 victory over UW-Stout.

With the championship comes an automatic birth into the NCAA Division III football championship tournament, where the Titans will host 8-2 Lakeland University on Saturday in the first round.

The 9-0 Titans are the only WIAC team to make the postseason tournament this year. This is the third-straight season and fourth overall the Titans managed to make the playoffs and their second WIAC title in three seasons.

Despite ending the season undefeated with a shutout victory, Titans head coach Pat Cerroni said with the tournament comes fresh opponents his players are not used to seeing. Because of that, he said the team needs to focus now more than ever.

“We’re confident, but we’ve got to be smart about it too,” Cerroni said. “We still have to work, we still have to prepare. What’s fun now is we’re going to have a team that is completely focused and we’re going to dissect this team, we’re going to do a great job and play well.”

Senior starting quarterback Brett Kasper, who went 18-24 with 199 yards and two touchdowns against Stout, said ending the regular season with a shutout is a definite confidence booster, especially for the Titans defense, which ranks third in the conference.

“It’s a huge accomplishment for the defense heading into the postseason,” Kasper said. “Even shutting out Stout, with however many years it’s been since shutting them out, it’s a huge accomplishment for the defense, and I think they are going to use that confidence coming into the postseason here.”

Starting senior running back Dylan Hecker continued his season against Stout after missing the past four weeks with an ankle injury. Rushing for 56 yards and a touchdown against Stout, Hecker said it was nice to see a solid victory and that he feels healthy going into the playoffs.

“It was a great team win,” Hecker said. “Offense, defense, special teams and all around we were clicking on all cylinders. We couldn’t ask for much more. I feel great. I’m excited to go into the playoffs.”

Despite the high-scoring shutout against Stout, the game got off to a slow start for the Titans.

UWO did not score its first touchdown until the start of the second quarter, but the team put up 21 points in the quarter to blow the game wide open. The Titans then had one field goal in the third quarter and another touchdown in the fourth to seal the game, 31-0.

Beginning their first drive of the second quarter on their own 48-yard line, Kasper led the Titans 51 yards in seven plays before a one-yard Hecker rush gave the Titans the lead for good at 7-0 with 10:38 to play in the first half.

The following drive resulted in their second score of the game, as Hecker led the Titans 14 yards in 3 plays before Kasper and senior wide receiver Sam Mentkowski connected for a 39-yard touchdown. After junior Turner Geisthardt’s extra point, the Titans were up 14-0 on Stout.

The final score of the first half came just before the half expired. Starting on their own 35-yard line, the Titans began the drive with 47 seconds to play. A pass interference call on the Stout defense trying to cover Mentkowski resulted in a gain of 15 yards to put UWO on the 50-yard line.

Kasper then completed two passes, one for five yards and the other for 29, before a five-yard illegal motion penalty set Oshkosh back to the Stout 21-yard line with eight seconds to play in the half.

With seconds to spare, Kasper found senior wide receiver Jacob Grant for a 21-yard touchdown pass to end the first half ahead of Stout, 21-0.

In the third quarter, Geisthardt made a 43-yard field goal to give UWO a 24-0 lead, which was the only score of the quarter.

At the 9:34 mark in the fourth quarter, UWO sophomore running back Mitch Gerhartz had a 30-yard touchdown rush to seal the victory at 31-0, clinch the unanimous conference title and send the Titans into the playoffs undefeated.

The Titans will host their first game of the playoffs at home against the 8-2 Lakeland University Muskies.

Cerroni said the task to play against an unfamiliar foe presents the team with an unique challenge.

“We like to play new teams because it’s just a lot more fun,” Cerroni said. “When you are playing conference teams they know so much about you, teams are tough and they punch you right in the mouth. They know everything you do, they have all the film. We were breaking down Stout and they had 1,000 plays last week. Now we are only going to get three games on Lakeland so that’s 240 plays. I think we can handle 240.”