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Titans Kickoff NCAA Postseason With Shutout Victory

Mitch Ganassin scored the last of UW-Oshkosh's nine touchdowns against the Muskies with a 73-yard interception return.
Mitch Ganassin scored the last of UW-Oshkosh's nine touchdowns against the Muskies with a 73-yard interception return.

Nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh scored touchdowns on its first five possessions and cruised to a 63-0 win over Lakeland University during the first round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday (Nov. 18) at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.

Brett Kasper threw for three touchdowns in one half of action as UW-Oshkosh amassed four total scores through the air while four Titans scored touchdowns on the ground and another recorded an interception return for a score.

UW-Oshkosh (10-0), ranked third in the country by, owned a 42-0 lead at halftime and concluded the contest with a 490-305 advantage in scrimmage yards, including a 332-89 edge in the first half. The Titans matched their season high by creating four turnovers.

The Titans advance to play next Saturday (Nov. 25) in the second round of the NCAA postseason against ninth-ranked North Central College (Ill.). The Cardinals (10-1) won their opening-round home game, 17-7, over sixth-ranked Saint John's University (Minn.) (9-2) on Saturday.

UW-Oshkosh improved its NCAA postseason record to 10-3. The Titans, who rank third all-time with a .769 winning percentage in the Division III tournament, reached the national championship game last season after advancing to the semifinal round in 2012 and to the quarterfinal round in 2015.

Lakeland University (8-3) went into its third straight and fifth overall NCAA appearance leading the nation with 289 first downs while ranking second nationally with 577.7 yards per game, fifth with 46.5 points per contest and sixth with 331.4 passing yards per game.

UW-Oshkosh held the high-scoring Muskies to just five first downs and 2.7 yards per play during the first half en route to its second straight shutout. The Titans defeated UW-Stout, 31-0, in the regular season finale on Nov. 11.

Kasper completed 11 of 15 passes for 167 yards with three scores. UW-Oshkosh backup quarterback Jayden Essman went 3-for-5 passing for 46 yards with a touchdown during the second half.

Seven Titans combined to rush for 288 yards on 39 carries for a 7.1 average.

Chad Walton paced the Titans with a career-high 108 yards on nine rushes. Walton ran for his fourth touchdown of the year while Mitch Gerhartz, Dylan Hecker and JP Peerenboom each added rushing scores for UW-Oshkosh. Hecker extended his program records to 56 career rushing touchdowns and 342 points.

UW-Oshkosh's Sam Mentkowski and Dom Todarello both had a team-leading four receptions for 66 and 43 yards, respectively. Mentkowski, who became the school's career leader with 2,714 receiving yards, caught his ninth touchdown pass of the season while Todarello had a pair of touchdown catches against the Muskies.

Mitchell Gerend chipped in two receptions for 39 yards and his second touchdown grab of the year for the Titans.

Chris Bednarski spearheaded the UW-Oshkosh defense with a career-best eight tackles.

A total of 28 Titans collected tackles, including AJ Plewa, who made six stops, while Nick Boyd, Remington ChitwoodTyler Jensen, Jon Kallas and Trenton LaCombe each added five.

Plewa, Derrick Jennings Jr. and Mitch Ganassin registered interceptions, and Logan Heise recorded a fumble recovery for UW-Oshkosh. Ganassin returned his interception 73 yards for a score late in the fourth quarter.

UW-Oshkosh took the opening kickoff and marched 65 yards in six plays, culminating in a 20-yard touchdown run by Hecker, who rushed three times for 37 yards on the game's opening possession.

On the Muskies' first drive, Plewa intercepted a pass by Lakeland University quarterback Michael Whitley at the UW-Oshkosh 46-yard line. The Titans capitalized on the turnover by driving 54 yards in 10 plays as Kasper hit Todarello with a 5-yard shovel pass for a score.

Whitley engineered a drive that spanned 13 plays and lasted more than six minutes, but his pass on fourth-and-5 from the Titan 35-yard line was broken up by Jennings Jr. to preserve UW-Oshkosh's 14-0 lead. Whitley had completed all six of his passes for 22 yards until Jennings Jr. thwarted the drive.

UW-Oshkosh gained all 65 of its yards on the ground during the ensuing seven-play possession as Walton accounted for 41 yards on three carries and Todarello 10 yards on one rush before Gerhartz busted through the line for a 14-yard score.

The Muskies mustered seven yards in three plays over a span of 52 seconds on their third possession.

The Titans took over at their own 46-yard line following a 31-yard Lakeland University punt, and UW-Oshkosh reached the end zone five plays later on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Kasper to Mentkowski.

Jennings Jr. intercepted a Whitley pass on the Muskies' second play of the next possession. Starting at the Lakeland University 38-yard line, UW-Oshkosh reached the 2 on a 33-yard pass from Kasper to Andy Jones. Peerenboom finished the drive with a run on the next play as the Titans increased their lead to 35-0 with 4:52 left in the second quarter.

The teams exchanged punts on the following three possessions. The Muskies' third punt of the first half traveled 27 yards to the Lakeland University 38-yard line, and UW-Oshkosh reached the end zone three plays later, on a 25-yard pass from Kasper to Todarello with 47 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

UW-Oshkosh tacked on three more touchdowns during the second half, including a 28-yard run to the end zone by Walton that gave the Titans a 49-0 advantage with 1:57 left in the third quarter.

The Titans concluded the scoring on Essman's 13-yard touchdown pass to Gerend midway through the fourth quarter and Ganassin's 73-yard interception return. Turner Geisthardt converted each of his nine extra points for the Titans.

Lakeland University's first five drives of the second half resulted in three turnovers on downs, one fumble and one interception.

The Muskies' initial second-half drive ended as Jennings Jr. tackled Lakeland University receiver Eldrada Meeks for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-7. Heise then recovered a fumble by Muskies running back Dezmon Eddie on the second Lakeland University possession of the third period.

UW-Oshkosh's Thayne Marlow stopped Meeks a yard shy on a fourth-down carry near midfield to thwart the Muskies' third second-half possession. The Titans later forced an incomplete pass by Whitley on fourth down following a 13-play Muskie drive early in the fourth quarter, and Ganassin preserved the shutout with his interception return on Lakeland University's 17th play of its penultimate possession.

Whitley concluded the contest 28-for-49 passing for 145 yards with three interceptions. Whitley, the two-time reigning Offensive Player of the Year in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference, went into the game ranked fourth in the country with 332.1 passing yards per game and ninth with 32 touchdown passes.

Meeks led the Muskies with 20 carries for 87 yards while Allante Gardner had a game-high nine receptions for 43 yards.

Mason Ross paced Lakeland University with eight tackles, including six solo.

UW-Oshkosh has won its four NCAA Division III First Round games – all at home – by a combined 215-23 score, including a 49-13 victory over Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.) last season.

Lakeland College and UW-Oshkosh Postgame Press Conferences

2017 NCAA Division III Football Championship Interactive Bracket