UW-Oshkosh will attempt slow down one of the most formidable offenses in the country when the Titans open the NCAA Division III Football Championship at Central College on Saturday (Nov. 23) in Pella, Iowa. The clash between nationally ranked conference co-champions is set for noon at Central College's Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium.
UW-Oshkosh (8-2), ranked 18th in the country by D3football.com, earned an automatic berth into the 32-team NCAA postseason after upsetting then third-ranked UW-Whitewater, 27-20, in Oshkosh during the regular season finale last Saturday (Nov. 16). UW-Oshkosh's 27th consecutive regular season home win secured a share of the program's 11th Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and fifth Division III Championship appearance.
Central College (9-1) won the automatic bid in the American Rivers Conference via its 31-21 victory at Coe College (Iowa) last Saturday. The 24th-ranked Dutch finished in a tie with 22nd-ranked Wartburg College (Iowa) (9-1) atop the ARC standings, but Central College collected a piece of its 31st conference title and 21st berth into the NCAA tournament by virtue of its 57-56 home win over Wartburg College on Nov. 9.
Saturday's winner between UW-Oshkosh and Central College advances to play Nov. 30 against the victor of third-ranked Wheaton College (Ill.) (10-0) and Martin Luther College (Minn.) (9-1).
UW-Oshkosh, the 2016 Division III runner-up, has produced a 12-4 record in four previous trips to the NCAA postseason. The Titans reached the semifinal round in both 2012 and 2017, and the quarterfinals in 2015.
Central College's 21 NCAA Championship appearances are the fourth most in Division III history. The Dutch, back in the tournament for the first time since their first round exit in 2009, won the 1974 national title before recording runners-up efforts in 1984 and 1988. Central College, which has compiled a 21-19 NCAA postseason record, is seeking its first tournament win since reaching the 2007 quarterfinals.
UW-Oshkosh and Central College will be meeting for the fifth time. The Titans have won the last three games in the series, including a 24-20 victory during the most recent matchup in the 2013 season opener in Iowa. The Titans also downed the Dutch in Oshkosh by scores of 47-28 in 2012 and 31-28 in 2011. Central College won the first meeting between the teams, 34-28, in Pella.
UW-Oshkosh heads into Saturday's game averaging 25.5 points and 347.8 yards per game. The Titans, allowing 18.1 points and 287.3 yards per contest, rank eighth in the nation with 3.80 sacks per game. UW-Oshkosh has allowed just 80 total points during the second half the entire season while Central College scored at least 42 points during each of its first eight wins of the year.
Central College's prolific offense averages 42.3 points and 501.2 yards per game. The Dutch, the 16th best scoring team in the country, leads the nation with a .935 red zone efficiency while ranking seventh in yards per game, eighth in first downs (247), 11th in third down conversion rate (.510), and 16th in both completion percentage (.664) and passing efficiency rating (171.71). However, Central College, surrendering 27.9 points and 408.4 yards per game, lists 237th among 245 Division III teams by yielding 280.9 passing yards per contest.
The stout UW-Oshkosh defense includes 20 players with at least 10 tackles, 15 with sacks, 10 with pass breakups, seven with interceptions and four with fumble recoveries.
Nick Noethe paces the Titans with 60 tackles while Connor Zirpel has added 50 stops, Logan Heise 48, Kollyn Beyer 47, Tory Jandrin 45 and Calvin Shilling 41. Beyer ranks fifth in the nation with 1.9 pass breakups per game and 18th with 0.5 interceptions per contest. Heise, Zirpel and Kyle Scharenbroch have each collected two interceptions on the year.
Brandon Kolgen has a team-leading 13 tackles for loss among his 39 tackles for UW-Oshkosh, which has also received a team-high seven sacks from Brady Heimer and six sacks from Trenton LaCombe. Brandon Hughes has chipped in 39 tackles, including six for loss and two sacks, for the Titans.
Titans quarterback Kobe Berghammer has completed 119 of 245 passes for 1,521 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also leads the team with 592 rushing yards and eight scores on the ground.
Peter MacCudden, Chris Hess and Riley Kallas have combined to rush for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry out of the Titan offensive backfield. MacCudden has 477 rushing yards, 139 receiving yards and four total scores on the year.
Mitchell Gerend leads the Titans with 31 receptions for 444 yards and two touchdowns. Kallas has contributed 22 catches for 317 yards and a pair of scores through the air while Justin Kasuboski has chipped in 18 grabs for 223 yards and a touchdown for a UW-Oshkosh receiving corps that has 13 touchdown receptions by nine different players.
UW-Oshkosh kicker and punter Jaydon Haag is one of two players in the division with a 1.000 field goal percentage, connecting on each of his 11 attempts this season. Haag is also 23 of 26 on extra points and averaging 35.3 yards per punt.
The Titans garnered 17 mentions on the All-WIAC Team, including Coach of the Year Pat Cerroni, Haag as Special Teams Player of the Year and Berghammer as Newcomer of the Year. Haag was joined on the All-WIAC First Team by Mike Olsen at center, Alex Wipperfurth at offensive line, Kasuboski at tight end, Heimer at defensive line, Noethe at linebacker and long snapper Mitchell Berghs at special teams player.
The All-WIAC Second Team included UW-Oshkosh's Kolgen and LaCombe at defensive line, and Beyer at defensive back. The Titans were represented on the league's honorable mention team by Hughes at defensive line, Heise and Jandrin at linebacker, and Shilling at defensive back.
Cerroni, the winningest coach in program history, won his 100th career game with a 31-3 victory at UW-Eau Claire on Oct. 19 and boasts a 103-41 record during his 13 seasons at the helm of the Titans.
The vaunted Central College offense is headlined by quarterback Blaine Hawkins, who has gone 210-for-314 passing for 2,837 yards with 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Hawkins is also a threat in the running game, gaining 494 yards on the ground with a team-leading eight scores. He ranks second in the nation in points responsible for (280), sixth in total offensive yards per game (330.3), eighth in touchdown passes and 12th in passing efficiency rating (175.07).
Hawkins' top three targets in the Dutch aerial attack are Erik Knaack with a team-high 58 catches for 971 yards and 11 touchdowns, Hunter Robinson with 53 receptions for 794 yards and a team-best 14 touchdowns, and Tanner Schminke with 40 grabs for 573 yards and five scores. Robinson, who ranks 12th in the country in touchdown catches, also lists 12th nationally by averaging 12.9 yards per punt return.
The Central College rushing attack, averaging 4.5 yards per carry with 18 touchdowns, is led by Jason Hopp's 138 carries for 690 yards and three touchdowns.
Brayden Egli leads the Central College defense with 80 tackles. Connor Lewin follows with 75 stops, and Tate O'Tool and Jordy Borman have 69 and 59, respectively.
The Dutch have collected 15 sacks, 13 interceptions and three fumble recoveries this season. Central College defensive leaders include Blade Durbala's 10.5 tackles for loss, Hunter Maddy's 4.5 sacks and Danny Anderson's three interceptions.
Central College kicker Jon Alberts has connected on 10 of 11 field goals and each of the team's 53 extra points on the year. Anderson and Que Baker-McCaulay have shared punting duties for the Dutch, combining to average 37 yards per punt this season.
Saturday's game between UW-Oshkosh and Central College is among four NCAA opening round contests that will feature a pair of nationally ranked teams, joining 17th-ranked University of Redlands (Calif.) (9-1) at second-ranked University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) (10-0), ninth-ranked Delaware Valley University (Pa.) (9-1) at 21st-ranked Bridgewater College (Va.) (10-0), and 20th-ranked Linfield College (Ore.) (8-1) at 12th-ranked Chapman University (Calif.) (9-0).
The Division III Football Championship continues with the national quarterfinals Dec. 7 and the semifinals Dec. 14 ahead of the Dec. 20 title game that will be contested in Shenandoah, Texas.