The No. 5 ranked University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans welcome the No. 10 ranked John Carroll Blue Streaks on Saturday in the semifinals of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. The Titans were an at-large bid to the NCAA playoffs after losing just one game in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC), and that was to No. 1 ranked UW-Whitewater. UW-Oshkosh then defeated Washington University, St. John’s, and St. Thomas to advance to the semifinals. John Carroll actually lost to UW-Oshkosh to start the season, then won the next nine games, including a 31-28 victory at Mount Union on the last Saturday of the regular season to win the Ohio Athletic Conference. The Blue Streaks then defeated Olivet, Wesley, and UW-Whitewater to reach the Final Four.
The Pathway to the Final Four
The UW-Oshkosh Titans started the season with four straight victories, winning by a combined score of 223-38. They lost at UW-Whitewater on 10/8, 17-14, before rebounding to win their final five games. That included a 22-13 victory over UW-Platteville, who also advanced to the playoffs. The team scored at least 41-points in six of their regular season games.
In the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs, the UW-Oshkosh Titans defeated Washington University, 49-13. This was a 14-7 game before the Titans ran off five straight scores to take the 36-point victory. Brett Kasper threw for 3-TDs in the game and Devon Linzenmeyer ran for two.
In Round 2, UW-Oshkosh defeated the No. 9 ranked St. John’s Johnnies, 31-14. It was scoreless through the first quarter, but Dylan Hecker scored from 2-yards out to give Oshkosh the lead. It was 10-7 heading into the break, but the Titans got three touchdown runs in the second half, a 72-yard scamper by Linzenmeyer and two more by Hecker to seal the win. Hecker rushed for 198-yards and scored three times.
Last Saturday UW-Oshkosh went to St. Paul to take on the No. 3 ranked St. Thomas Tommies. It was 7-7 when the Titans took the lead for good, getting two long touchdown passes from Kasper to Sam Mentkowski, one for 38-yards and the other for 46. St. Thomas battled back to tie the score at 24, and the two teams traded touchdowns to make it 31 each. With 2:30 left in the game, Eli Wettstein hit a 36-yard field goal that wound up being the difference in the game, as the Titans would prevail 34-31.
The big difference in the contest was that the UW-Oshkosh defense recovered three fumbles and intercepted five passes. Three of those were by Johnny Eagan, who also led the team with 10-tackles. Kasper passed for 237-yards and 3-TDs, and Mentkowski made 7-catches for 184-yards and the 3-touchdown receptions.
John Carroll dropped the first game of the season, falling to the Titans 33-14, then won the final nine games. They were rolling over most of their opponents, scoring at least 42-points in five of those games, including a 67-7 victory over Willmington. On the final Saturday, they would go to Mount Union and finally down the team that has stood in their way for the better part of two decades, 31-28, to win the OAC.
John Carroll defeated Olivet, 37-12. The Blue Streaks would jump out to a 13-0 lead before the Comets would score, and would go the half up 25-6. Anthony Moeglin would throw for 2-touchdown passes in the second half, giving him four for the day in the 25-point victory. Moeglin finished with 262-yards passing, and Marshall Howell made 9-receptions for 2-TDs and 118-yards receiving.
The Blue Streaks defeated the No. 22 Wesley Wolverines in Round 2, 20-17. The Wolverines took the lead on an interception return for a touchdown, but Moeglin put his team on top with two TD passes. The Wolverines would retake the lead, 17-14, but the third touchdown pass of the game by the John Carroll QB gave the Blue Streaks the win. Nico James had 6-receptions for 96-yards and 2-touchdowns. The John Carroll defense recorded 9-sacks on the day, including 2.5 by Jimmy Thomas.
Last Saturday, the John Carroll Blue Streaks took on the No. 1 team in the country, UW-Whitewater, and came away with a 31-14 victory. The Blue Streaks took the lead in the first quarter, but the game went to the half tied at seven. In the second half, John Carroll scored 17-unanswered points in the third quarter, getting a 10-yard TD pass from Moeglin and a one-yard run for a touchdown by Sam Kukura. Kukura would add a 10-yard scamper with 2:24 left in the game to seal the victory.
Statistics – (National Ranking in Parenthesis)
UW-Oshkosh PPG: 40.5 (15), Rush YDs/Gm: 274.0 (9), Pass YDs/Gm: 198.8 (161), Total Offense: 472.8 (28)
John Carroll: PPG: 35.2 (50), Rush YDs/Gm: 183.8 (73), Pass YDs/Gm: 213.2 (139), Total Offense: 397.2 (104)
UW-Oshkosh PPG: 13.7 (9), Rush YDs/Gm: 109.2 (40), Pass YDs/Gm: 160.3 (22), Total Offense: 269.5 (14)
John Carroll: PPG: 12.8 (4), Rush YDs/Gm: 74.1 (10), Pass YDs/Gm: 144.2 (12), Total Offense: 218.3 (3)
John Carroll Offense vs UW-Oshkosh Defense
John Carroll has a great rushing attack in Ro Golphin and Sam Kukura, and they are as difficult to try to contain as any combination in the country. Golphin rushed for 1,069 yards and 11-TDs and Kukura had 790-yards and 14- scores. Their success allows Anthony Moeglin to be deadly with the play-action passing. The QB threw for 2,643-yards and 29-TDs, but there is not a Blue Streaks player that had particularly big numbers in the receiving corps. In fact, the offense for John Carroll is more of a short-passing game which could fit in well with the Titans try to do.
UW-Oshkosh has a very experienced group on defense, especially in the linebacker and secondary groups. Johnny Eagan showed last weekend that he can be a game changer, and he heads a group that should have some success against John Carroll. UW-Oshkosh does not get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, they just play sound defense, and that will be a big factor in this game. Moeglin has thrown 14-interceptions this season, and the Titans showed last week against St. Thomas that they are the kind of team that takes advantage of mistakes.
UW-Oshkosh Offense vs. John Carroll Defense
UW-Oshkosh is also a team that feeds off their running game. Dylan Hecker and Devon Linzenmeyer are a dynamic duo, with Hecker rushing for 1,039-yards and 16-TDs and Linzenmeyer adding 806 and 10. The coaching staff will ride the one who is hot, but there is no doubt that both will see carries. Brett Kasper may not have a lot flashy numbers, but he is smart and doesn’t cost his team games. He completed 60.2 percent of his passes for 2,323-yards and 19-touchdowns while only throwing 6-picks. There is a lot more speed in the receiving corps for UW-Oshkosk, so they will spread the field.
The running game for UW-Oshkosh is going to have to be good, because the John Carroll Blue Streaks get after the quarterback. Ray Brown has 12-sacks so far this season and Jimmy Thomas has 8. Add Mason McKenrick’s 6 and it is easy to see that this is a group that wreaks havoc. That pressure causes mistakes and Michael Hollins and Reese Armstrong are ready to make offenses pay, combining for 10-interceptions and 28 pass defenses.
Matt Danko struggled on kicks for the Blue Streaks. He hit just 3 of 11 field goals and made 54 of his 59 extra point attempts. Matt Danko averaged 37.2 yards per punt.
The Titans have a very good kicking game. Turner Geisthardt averaged 40 yards per punt, and Eli Wettstein made 15 of 20 attempts on field goals, including a 50-yarder. Dom Todarello is a great returner, averaging 15.2 yards per punt return and added a TD.
This is what playoff football is all about, and matches two teams that are both outstanding. When it comes down to it, it is a real matchup of the John Carroll defense against the UW-Oshkosh offense. Who will make more plays will determine this game. However, it will start in the special teams. This may become a game of field position and field goals, and that heavily favors the Titans. Take UW-Oshkosh in a close one, 24-20.
By Robert Pannier