NCAA Division-III Playoffs: R. 3, Warhawks v. Titans
NCAA Division-III Football Playoffs
No. 8 Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks (11-1)
No. 5 Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans (12-0)
How They Got Here:
The Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks entered the NCAA Division-III football playoffs as an at-large bid out of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC). They finished second in the conference, with their only loss coming against Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the team they will play Saturday in the third round.
In the opening round of the playoffs the Warhawks dominated No. 17 St. Norbert, 48-0. Six different UWW players scored touchdowns, including Jordan Ratliffe, who rushed 17 times for 159-yards and a score. Ratliffe’s 73-yard touchdown run got the Warhawks rolling, and the defense held the Green Knights to 274-yards of total offense.
Last weekend Wisconsin-Whitewater traveled to No. 4 Wheaton to take on the Thunder in Round 2. The two teams exchanged touchdowns in the first quarter, but UWW put up 24-points in the second frame on their way to a 31-17 victory. Ratliffe had two five-yard touchdown runs in the quarter, and QB Chris Nelson added a 21-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Hudson. Ratliffe had a monster day, rushing for 192-yards and 3 TDs on 38-carries. Nelson also had an outstanding afternoon, completing 16 or 23 passes for 222-yards and a touchdown.
The Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans won the WIAC after holding off the Warhawks 10-7 in Week 6 to take command of the conference lead. The Titans dominated their final four games of the season, scoring at least 31-points in each of those games.
In the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs, UWO downed the College of St. Scholastica, 48-0. Dylan Hecker scored the first two touchdowns of the game and added a third on 14-carries to lead the Titans. The defense recorded seven sacks, intercepted four passes and recovered a fumble in one of the most dominating defensive performances of the season.
In Round 2, Wisconsin-Oshkosh faced off against Ohio Northern University. Much like UWW’s Round 2 contest, these two teams were tied at seven after the first quarter, but then the Titans scored 35 unanswered points on their way to a 42-7 win. Hecker ran for a 100-yards and scored 2 TDs, while quarterback Brett Kasper had a huge day, completing 14 of 22 passes for 211-yards and 4 scores. The defense created two more turnovers and added three sacks in the victory.
Keys to the Game:
For Wisconsin-Whitewater it begins with Ratiliffe. The senior running back has had a huge season, rushing for 1,496-yards and 21-touchdowns so far this year. At 5-10 217, he has the physical skills to carry this team as he has shown the last two seasons. His 38-carries in the contest against Wheaton shows that he can face top opponents and still dominate.
QB Chris Nelson continues to just get better with each passing week. The junior is playing his best football of the season in his first year as the Warhawks starting quarterback, and his ability to read defenses and make smart decisions is a reason why UWW has a good shot at repeating.
The Wisconsin-Whitewater secondary are made of pure ball hawks who make plays and give their offense extra opportunities. This team has a solid but not spectacular pass rush, and they rely on their secondary to make big plays. With 20-interceptions, led by Ryan Winske and Vince Mason who have five each, they can make a team one dimensional. If they are limiting Kasper’s ability to find open receivers, this is going to be a long day for the Titans.
For Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the play of Kasper is critical. The sophomore has delivered in big games this season, and his 12-0 record proves that he can lead with the best of them. With 25-touchdowns and just 4-interceptions it is clear that he makes smart decisions, and in this contest his team is going to need his absolute best. The Warhawks have got to see the sophomore in action earlier this season, so they will not be surprised by what he is capable of doing.
The play of Hecker is going to be critical as well. The sophomore has been able to rest in the first two rounds because his team has jumped out to big leads, keeping his carries to less than 20 in each game. That should make him well-rested, which is what the Titans will need to win this game. Hecker had 92-yards and a touchdown in the first contest and he will need at least 120 for them to win this time.
The kicking game could be a huge key for Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Dom Todarello averaged 28.2 yards per return on kickoffs and 15.8 on punts. Turner Geisthardt had an impressive 39.2 per punt average, and Greg Rand was 9-12 on field goal attempts while hitting 49 of 50 extra-points. In a game that should be low-scoring, field goals and field position are going to be keys. The Titans should benefit in this area.
Outlook: The first contest between these two was an exciting one as the Titans won 10-7. Both teams are rolling and have exceptional talent on both sides of the ball. The big difference in this game is that Wisconsin-Whitewater has a great deal more experience and it is their upperclassmen that are in most of their key positions. Wisconsin-Oshkosh is a great team that can dominate this conference for the next two seasons, they are just not ready to win in this kind of situation – yet. Take the Warhawks in a tight one, 21-17.
By Robert Pannier