On Saturday, November 18, 2017 at 12:00 PM, the No. 3 ranked University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans welcome the Lakeland Muskies in the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. UW-Oshkosh enters the playoffs at 9-0 and winners of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC). The Muskies are 8-2 and winners of seven in a row, claiming the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC).
The Titans have rolled through arguably the toughest schedule in the country, defeating such powerhouse teams as John Carroll, UW-Whitewater, UW-Platteville, and UW-LaCrosse. All of these teams have been ranked at some point this season.
UW-Oshkosh bodes an impressive offense that is averaging 39.7 points per game, while allowing 15.0. The Titans offense is led by Brett Kasper, who continues to impress at the quarterback position. Kasper passed for 2,034 yards this season with 21 touchdowns, throwing only 4 interceptions in 191 attempts while completing 65.4 percent of his passes.
Senior Dylan Hecker sat out the first three games of the season, but he has come back with a vengeance. The senior has rushed for 664 yards on 118 attempts, an impressive 5.6 yards per carry average and has 10 touchdowns while averaging 110.7 yards per game.
The Titans defense has done an amazing job at keeping opposing offenses out of the end zone despite allowing more than 300 yards of offense per game. It would appear that the defense would be a vulnerability as they have recorded just 17 sacks and 4 fumble recoveries, but considering that they may have played the toughest schedule in the country, it is understandable that their statistics may not be eye popping. The Titans do have 17 interceptions, led by Derrick Jennings, Jr., who has four.
The Muskies finished the season 8-2, with their only losses coming against UW-Platteville and Hope College. Their biggest victory this season was an exciting 47-38 win over Aurora that came down to the final seconds before this game was decided.
There are not many who are going to give Lakeland much of a chance in this game, but the truth is that the best player on the field on Saturday will be Muskies quarterback Michael Whitley. The QB is an outstanding talent, who has broken about every record in the NACC. Whitley threw for 2,989 yards this season with 32 touchdowns and had just 5 interceptions in 381 attempts. He makes smart plays and doesn’t give the ball away.
Running back Dezmon Eddie has really come on since Eldrada Meeks went down with an injury about a month ago. He has rushed for nearly 750 yards over the last four games and set a team record for rushing yards in a game two weeks ago when he gained 302 yards against Concordia Chicago. The truth is that Lakeland may have the two most explosive players in the game.
While the Muskies defense has improved over the last month, they will give up yards. They are allowing 27.9 points per game and opponents have rushed for nearly as many yards as they have. The difference has been Whitley and it will be interesting to see how Kasper’s numbers compete at the end of the day.
And the Winner Is…
There is a good reason why the UW-Oshkosh Titans are where they are. This is a team that has stood up to every challenge that they have faced this season, and there is no reason to believe that they will not deliver a big performance at home on Saturday. The big wild card will be how well the Muskies defense performs. If they can limit the Titans to 35 points, they have a real shot at winning this game. A tall order. Take UW-Oshkosh to win in a shootout, 41-31.
By Robert Pannier