On Wisconsin: #2 Mount Union Plays #3 UW-Oshkosh in NCAA Semifinals; Winner to Stagg Bowl

Photo by Michael Yakim
Photo by Michael Yakim

#2 Mount Union Purple Raiders vs #3 UW-Oshkosh Titans

The Matchup: No. 2 ranked University of Mount Union plays No. 3 ranked University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the national semifinals of the 2017 NCAA Division III Football Playoffs Saturday, Dec. 9 at 1 pm (eastern) at J.J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The Purple Raiders are 13-0 overall, and won its 28th Ohio Athletic Conference title to claim one of 25 automatic bids to the tournament. Mount Union shutout Washington & Lee 21-0 in the first round, defeated No. 16 Case Western Reserve 45-16 in the second round and beat No. 17 Frostburg State (Md.) 70-37 in the quarterfinals. Mount Union has an 97-16 record in NCAA Playoff games and the Raiders have advanced to the Stagg Bowl 19 times since 1993 with a record 12 National Championships. Mount Union is in the tournament for a record 29th time and for the 26th straight year.

UW-Oshkosh is 13-0 and won the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title to get in the tournament. The Titans beat Lakeland (Wis.) 63-0 in the first round, No. 14 North Central (Ill.) 42-21 in the second round and No. 15 Wartburg (Iowa) 41-27 in the semifinals.The Titans are in the tournament for the fourth time and third year in a row and has a 12-3 record in NCAA Playoff games. A year ago, UW-Oshkosh advanced to the national championship game and lost 10-7 to Mary Hardin-Baylor.

The Series: It is the third ever and first post-season meeting between the teams. The two teams opened the 2010 and 2011 seasons against each other and the Raiders won both those games -- 45-28 in Oshkosh in 2010 and 41-17 in Alliance in 2011.

Bracketology: For the 13th year, the NCAA Division III Football Championship consists of a 32-team field. In Mount Union's first playoff appearance in 1985, the field was 16 teams. In this year's field automatic bids were given to 25 conference champions, two spots for teams that are an independent or in conferences not granted automatic bids while the final five spots are national at-large bids. Each team is allowed to only dress a total of 58 players for a playoff game.

Scouting the Titans: UW-Oshkosh has a high powered offense that averages 485.8 yards per game and a stout defense allowing 318.5 yards per game. Five of their wins have come by two scores or less including a 23-17 season opening win at John Carroll.

Senior quarterback Brett Kasper is the nation's second rated quarterback (195.2 rating) as he has completed 66.5-percent of his passes for 2,728 yards with 32 TDs to just four interceptions. Sam Mentkowski has been the top target with 60 catches for 1,287 yards and 12 TDs as 11 different Titans have caught a TD pass. Dylan Hecker has been the work horse in the backfield with 896 yards and 15 TDs on the ground. All of this in front of an offensive line that has allowed just 12 sacks on the season.

On defense, linebackers Jon Kallas and Scott Skornicka are the tacklers. Skornicka has 15.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. The unit has 20 interceptions led by five from Derrick Jennings.

The Titans are third in the nation in kickoff returns averaging 26 yards a return. Dom Todarello had a 98-yard kickoff return for a scorer earlier this year. 

Rated QBs: The top two rated quarterbacks in NCAA Division III meet in this matchup.as Mount Union sophomore quarterback D'Angelo Fulford (Miramar, Fla.) has a 241.7 passer rated and Oshkosh's Brett Kasper has a 195.2 rating. Fulford, the OAC Offensive Back of the Year, also leads all levels of college football with 48 passing touchdowns -- the 5th most in a single season at Mount Union.

Top of the Hill: Sophomore Justin Hill (Circleville) had a career-day last week against Frostburg St. with 196 yards receiving on six catches with three touchdowns. The OAC Receiver of the YEar now has 19 TDs on the season which is second-best in the nation.

Line Items: Mount Union's offensive line has only allowed two sacks total over the three playoff games this season. Senior Cole Parrish (Creedmoor, N.C. / South Granvile)  ledas the group as moved from guard to center this season replacing a two-time Rimington Trophy winner and was named OAC Offensive Lineman of the Year. The rest of the line includes two other seniors in right tackle Matt Fitchet (Conneaut / Edgewood)  and left guard Mike Irizarry (Pembroke Pines, Fla. / University School) along with sophomores at left tackle Sean Sherman (Springboro / Middletown Fenwick) and right guard Brandon Klaus (Brighton, Mich.).

Air and Ground: Mount Union has a school single-season record seven interception returns for touchdowns but last week against Frostburg St. it was getting footballs off the ground as the Raiders forced five fumbles and recovered four of them. Mount Union now has a plus-15 turnover margin on the season.

On the Run: Jawanza Evans-Morris (Coral Springs, Fla. / Taravella) went over 1,000 yards for the season last week as he now has 1,010 yards on 135 carries. His 7.5 yards per carry on the season is seventh in NCAA Division III.

Dear Season: Senior linebacker Charlie Dear (Massillon / Jackson) leads the Raiders in tackles on the season with 85.  He also has 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Academic All-District: Seniors in offensive lineman Matt Fitchet and wide receiver Jared Ruth along with junior linebacker Danny Robinson and sophomore offensive lineman Frazier Daniel were all named Academic All-District by the College Sports Information Directors of America and each advance to the Academic All-America ballot.

Team Captains: Mount Union has five senior team captains in 2017 --  linebacker Charlie Dear, wide receiver Braeden Friss, safety Brian Groves, offensive lineman Cole Parrish and defensive lineman Michael Vidal.

Headed to the Hall: Former head coach and current athletic director Larry Kehres was be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility this past Tuesday in New York. Kehres posted a record of 332-24-3 with 23 OAC titles and 11 national titles coaching the Raiders from 1986-2012. His .929 winning percentage is the best among coaches at all levels of college football.

68 and Counting: Vince Kehres is 68-4 since taking over as head coach at Mount Union in 2013. No college football coach has won more games since 2013 than the 68 by Kehres. Vince has been part of 11 of Mount Union's 12 national titles as either a player, assistant coach or head coach.

On the Air: All Mount Union football games are on the radio on WDPN 1310 AM and WRMU 91.1 FM and simulcast online along with a LIVE STATS game tracker. You can also hear the WRMU 91.1 FM feed on any phone by calling (563) 999-3112.

Up Next: The winner of this game advances to the national championship game -- the Stagg Bowl -- against the winner of a matchup between No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor and No. 11 Brockport State (N.Y.) Friday, Dec. 15 at Salem Stadium in Salem, Virginia.