Published: Friday, November 30, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 30, 2012 02:11
After falling behind early for the second straight week, the Titans scored 37 unanswered points to beat the Royals of Bethel University 37-14 and advance in the D-III playoffs.
Another chapter was written in the UW Oshkosh football team’s storybook season on Saturday as the Titans advanced to the third round of the NCAA Division III playoffs, defeating the Bethel University Royals 37-14 on J.J. Keller Feld at Titan Stadium.
For the second time in two weeks, the Titans found themselves in an unfamiliar position. The Royals put up the first points of the game on a 55-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Erik Peterson to wide receiver Mitch Hallstrom and led early, 7-0.
Oshkosh punted on the following drive but got the ball back when senior defensive back Tim Filter intercepted a pass for the eighth time this season.
Nate Wara led the offense down the field on the following drive only to throw his third pick of the season.
Bethel opened up the second quarter on its own 20-yard line and drove down the field to the Oshkosh two. On fourth and one, the Royals found the end zone yet again when Hallstrom grabbed his second receiving touchdown of the game and gave Bethel a 14-0 advantage.
The Titan offense looked flat as they gave the ball right back to Bethel on Wara’s second pick of the day and the second for Royal defensive back Dave Morgan.
Bethel continued to drive down the field looking to put Oshkosh away. On the drive, the Royals converted on their second fourth down, this time a fake punt caught the Titans off guard.
In the closing minutes of the first half, junior linebacker Ryan Stefaniak dropped back off the line of scrimmage, intercepted a Peterson pass and returned it to the Bethel 26-yard line.
As it turns out, the play may never have happened had Stefaniak gotten the correct play call.
“Coach Cerroni called a blitz on that play,” Stefaniak said. “I missed the call. Luckily I got the interception or else he probably would have been mad at me.”
The play brought new life to the Oshkosh offense. Capitalizing on the momentum swing, junior running back Cole Myhra ran it 25 yards to the one-yard line. One play later he was rewarded by getting the one-yard rushing touchdown.
Oshkosh went into halftime trailing 14-7, only the second time heading to the locker room down all season long.
In third quarters this season, Bethel outscored opponents 115-10 and the Titans were faced with the daunting task of changing that.
Senior linebacker Taylor Goodman finished the game with 10 tackles and said he thought the game plan in the second half worked very well for the defense.
“We knew Bethel couldn’t run the ball on us so we didn’t blitz as much in the second half,” Goodman said. “We dropped seven or eight guys back into pass coverage and it worked out well for us.”
The Titans began the third quarter with the ball and started right where they left off at the end the first half.
A 10-play drive ended with Myhra running it in for his second rushing touchdown of the game and evened the score at 14-14.
On the following Bethel drive, senior defensive back Zach Wettengel intercepted a pass and Oshkosh took over looking to gain its first lead of the game.
The familiar connection of Wara to junior wide receiver Caleb Voss, which had been absent in the first half, returned with a fury in the third. Wara completed touchdown passes of 36 and 27 yards to Voss on consecutive drives to put the Titans up 28-14 and capped a 21-point third quarter.
Wara showed why he’s a Gagliardi trophy finalist to start the fourth quarter. On third and six, Wara sent a shovel pass to Myhra who accelerated 16 yards past the goal line for his third touchdown of the game.
Myhra finished the game with 177 yards rushing and 41 yards receiving. This was Myhra’s fifth straight game rushing for more than 100 yards.
The defensive scheme for Oshkosh worked wonders as they held the Royals to zero points and eight punts throughout the rest of the game.
Bethel was held to 28 yards on the ground for the entire contest.
Head coach Pat Cerroni said he thought the Titans’ fast-paced play tired out the Bethel defense.
“I think the turning point was just that we wore them down,” Cerroni said. “That’s a great feeling and it’s a huge compliment to these guys and how hard they work.”
Stefaniak snuffed out a double option in Bethel’s own end zone and caught the running back for a safety.
The home crowd and Titan sideline erupted as it was obvious they would be moving on. Stefaniak finished the game with a team high 13 tackles and one interception.
“Our motto is: bring a hat to the party,” Stefaniak said. “It basically means to swarm and tackle and just lay people out. We take pride in doing that every Saturday.”
Wara threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns along with two interceptions and 35 yards rushing.
Oshkosh will travel 2,049 miles to the west coast to take on No. 1 seed Linfield College (Ore.) in the quarterfinal game of the playoffs on Saturday.
Goodman said he believes that this team can succeed as the underdog on Saturday if they keep playing their style of football.
“We need to continue to play like we have all season,” Goodman said. “Trust each other and know we’re going to be where we need to be every play. We also must align perfectly and play like we know how to play and that’s fast and physical.”