October 25, 2012

For Oshkosh, beating UWW just a step

More news about: UW-Oshkosh
UW-Oshkosh defensive back Ryan Stefaniak chased down Whitewater quarterback Ryan Behrendt after a short gain on a day in which Oshkosh put both UWW quarterbacks on the move.
Photo by Daryl Tessmann for d3photography.com

By Andrew Wagner
for D3sports.com

OSHKOSH, Wis. – In the not-so-storied history of football at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, there may not have ever been a victory worthy of as many adjectives as the Titans 28-13 upset of No. 5 UW-Whitewater on Saturday.

There is still much to accomplish if the Titans hope to celebrate their first Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title since 1976 and clinch their first-ever NCAA Division III playoff berth. But history, which hasn’t always been kind to the Titans over the years, could be the single best teaching tool as Oshkosh tries to close out the season and lock down that elusive conference title beginning Saturday at UW-La Crosse.

In some respects, getting past Whitewater was the easy part of the equation. Beating the Warhawks has been a goal for coach Pat Cerroni as he rebuilt the Oshkosh progra from the ground up when he was promoted from defensive coordinator in 2007.

Getting players to choose Oshkosh, which had posted two winning seasons (but finished .500 six times) since its last conference title was no easy sell and required recruits to buy into a different kind of philosophy than Whitewater, the perennial powerhouse and three-time defending national champion.

“We just weren’t very good,” Cerroni said. “We didn’t recruit guys that wanted to be champions, we recruited guys that wanted to build a program and beat champions. Those are the kinds of kids we’ve got here right now. They didn’t come here thinking they were going to win championships; they came here to knock people off.

“It took a long time, five years, but last year we had 19 seniors, this year we’ve got 19, next year we’ll have 21. Getting a group of kids that are older and more mature makes a big difference.”

Titans have been
fair to middlin'

In the years since the WIAC first got an automatic bid to the playoffs, UW-Oshkosh has often been competitive, but not a contender. Year-by-year results:

2012 (7-0, 4-0 WIAC)
2011 (7-3, 5-2 WIAC)
2010 (4-6, 3-4 WIAC)
2009 (4-6, 2-5 WIAC)
2008 (4-5, 2-5 WIAC)
2007 (7-3, 4-3 WIAC)
2006 (5-5, 3-4 WIAC)
2005 (7-3, 4-3 WIAC)
2004 (5-5, 2-5 WIAC)
2003 (4-6, 1-6 WIAC)
2002 (4-6, 2-5 WIAC)
2001 (3-6, 2-5 WIAC)
2000 (3-7, 1-6 WIAC)
1999 (3-7, 2-5 WIAC)

The maturity was evident against Whitewater, especially early in the second half. Down 21-0 at the half, the Warhawks came out on fire in the third quarter, dominating the Titans defensively while kicking the offense into gear and cutting the lead to 21-13.

On the sidelines, there was no sense of panic from the Titans, who hadn’t beaten the Warhawks since 2002 and were winless in Whitewater since 1987. Led by senior quarterback Nate Wara, the Titans kept their cool, rode out the storm and finally got back on track, adding a fourth-quarter score to extend the lead.

That kind of poise – the cool and resilient nature – made it look like the upstart Titans had been there before. And they have … sort of.

Cerroni knew early on in the rebuilding process that, at some point, his team would need to be tested in “big-game” situations. With that in mind, he scheduled perennial powerhouse Mount Union to a home-and-home series for the 2010 and 2011 seasons, much like UW-Whitewater did in 2002 and 2003.

The results were predictable: Mount Union won both games in relatively easy fashion, 45-28 and 41-17, respectively. But the experience gained in those matchups was on display Saturday as Oshkosh held on for its historic victory.

“It was pretty impressive of how that crowd of 11,000 – I say 11,000 because probably 1,000 of the people [of the 12,318] in that stadium were our fans – you look across and they’re going crazy,” Cerroni said. “You know then that the momentum isn’t just lost or shifting, it’s gone at that point. We just stuck with it, made a couple plays, got lucky and it turned out good.

“That’s why we played Mount Union and Whitewater the last two years. Everyone said Oshkosh hasn’t been in a big game. We went to Mount Union a year ago. It was a pretty good atmosphere. We didn’t know how to play in those games but now, we were prepared for that moment.

“How do you prepare for this moment, the next one? This is the uncharted territory.”

Like Whitewater, La Crosse has dominated the series against Oshkosh, holding a 49-9-6 record dating to the first meeting in 1919. The Titans haven’t won in La Crosse since 1967 but finally snapped a 27-game losing streak two years ago in Oshkosh. Last season, they came into the game with a shot at a playoff bid but fell in overtime, 30-24.

That game is still fresh in the Titans’ collective minds, not so much for the end result, but for the lack of focus in that game, which came on the heels of a three-point loss to Whitewater a week before.

Coming up just short against the Warhawks set the tone for a disappointing week of practice and preparation and ultimately, a missed opportunity.

“It was almost like Whitewater beat us twice,” said senior running back Cole Myhra.

The Eagles jumped out to a 24-7 lead midway through the third quarter before the Titans finally got themselves together and rallied to force overtime before losing.

The score was misleading. La Crosse dominated in almost every facet of the game, gaining 479 total yards and 28 first downs compared to just 297 and 13 for the Titans, while holding the ball for nearly 40 minutes and converting 56 percent of their third-down attempts.

“We lost focus,” Wara said. “After we lost to Whitewater, we just were like ‘we lost by three points, we could have done something else.’ Our minds just weren’t into the La Crosse game at all.”

Cerroni doesn’t foresee any mental issues heading into this year’s meeting of the two teams. Barely 24 hours after the Whitewater game, the Titans’ collective focus was already evident.

“Sunday night was totally different,” Cerroni said. “I didn’t see a team that left it all out there. We really fought last year and I give them a lot of credit. I saw the focus on Sunday night. This is how it’s been all year.”

Oshkosh played La Crosse earlier this season, in a nonconference game at Oshkosh. The Titans won, 16-7, behind 320 total yards from Wara, who passed for 238 and ran for another 82. The Oshkosh defense held La Crosse to just 102 total yards, including just 17 on the ground.

Since then, La Crosse has been up-and-down, sandwiching victories against UW-Stevens Point and UW-Stout with losses to UW-Platteville and UW-Eau Claire. In all, the Eagles are 2-2 in the league (3-4 overall), but nobody in the Oshkosh camp is expecting an easy go of things come Saturday.

“La Crosse is a good football team and they’re getting better by the week,” Cerroni says. “There’s no cakewalk in this league.”

Get past La Crosse, and two games remain: at home against UW-Stevens Point and the season finale at UW-Stout.

Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Bridgewater State 34, Fitchburg State 25
Box Score
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Massachusetts Maritime 32, Worcester State 14
Box Score Recap
Final
at Endicott 37, Nichols 0
Box Score
Final
MIT 30, at Maine Maritime 13
Box Score
Final
at Buffalo State 40, Morrisville State 24
Box Score Recap
Final
at Salve Regina 48, Coast Guard 10
Box Score
Final
St. Lawrence 20, at RPI 14
Box Score Recap
Final
at Framingham State 23, Western Connecticut 17
Box Score
Final
at Montclair State 21, Rowan 14
Box Score
Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
Box Score Recap
Final
at Trinity (Conn.) 38, Bates 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Western New England 59, Curry 28
Box Score
Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Colby 9, at Williams 7
Box Score Photos
Final
at Middlebury 40, Bowdoin 3
Box Score
Final
at Amherst 34, Hamilton 0
Box Score
Final
Kean 24, at William Paterson 13
Box Score Recap
Final
at DePauw 66, Hiram 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Franklin and Marshall 45, at Juniata 22
Box Score
Final
at Kenyon 31, Allegheny 7
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
Box Score
Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Lycoming 28, at Misericordia 24
Final
at Plymouth State 30, Mass-Dartmouth 14
Box Score
Final
at Husson 35, Alfred State 0
Box Score
Final
at Springfield 28, WPI 23
Box Score Recap
Final
at Moravian 24, Dickinson 10
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Denison 45, Wooster 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
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Final
at St. Vincent 57, Grove City 32
Box Score Recap
Final
at Susquehanna 55, Gettysburg 40
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at King's 21, Lebanon Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Alfred 20, Ithaca 6
Box Score Recap
Final
at Widener 25, Wilkes 23
Final
at McDaniel 30, Ursinus 27
Box Score Recap
Final
at Muskingum 28, Marietta 10
Box Score Photos
Final
at Minnesota-Morris 28, Iowa Wesleyan 27
Final
at John Carroll 42, Heidelberg 14
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Final
Ohio Northern 16, at Otterbein 10
Box Score Photos
Final
Case Western Reserve 35, at Waynesburg 7
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Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Rose-Hulman 23, at Defiance 15
Box Score
Final
at Centre 49, Chicago 27
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Final
at Mount St. Joseph 38, Manchester 19
Box Score Recap
Final
Hanover 49, at Anderson 25
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Final
at Merchant Marine 55, Rochester 7
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Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score
Final
Concordia-Chicago 42, at Maranatha Baptist 10
Box Score Photos
Final
Washington U. 36, at Birmingham-Southern 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
Box Score
Final
at Northwestern (Minn.) 38, Martin Luther 20
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Final
at Eureka 28, MacMurray 13
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Final
at Westminster (Mo.) 35, Greenville 14
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Final
Dubuque 30, at Luther 17
Box Score Recap
Final
Monmouth 52, at Lake Forest 6
Box Score Photos
Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Augsburg 49, Carleton 17
Box Score Photos
Final
Bethel 44, at St. Olaf 7
Box Score
Final
at Hamline 42, Gustavus Adolphus 40
Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
Box Score Photos
Final
at UW-River Falls 42, Southwestern 22
Box Score
Final
Simpson 17, at Buena Vista 9
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Final
at St. Scholastica 49, Crown 13
Box Score Recap
Final
Cornell 46, at Beloit 41
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Final
at Carthage 27, Augustana 24
Final
Coe 48, at Nebraska Wesleyan 17
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Final
at Wartburg 56, Finlandia 0
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Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
Final
Hendrix 42, at Millsaps 14
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Final
Illinois Wesleyan 45, at North Park 10
Final
at Macalester 34, Grinnell 0
Box Score
Final
at Ripon 33, Knox 19
Final
Illinois College 40, at Lawrence 15
Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
Box Score
Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
at Geneva 35, Thiel 27
Final
UW-Eau Claire 40, at Wisconsin Lutheran 14
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Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
Box Score Recap
Final
UW-Stevens Point 44, at Adrian 19
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Final
UW-La Crosse 41, at Carroll 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Berry 41, Sewanee 3
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Westminster (Pa.) 38, at Bethany 9
Final
Ohio Wesleyan 29, at Oberlin 16
Box Score
Final
at Tufts 17, Wesleyan 14
Box Score Photos
Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Capital 35, Wilmington 21
Box Score
Final
at Southwestern Assemblies 23, Austin 17
Cancelled
Langston at McMurry
Video Live Stats
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at Chapman 19, Trinity (Texas) 17
Box Score
Sep. 24: All times Eastern
Final
at Thomas More 20, Carnegie Mellon 16
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hobart 27, Union 23
Box Score Recap
Final
Christopher Newport 17, at TCNJ 0
Final
at Wittenberg 24, Wabash 14
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 35, at Southern Virginia 0
Box Score
Final
Albright 20, at Delaware Valley 17
Box Score Recap
Final
at Utica 24, Cortland 13
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Stevenson 54, FDU-Florham 15
Box Score Recap
Final
at Franklin 44, Bluffton 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 30, at Muhlenberg 24
Box Score
Final
St. Thomas 33, at St. John's 21
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Whitewater 35, Morningside 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 48, Texas Lutheran 38
Box Score Photos
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 10, Elmhurst 6
Final
UW-Platteville 56, at Lakeland 0
Box Score
Final
UW-Oshkosh 77, at Morthland College (Ill.) 0
Box Score
Final
Central 42, at Loras 34
Box Score Recap
Final
St. John Fisher 42, at Brockport 38
Box Score Recap
Final
Mount Union 49, at Baldwin Wallace 7
Box Score Recap
Final
at North Central (Ill.) 42, Millikin 7
Box Score Recap