UW-Oshkosh lives in the now

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Funny and outspoken, Pat Cerroni keeps his UW-Oshkosh Titans loose on the Road to Salem.
UW-Oshkosh athletics photo

By Jason Galleske

Ben Strehlow clearly remembers the last time his UW-Oshkosh Titans lost a football game. It was 30-24 against nemesis UW-La Crosse on on Oct. 29, 2011, one week after taking then-top-ranked and eventual three-time champion UW-Whitewater to the wire. With the loss, the dreams of the school's first postseason went out the window.

"We've gotten the game taken away in overtime and we know how bad it is," Strehlow, a senior offensive lineman said. "We didn't want to that to happen again, going into another overtime game and knowing how much harder you have to fight."

The fifth-ranked Titans have reeled off 15 straight wins since the disheartening loss, including last week's come-from-behind, 31-24 overtime victory over third-ranked Linfield in McMinnville, Ore. Linfield hadn't lost at home since Oct. 25, 2008, a span of 25 games.

"Knowing you can't take any play off is something you can't do," Strehlow said. "Even through these playoffs it's something that we've shown."

And this time, the first trip to the postseason lasts another week. The Titans (13-0) will take their Division III-leading win streak to St. Paul to play fourth-ranked St. Thomas (13-0) Saturday at 1 p.m.

"We're not going to talk about how good St. Thomas is the last five years," Cerroni said. "We're just going to talk about Saturday."

The Tommies have been impressive over that span, going 56-5, including a their second visit to the semifinals.

"They're going to have plays go in their favor," Strehlow said. "We've  just have to focus on the next play and what we can do to win the next game."

The Titans do not seem to be overmatched, regardless of opponent. Even coaches may take out their notebooks and jot down what they are learning on a weekly basis.

"At this point, they're teaching us," Cerroni said. "At halftime [against Linfield], I was thinking, 'Man, that was a great run.' They weren't done. They really believe. You can have fake belief, (but) they're really teaching us as coaches."

Each time in the playoffs, the Titans have have trailed by double-digit margins. Including a 24-9 deficit to Linfield in the final quarter last week. The Titans were also down 14 points to Bethel in the second round and 10 to St. Scholastica in the postseason opener.  In the regular season, the Titans trailed just three times -- all in the first half.

"Most of the year we've been getting ahead of teams," Strehlow said. "We know in playoffs you never panic, you never worry. You always know that you can win in your head. Even with our conference, there's a lot of great teams battling through. You're seeing the speed of teams. You just know that you can [come back]."

The Titans earned the right to battle in overtime last week when senior Nathan Smith  blocked a 39-yard attempt from one of the nation's best kickers, Josh Kay, with no time left in regulation.

 "I think what I've seen is right now, the difference is we have seniors," Cerroni said. "Who blocks a field goal with 17 seconds to go? The defense doesn't get a lot of credit. We know [Linfield] was good, we didn't know what was going to happen."

It doesn't hurt the Titans to have solid skill position players. Quarterback Nate Wara, running back Cole Myhra and wide receiver Caleb Voss were all named to the D3football.com All-Region First-Team. Wara, a senior has compiled 3,784 yards and 38 touchdowns. Through the air, he has 3,045 yards. Myhra, a junior, has 1,674 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground and Voss, a fellow junior, adds 61 catches for 1,234 yards and 13 touchdowns. The work the trio does is contagious, Strehlow said.

"It's great having players make plays for you when sometimes there isn't something there," said Strehlow, who earned D3football.com second team honors.

Strehlow figured after the Titans picked up the pieces against UW-La Crosse and reeled off two wins to finish last year's season at 7-3 that a chance to make this year a special one was on the horizon. Initially though, the thought wasn't to go this deep in the playoffs.

"We were definitely focused on winning the WIAC first," Strehlow said. "Now that the playoffs are going, winning a national championship."

Winning the WIAC wasn't something that was an easy task as Whitewater won it the past seven years, advancing to the Stagg Bowl each time and winning four of them.

The Titans get to continue to enjoy the ride and are now one game from playing in a national championship. Whomever wins Saturday's game will be making an appearance in the Stagg Bowl for the first time in school history.

"Personally, I'd not rather worry about next step and worry about the next day," Cerroni said. "We're not going to think about what we're doing here until it's all over, it's kind of fun. Lets win one more."