The UW-Oshkosh defense forced incomplete passes on the last four plays to clinch a 23-16 football victory over UW-Eau Claire on Saturday (Oct. 8) in Eau Claire.
After the Blugolds (3-2/1-1 WIAC) earned a first down at the Titan five-yard line, Austin Neu had his attempts at the end zone fall harmlessly to the ground. On fourth down with two seconds left, Neu's throw to Mike O'Connell came up short and capped UW-Oshkosh's (4-1/2-0 WIAC) second-half comeback.
The Titans' defense scored two points in the second half while allowing none. Despite averaging 240 passing yards per game, UW-Oshkosh totaled just 68 for the game. The rushing attack made up for it with 241 yards, including 89 on 18 carries by Cole Myhra (So. • Menomonee Falls). The Titans also kept numerous drives alive by converting 4-of-6 fourth-down chances.
UW-Eau Claire amassed a quick 13-0 lead in the opening quarter. On the game's first possession, Neu connected with David Goodman for gains of 35 and 12 yards. Joel Sweeney then ran in from two yards out to take a 6-0 advantage.
On their first defensive snap, the Blugolds' Kalan Stittleburg intercepted a pass and returned it to the 31-yard line. UW-Eau Claire needed just eight plays from there, as Sweeney rushed the last three times and scored a one-yard touchdown to make it 13-0.
The Titans put together a 13-play drive to cut into their deficit. Nate Wara (Jr. • Oshkosh) had runs of seven, five and three yards, with the final one converting a fourth down. UW-Oshkosh had a 4th-and-14 on the edge of field goal range, so Wara fired to Wesley Price (Sr. • San Mateo, Calif.) for a 27-yard pickup. Justin Budiac (Sr. • Mukwonago) then registered a two-yard scoring run with 13:56 left in the second quarter.
A 14-play drive by the Blugolds ended with a 31-yard Josh Albrecht field goal, upping the lead to 16-7. Alex Plaster hauled in a 33-yard pass to start another threat later in the quarter. However, Sweeney fumbled at the one-yard line during the closing seconds to waste a prime scoring opportunity.
Neither offense tallied during the third quarter, but Kyle Calhoun (Sr. • Waukesha) downed a punt at the Blugolds' one-yard line. On the next play, Sweeney got trapped in the end zone for a safety that cut the margin to 16-9.
UW-Oshkosh's game-tying drive consumed 5:03 and spanned the third and fourth periods. All 13 plays on the drive were runs, including gains of 17, 12 and nine yards by Wara. The 17-yard scamper on 4th-and-4 moved the Titans within yards of pay dirt. Wara then faked a handoff and plunged in for a one-yard score with 13:01 remaining.
The Titan defense came up clutch again with a three-and-out. The offense then ran on its next nine plays, utilizing a 29-yard burst from Budiac. On 4th-and-1 from the two-yard line, Budiac plowed his way in to give UW-Oshkosh its first and only lead of the day. The Titans held on for the final 7:42 by forcing a punt and running 4:40 off the clock, before stopping the Blugolds as time expired.
In a battle of two potent offenses, each squad achieved 18 first downs. UW-Eau Claire outgained its homecoming visitors, 329-309, with Neu passing for 212 yards. Goodman led the way with six catches for 83 yards, while Sweeney marked 79 rushing yards. Sean Graham topped the Blugold defense with 13 tackles, as Jimmy Hall booked 10 stops and two sacks.
Wara tried just 12 passes, but he contributed 65 rushing yards. Budiac tacked on 64 yards (11 carries) while scoring his fourth touchdown in two weeks. Four Titans caught a pass, with Charlie Weissman (Sr. • Colgate) totaling two grabs for 20 yards. Ryan Stefaniak (So. • Muskego) starred in leading UW-Oshkosh's defense with nine tackles and two sacks. The Titans also received six solo tackles from Nick Jolin (Jr. • Three Lakes) and five solo tackles and one assisted tackle from Taylor Goodman (Jr. • South Wayne).
The Titans, who are 4-1 for the first time since 2007, opened WIAC play 2-0 for the second straight year. Jeremy Roach (Sr. • Deerfield) also recorded a milestone by upping his career kick return yardage to 2,027. That figure is a new school record and the second-highest total in league history.
UW-Oshkosh has its fourth road game in five contests when it faces UW-Platteville on Saturday (Oct. 15).