|When the line can open up holes like this for Dylan Hecker, the Titans are nearly impossible to beat.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
By Andrew Wagner
For the third straight season, UW-Oshkosh is playing deep into the postseason and while the experience itself is fulfilling, the ancillary benefits a lengthy playoff run provides have laid the foundation for long-term success.
With extra games come extra practice sessions and that's where the Titans have turned themselves from an impressive collection of talent into a legitimate national power.
"I don't think enough can be said about the extra weeks of practice," says head coach Pat Cerroni. "We've done it now for three years. Just like Whitewater did. You're literally getting an extra season over every two years. I think that's the valuable thing about it. Every week coming in here and getting guys reps and all of a sudden, they start believing in the things you're teaching. That's really the gist of if. It's been a great run."
The run continues Saturday against 12-time national champion Mount Union, which visits Oshkosh with a Stagg Bowl berth on the line.
Getting to the semifinal for a second consecutive season isn't surprising to Cerroni, though it certainly wasn't expected. After going 13-2 a year ago and falling 10-7 to Mary Hardin-Baylor in the Stagg Bowl, the Titans returned 41 of 66 letter-winners including nine offensive starters, but brought back just one starter on defense.
"I didn't expect this at all this year," Cerroni admits. "I knew our offense was going to be good but defensively didn't think we'd meet the standards, but we've done a great job. We've gotten stops when we've needed them and our offense is performing at a very high level. It's been very unexpected."
The defensive unit hasn't put up the flashiest of numbers but is 25th in the nation in scoring, holding opponents to 15.3 points per game.
"Last year's (defense) was a completely different group," says senior linebacker Jon Kallas. "So we have had to scheme based on the personnel that we have. Some things we don't do quite as well as last year and some things we do even better. The cool thing about our group this year is that we are so young and new as a whole that every game we get to know each other and ourselves a little more and are still getting even better."
On the offensive side, the Titans have been a juggernaut. They've averaged 41.9 points and 485.8 yards per game, good for 10th and 12th, respectively, in the nation, and are in the top-20 nationally with 245 rushing yards per game.
Senior Dylan Hecker has anchored that attack, rushing for 896 yards and 15 touchdowns, and senior quarterback Brett Kasper was named one of four finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy after completing 169 of 254 passes for 2,728 yards with a 195.2 passer rating.
But neither of those players would be enjoying that level of success if it weren't for a dominant offensive line, which Cerroni points to as the foundation for Oshkosh's success this season.
"They are dominant right now," Cerroni says. "Alex Wipperfurth was recruited here as a defensive lineman and a we switched him a year ago, has blossomed into one heck of a player. We've got Alex Wendorf, the Summers brothers -- Austin and Ty -- Ty Powers. These guys are really good and they're fun to watch. Having an offensive line that is championship caliber is really making this run special."
|Preventing Hecker from getting the ball in space is every UW-Oshkosh opponent's objective.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
The run has included victories in 37 of the Titans' last 41 games, knocking off some of D-III football's blue bloods along the way.
"What I'm most proud of right now is we've beaten a lot of good football teams in the last year," Cerroni says. "St. Thomas. St. John's. North Central. Wartburg. We've beaten the teams that are up there in the standings every year.
"We haven't beaten Mary Hardin-Baylor and we haven't beaten Mount Union ... but that wish is coming true right now."
Indeed the Purple Raiders are next on the list and pose a big challenge for the Titans, who fell in non-conference meetings with Mount Union in 2010 and 2011.
"Mount Union is a good, good football team," Cerroni says. "They're extremely talented. They're very well-coached and they have some incredible talent to boot. They do some really nice things. It's going to be interesting.
"You can get wrapped up on all the fluff but at the end of the day, you better go out and get aligned, block the right people and be sound. The ball has to bounce your way at this level. At this point, you still have to get lucky, too. That's what we're going to do. We're going to line up and play this team Saturday. I've got a lot of respect for Vince [Kehres] and his father and what they've done there."
The task is a big one but regardless of what happens Saturday, the extra work the Titans have put in over the last few weeks will pay dividends when training camp kicks off again next fall.