University of Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 25-point, third-quarter deficit and pulled out a 43-40 win over UW-Oshkosh during the semifinal round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday (Dec. 9) at J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.
UW-Oshkosh (12-1) extended its lead to 35-10 on a 43-yard touchdown run by Mitch Gerhartz with 6:34 left in the third quarter.
University of Mount Union (14-0) answered with touchdowns on five consecutive possessions, reclaiming the lead on a 1-yard scoring run by Jawanza Evans-Morris that provided the final score with 5:41 remaining in the game.
UW-Oshkosh reached the Purple Raiders' 28-yard line on the final drive of the game, but Titan Turner Geisthardt was short on a potential game-tying 46-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
University of Mount Union, which owns a division-leading 12 national titles, advances to its 20th Division III championship game. The Purple Raiders, ranked third in the country by D3football.com, will face defending national champion and top-ranked University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) (14-0) in the 45th Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on Friday (Dec. 15) in Salem, Va.
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor defeated UW-Oshkosh, 10-7, in last year's national championship game.
UW-Oshkosh, which entered the semifinal round ranked third in the nation, had its 15-game home winning streak snapped. University of Mount Union has now won 120 of its last 121 road games.
The teams combined for 1012 yards of offense on Saturday, including 542 by the Purple Raiders.
University of Mount Union concluded the game with advantages in passing yards (330-297), rushing yards (212-173), first downs (32-18), turnovers (3-1), offensive plays (90-59) and time of possession (36:24 to 23:36). The Purple Raiders converted 11 of 17 third-down opportunities while UW-Oshkosh went 6-for-14 on third downs.
University of Mount Union went into the contest leading the country with 54.1 points per game while UW-Oshkosh listed 10th by averaging 41.9.
Purple Raiders quarterback D'Angelo Fulford completed 28 of 42 passes for 330 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also added 10 rushes for 46 yards and one score. Fulford went into the game with a nation-leading 48 touchdown passes and a 241.7 passing efficiency rating.
University of Mount Union recorded five touchdown runs, including two apiece from Evans-Morris and Josh Petruccelli. Evans-Morris led all players with 27 carries for 132 yards while Petruccelli chipped in 11 totes for 34 yards as University of Mount Union averaged 4.4 yards per rush.
Jared Ruth had a game-high 11 catches for 130 yards for the Purple Raiders, who also received six grabs for 102 yards from Justin Hill and five receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown from Luke Herrington.
The Purple Raiders' Danny Robinson made a game-best 12 tackles.
Elijah Berry and Ethan McComb both notched sacks for University of Mount Union while Louis Berry and Kollyn Crenshaw snared interceptions, and Trey Williams recovered a fumble.
UW-Oshkosh quarterback Brett Kasper went 17-for-31 passing for 297 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He extended his school record to 34 touchdown passes on the year. Kasper concludes his career with a program-record 9,786 passing yards and 89 touchdown passes.
Dylan Hecker led UW-Oshkosh with 15 carries for 92 yards and one touchdown. He ends his career with school-record totals of 61 rushing touchdowns and 378 points.
UW-Oshkosh's Sam Mentkowski had seven receptions for a game-high 190 yards and one touchdown, including five catches for 178 yards and a score during the first half. Mentkowski capped the season with a school-record 1,477 receiving yards. He also finished his career as the program's all-time leader with 180 receptions, 3,141 receiving yards and 27 touchdown catches.
Mitch Gerhartz contributed 73 rushing yards and a touchdown on just three carries for the Titans while Dom Todarello had four catches for 65 yards and one score. University of Mount Union had allowed just one rushing touchdown on the year before Saturday.
Jamier Szymanski led UW-Oshkosh with a career-high 11 tackles, including six solo.
Jon Kallas recorded nine tackles and one forced fumble for the Titans while Chris Bednarski, Scott Skornicka and Cole Yoder each had eight tackles. Yoder returned an interception – his fourth of the season – for a 42-yard touchdown early in the third quarter.
UW-Oshkosh marched the game's opening possession 49 yards in eight plays before Geisthardt pushed a 34-yard field goal attempt to the right.
After the teams exchanged punts on the next two possessions, Petruccelli capped a 10-play, 73-yard University of Mount Union drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Petruccelli logged seven carries for 46 during the scoring drive that provided the Purple Raiders a 7-0 advantage with 2:08 left in the first quarter.
UW-Oshkosh was pinned at its own 2-yard line following a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return. However, on the Titans' next play from scrimmage, Kasper heaved a pass to Mentkowski for a 72-yard connection. Kasper hit Mentkowski for a 7-yard gain on a third-and-4 play, and Hecker reached the end zone on the next play with a 13-yard run that tied the score at 7 with 14:57 left in the first half.
University of Mount Union drove to the UW-Oshkosh 14-yard line on the following possession, but Skornicka thwarted the drive by stopping Fulford for no gain on fourth-and-3.
Kasper hit Mentkowski with an 86-yard touchdown pass on the next play, giving the Titans their first lead at 14-7 with 9:31 to play in the second quarter.
The Purple Raiders' next possession consumed 6:47 off the clock and spanned 76 yards in 18 plays, culminating on Alex Louthan's 23-yard field goal that trimmed the University of Mount Union deficit to 14-10 with 2:44 remaining in the second period.
Todarello returned the ensuing kickoff 68 yards to the Purple Raiders' 17-yard line. A pair of penalties moved the ball back to the 27-yard line, but Kasper dropped in a 17-yard touchdown pass to Todarello in the back of the end zone on third-and-10 to increase the Titans' advantage to 21-10 with 54 seconds left in the first half.
Yoder intercepted a Fulford pass on the second offensive play of the second half and raced 42 yards for his second career touchdown as UW-Oshkosh extended its lead to 28-10 at the 14:07 mark of the third quarter.
UW-Oshkosh then upped its lead to 35-10 on a 43-yard touchdown run by Gerhartz with 9:46 left in the third period. Gerhartz's first carry of the game concluded a six-play, 82-yard drive that included carries of 30 and 12 yards by Hecker.
University of Mount Union began its comeback with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Fulford to Herrington, trimming the deficit to 35-17 at the 6:34 mark of the third quarter. Fulford completed 6 of 7 passes for 67 yards on the scoring drive that gained 66 yards in eight plays.
The Purple Raiders then forced UW-Oshkosh to punt after three plays and reached the end zone six plays later as Fulford ran for a 13-yard score, cutting the UW-Oshkosh lead to 35-24 with 2:54 left in the third quarter. Fulford went 3-for-4 passing for 35 yards before his scramble finished off a six-play, 56-yard drive.
University of Mount Union's Williams recovered a fumble by Kasper at the Titan 13-yard line and, following a pass for no gain and a pass interference penalty on UW-Oshkosh, Evans-Morris barreled into the end zone from 2 yards out to pull the Purple Raiders within 35-30 with 1:43 remaining in the third period. University of Mount Union's two-point conversion try failed as a pass by Fulford fell incomplete.
After Todarello returned the resulting kickoff 40 yards to the UW-Oshkosh 45-yard line, Geisthardt drilled a 36-yard field goal nine plays later to increase the UW-Oshkosh advantage to 38-30 with 13:51 to play in the fourth quarter. The field goal was set up by a 23-yard run by Gerhartz to the Purple Raiders' 19-yard line.
Petruccelli pulled University of Mount Union within 38-36 with a 1-yard touchdown run with 9:36 remaining. Petruccelli accounted for 36 yards on five carries and one catch during the 10-play, 69-yard drive, which also featured a 28-yard pass from Fulford to Hill.
The Purple Raider once again attempted a two-point conversion, but Fulford fumbled on the attempt to tie the game. UW-Oshkosh's Derrick Jennings Jr. scooped up the loose ball and raced more than 90 yards to the end zone, extending the Titan advantage to 40-36.
Berry intercepted a Kasper pass and returned the ball to the Titan 40-yard line on UW-Oshkosh's following possession. Fulford hit Ruth with a 28-yard pass on the first play of the following series. Evans-Morris then carried the ball three times for the final 12 yards of the drive, including a 1-yard run to the end zone on first-and-goal. Louthan's fourth extra point of the contest provided the final score at the 5:41 mark.
Crenshaw intercepted Kasper near midfield on the Titans' second play of their penultimate drive. University of Mount Union took 2:29 off the clock – and the Titans used their final timeouts – during its final possession before Adam Snyder's punt pinned UW-Oshkosh at its own 15-yard line with 2:24 to play.
University of Mount Union appeared to secure the victory as Kasper's 14-yard pass to Todarello on fourth-and-10 was deemed to be juggled as Todarello fell out of bounds. After an official review, the call was overturned, giving the Titans a first down at their own 29-yard line.
Kasper hit Cody Moon for a 7-yard pass on third-and-6, and UW-Oshkosh gained another first down on a 10-yard pass from Kasper to Chad Redmer on fourth-and-8. Kasper's 20-yard pass to Todarello advanced the ball to the University of Mount Union 28-yard line with one second left.
Following a pair of timeouts by the Purple Raiders, Geisthardt was short on a 46-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
UW-Oshkosh owns a 12-4 record in NCAA postseason games. The Titans' .750 winning percentage during the Division III Championship is third-best while University of Mount Union sports a division-best .860 percentage (98-16 record).
The Titans advanced to the semifinal round for the third time in four trips to the NCAA tournament. UW-Oshkosh also reached the semifinals in 2012 and the quarterfinals in 2015.