For years, other members of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference have stood in the shadow of UW-Whitewater, a team with three consecutive NCAA Division III national championships entering the year and seven straight trips to the title game.
But 2012 is the Year of the Titan. Saturday was the best example yet.
The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, in their first visit to the D3 playoffs, remained undefeated at 13-0 after shocking Linfield College (Ore.) with a 31-24 overtime thriller in McMinnville, Ore. on Sunday. The Titans, with several local players on board, will face the University of St. Thomas (Minn.) on Dec. 8 in the national semifinals for a spot in the D3 title game.
Catholic Memorial graduate Ryan Stefaniak left his fingerprints on the victory, almost literally. He blocked a Linfield field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter - one of two crucial UWO blocks in the final period - one week after delivering a performance that netted him UW-Oshkosh Male Athlete of the Week.
In that game, a 37-14 playoff win over Bethel (Minn.), Stefaniak made a huge interception with his team trailing, 14-0, returning it 23 yards and setting up the Titans' first score. He also finished with 13 tackles, including a shared tackle in the end zone for a safety. Eight of his stops were solo, and three went for a loss.
This time around, it was a 15-point comeback, and it came in the fourth quarter. The Titans scored with 7:43 left when quarterback Nate Wara, a finalist for the Gagliardi Award honoring the nation's best D3 player, ran the ball in from a yard out and completed a two-point conversion to tie the game at 24-24.
A 39-yard field goal attempt as time expired was also blocked by Nathan Smith to force overtime. Once there, Wara's 21-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Voss provided the early points, and after Linfield reached the 12-yard line thanks to a personal-foul penalty on Oshkosh, Andrew Thompson recovered a fumble in the backfield on a reverse to clinch the remarkable victory.
Wara also scored a touchdown with his team down 24-9 early in the fourth quarter to make it 24-16. The teams both executed turnovers leading into Stefaniak's block, and Oshkosh then drove 80 yards to tie the game.
Waukesha North graduate Nate Becker, a senior, serves as the team's punter, averaging 35.3 yards per kick this season.
Ex-North standout James Blackburn is a freshman quarterback on the roster, and Waukesha South graduate Aarron Van Buren is a sophomore offensive lineman.
Stefaniak, a 6-0, 195-pound linebacker from Milwaukee, was named second-team All Conference in the WIAC with 41 tackles (28 solo, 10 for loss) and a team-leading five passes defended. He was named first-team All Conference in the Classic 8 with the Crusaders during his senior year, 2008, at defensive back.
The battle Saturday will take place at 2 p.m. at O'Shaughnessy Stadium in St. Paul. Oshkosh is ranked No. 5 in the nation, with St.Thomas (also 13-0) at No. 4. Linfield had been ranked No. 3.
Oshkosh's first appearance in NCAA postseason play in the 118-year history of the football program came after the team went 7-0 in league play, two games ahead of both Platteville and Whitewater. Oshkosh defeated Whitewater in a monumental victory Oct. 20, 28-13.
In addition to the four players on the UW-Oshkosh team, Waukesha-based players competed for WIAC football programs this season:
|Player ||College ||H.S. |
|Peter Karczewski, So. ||Platteville ||CMH |
|Matt Bernhardt, So. ||LaCrosse ||CMH |
|Nick Lee, Fr. ||River Falls ||North |
|Dallis Ramos-deLoen, Fr. ||Stout ||West |