The nationally ranked UW-Oshkosh football team opens the 2018 season at first-time opponent Carthage College on Saturday (Sept. 1). Kickoff is set for noon at Art Keller Field in Kenosha.
The season opener marks the first matchup between the intrastate Titans and Red Men despite the programs' more than 120-year histories. UW-Oshkosh played its first football game in 1893, while Carthage College football debuted in 1895. The Red Men are playing a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) opponent for the first time since 1964. UW-Oshkosh has played just four previous games against teams from the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW).
Defending WIAC champion UW-Oshkosh (12-1 record in 2017), ranked fourth in the NCAA Division III by D3football.com, is seeking its fourth consecutive and fifth overall appearance in the national postseason tournament. The Titans played in the semifinal round of the Division III Championship last season after reaching the national championship game in 2016 and the quarterfinal round in 2015. UW-Oshkosh, which has won three of the last six WIAC titles (10 overall), advanced to the national semifinals during its playoff debut in 2012.
Carthage College has posted 7-3 records the past two seasons. The Red Men, who shared the 2004 CCIW championship, finished fourth in their league's standings both of the last two years. Carthage College has claimed nine CCIW crowns, including eight in 12 seasons from 1962-73.
Saturday's season opener is the first of five consecutive road games for UW-Oshkosh. The Titans, who play just three regular season contests in Oshkosh this season, do not conduct their home opener until Oct. 6 when UW-Platteville visits J. J. Keller Field at Titan Stadium.
UW-Oshkosh 12th-year head coach Pat Cerroni, the reigning and three-time WIAC Coach of the Year, welcomes back eight defensive and six offensive starters from last year's squad that set a program record with 36 touchdown passes. Last season the Titans ranked second in the country in passing efficiency rating (189.11), tackles for loss allowed per game (3.69) and kickoff return average (26.56) while also listing seventh nationally in first downs (302), and 10th in both scoring (41.8) and interceptions gained (21).
The Titans, who have won each of their last eight road games and two season openers, averaged a WIAC-leading 484.5 yards per game a year ago and surrendered 335.7 yards and 17.4 points per contest.
The Titans have five senior D3football.com preseason All-Americans on their roster, including offensive linemen Tyler Powers and Alex Wendorf. The duo helped UW-Oshkosh lead the WIAC in 2017 with 239.8 rushing yards per game and 34 touchdowns on the ground while allowing just 14 sacks.
Rounding out the Titans' preseason All-America selections were Derrick Jennings Jr. at linebacker, Cole Yoder at safety and Dom Todarello at return specialist. Jennings Jr. and Yoder combined for nine of the Titans' 21 interceptions last season as Jennings Jr. snared a team-leading five. Todarello was sixth in the country last year with 946 combined kick return yards.
Moon was tabbed to the All-WIAC Second Team in 2016 and received honorable mention recognition in 2017, while Summers garnered All-WIAC honorable mention laurels last season.
Todarello, the 2017 WIAC Special Teams Player of the Year, also earned All-WIAC first team honors last season after collecting 32 passes for 419 yards and eight touchdowns, and rushing 38 times for 309 yards.
Completing the list of UW-Oshkosh's returning defensive starters are senior secondary members AJ Plewa and Taylor Ripplinger, senior linebacker Scott Skornicka, junior lineman Brady Heimer, and sophomore linemen Brandon Hughes and Trenton LaCombe.
Heimer, Plewa and Skornicka were each selected to the All-WIAC Second Team a year ago. Ripplinger was named to the league's honorable mention team. Skornicka paced the squad with 15 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks a year ago while Plewa and Ripplinger intercepted two passes apiece, and Heimer recorded four sacks.
UW-Oshkosh placekicker and punter Turner Geisthardt is back after being named to the All-WIAC First Team at placekicker in 2017 and to the Second Team at punter for the third consecutive season. Geisthardt connected on 62 of 64 extra points and 7 of 12 field goals a year ago while averaging 40.4 yards per punt. His 62 made extra points were second most in program history.
Carthage College returns six all-conference players under the direction of first-year head coach Dustin Hass. Hass had been the school's defensive coordinator for four seasons until former Carthage College head coach Mike Yaeger was hired at NCAA Division II Tiffin University (Ohio).
Last season Hass tutored a defensive unit that helped the Red Men pace the country with a +1.6 average turnover margin while listing fourth nationally with 24 interceptions gained, seventh with five touchdowns and eighth with 138 first downs allowed. Carthage College, which finished last season allowing 17.4 points and 258.9 yards per game, held its first two opponents scoreless, marking the program's first consecutive listing of shutouts since 1969.
The Red Men averaged 32 points and 355.4 yards of offense a year ago, including 213 yards through the air. Carthage College, which gained 3.4 yards per carry last season, had 21 passing touchdowns and 17 rushing scores while committing a CCIW-low 11 turnovers and ranking second in the league with a 148.7 passing efficiency rating.
Senior quarterback Kyle Friberg headlines the Carthage College offense. He completed 62.4 percent of his passes last season, compiling 1,620 yards with 14 touchdown tosses and two interceptions in nine games. Friberg ranked second in the CCIW with a 156.8 passing efficiency rating a year ago.
Carthage College returns just one All-CCIW performer on offense in senior tight end Sean Wells, who was tabbed to the second team after catching 12 passes for 101 yards in seven games last year.
Senior Tommy Bazarek, who earned All-CCIW first team honors at return specialist last season, had 14 receptions for 318 yards and five touchdowns while averaging 24.8 yards per kickoff return and 11.9 yards per punt return to help the Red Men finish with a CCIW-leading 24.2 kickoff return average.
Red Men senior wide receiver Evan French is also back after tying for second on the team with 20 catches for 257 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Senior Lafayette McGary is expected to lead the Carthage College rushing attack. He finished second on the team a year ago with 512 yards and five touchdowns on the ground while adding 20 receptions for 124 yards in nine games.
Several key contributors are set to return to the Red Men defense, including a pair of senior All-CCIW defensive backs. Connor Calvert was named to the conference' first team by intercepting a conference-best five passes while Amani Davis snagged four interceptions to earn second team status. Senior defensive back Albert Rogalski also contributed four interceptions a year ago.
The Carthage College defensive line is anchored by seniors Cedrick Fry and Emmet Trost, who both received All-CCIW second team honors last season. Trost led the team with 69 tackles while Fry added 40 stops.
Senior Lance Unland returns to handle the placekicking and punting duties for the Red Men. He converted 41 of 44 extra points and 5 of 6 field goals last season.
Carthage College has played just four prior games against WIAC opponents. The Red Men compiled a 3-1 record against UW-Platteville, including a 29-14 loss in the most recent meeting on Sept. 19, 1964.
UW-Oshkosh sports a 3-1 record against teams that were members of the CCIW at the time of the contest. The Titans went 1-1 against Carroll University in 1978-79 before downing North Park University, 35-0, during the 2015 regular season and North Central College (Ill.) by a 42-21 score in last year's second round of the Division III Championship in Oshkosh. The CCIW began football in 1946.