Football earns program’s first playoff berth

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Shelby Le Duc

Senior kicker Zach Litchfield (2) hits a field goal against University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Nov. 10. Litchfield is seven for 10 on field goals this year.

The Pioneer football team has made the NCAA Division III Football Championship Tournament for the first time in university history, after defeating University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 17-16, on a last-second field goal Nov. 16.

After forcing a Titan punt, the Pioneers got the ball back with just less than three minutes to play in the fourth quarter and one time out.

University of Wisconsin-Platteville marched down to the Titans’ 20 yard line with just two seconds left to set up senior kicker Zach Litchfield for the 37-yard game winner. The kick was made even more difficult by the wind and rain the teams endured.

The Pioneers and the Titans played neck-and-neck in the first quarter, as the teams traded punts before UW-Oshkosh’s Beau Steffens picked off a pass from senior quarterback John Kelly.

The Titans got on the board first on the strength of a 13-play drive following the pick, scoring on a two-yard plunge from running back Cole Myhra.

UW-Oshkosh missed the extra point, however, so the score stayed 6-0.

The Pioneers took the lead later in the second quarter after Kelly moved the ball down the field, helped by 22- and 23-yard catches from senior wide receiver Ryley Bailey. UW-Platteville scored the go-ahead touchdown, as Kelly found Bailey in the end zone from 10 yards out, giving the Pioneers a 7-6 lead.

UW-Oshkosh tacked on a field goal as time expired in the half to hold a 9-7 lead going into the break.

Junior Pioneer linebacker Alex Schleis started the second half off by forcing a fumble to halt a Titan drive on their first possession of the half.

After a Pioneer punt, the Titans scored a touchdown on a 12-play drive, capped by a two-yard rush from Myhra.

UW-Platteville answered with a drive deep into Titan territory that ended in an interception at the three-yard line. The Pioneer defense held, forcing a Titan punt.

Kelly and the offense again moved the ball down the field through the air, getting down to the UW-Oshkosh five yard line before Kelly was picked off in the end zone.

The defense again forced a Titan punt, and the offense avoided any mistakes to score a touchdown on a 23-yard pass from Kelly to junior receiver Trevor Whitehead to make it 16-14, which set up the dramatic finish.

Whitehead finished the day with 14 catches and 131 yards and the score, while Kelly went 30-45 with 340 yards.

With his two passing touchdowns in the game, Kelly has tallied 31 on the year, surpassing Chris Charnish’s university record of 29 passing touchdowns in the 1969 season.

The Pioneers will host Concordia on Saturday in the first round of the championship tournament. Concordia enters the game 8-2 overall and won the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference after going a perfect 6-0.

Kickoff is at noon and tickets are available through the UW-Platteville Athletics Office. Adult tickets are $10, seniors (62 and older) are $8 and students/children (17 and under) are $4 each. Students will not get free admission with their student IDs as they do for regular season games.

The university will be giving away free tickets to the game throughout the week.