Oshkosh, Wis., Nov. 19, 2016 – The Washington University in St. Louis football team suffered its first road loss of the season in a 49-13 loss to No. 4-ranked University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs Saturday in Oshkosh, Wis.
The Bears, who went 5-0 on the road in the regular season, finished the season with an 8-3 record after playing in their third NCAA Playoff game in the program's 120-year history. No. 4 UW-Oshkosh improved to 10-1 on the season and advanced to the second round to face No. 9 Saint John's University on Saturday, Nov. 26.
With winds gusting at 25 miles per hour amidst 33-degree temperatures, UW-Oshkosh pounded the running game on their home turf, racking up 410 rushing yards on 62 carries against the WashU defense.
"It was pretty obvious on film that they were going to run the football and we tried to load up the box against them," said head coach Larry Kindbom. "I can't say it surprised us, but I can say that I wish we had done a little better, but they're a good football team. We didn't come up here to give them a good game; we came up here to beat them, and I think they did a nice job to keep that from happening."
The Titans set the tone for the rest of the game with a six-play, 70-yard opening touchdown drive that included five rushing attempts for 42 yards. WashU responded with a string of first downs, but the drive stalled at the Titans' 47-yard line after two short running plays and then an incomplete pass to senior tight end Matt Page forced the Bears to punt.
Neither team was able to score for the rest of the first quarter as the Bears' offense struggled to gain traction, totaling just 44 yards on 17 plays.
After UW-Oshkosh scored a touchdown early in the second quarter, the WashU offense broke through with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Senior quarterback J.J. Tomlin connected with sophomore wide receiver Matt Goldberg for 37 yards to get the Bears to the Titans' 33-yard line. Following a pass interference penalty, senior running back Austin Smestad punched it in from the one-yard line to pull the Bears within 14-7 with 10:43 left in the second quarter.
Just 38 seconds later, however, UW-Oshkosh responded with a 56-yard touchdown pass to regain a 14-point lead. The Bears failed to score on the ensuing possession, and the Titans added a touchdown on their next drive to take a 28-7 lead with 3:37 remaining in the first half.
Tomlin threw his first interception of the game on the following drive, and UW-Oshkosh took advantage by scoring another touchdown to extend its lead to 35-7 at halftime. By halftime, the Bears had conceded 257 rushing yards on 31 carries against a formidable offensive line.
"From my perspective as a defensive end, they're the best offensive line we saw all year." said senior defensive lineman Josiah Situmeang. "They're strong, they're physical, and it showed today."
Each team traded punts to start the second half before the Bears marched down to the Titans' 17-yard line in an attempt to spark a comeback bid. Tomlin was picked off in the end zone, however, and UW-Oshkosh responded with a 17-play, 96-yard touchdown drive to put the game away with a 42-7 lead with 3:53 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bears were shutout for the rest of the game until Tomlin found Page in the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown with 2:32 to go as the Titans held on for the 49-13 victory.
The Bears, who entered the contest averaging 39 points per game, struggled to get anything going offensively against a Titans' defense that led the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) in scoring defense (12.0 points per game) and total defense (260.5 yards per game).
Tomlin was 23-of-40 with 221 yards and one touchdown and two interceptions through the air, while Smestad carried the ball 25 times for 73 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Senior wide receiver Kevin Hammarlund recorded his eighth consecutive game with over 100 receiving yards, as he hauled in 13 receptions for 116 yards.
The loss marks an end to a distinguished career for the WashU senior class. Over four years, the senior class helped lead the Bears to an overall record of 26-16 (.619), two playoff appearances, three University Athletic Association (UAA titles) and this year's Southern Athletic Association (SAA) title.
"When [the seniors] came here, they came here with the idea that they wanted to play championship football," said Kindbom. "We went to the playoffs that first year and then over the course of the next three years they got us back in the playoffs. A lot of people didn't think that we would make it, and those guys, through their leadership, have made such a big difference for us."
Sophomore linebacker Jake Coon had 14 tackles, including nine solo, which were both game bests. UWO had 608 yards of total offense and 27 first downs during 37:55 possession time.
BEAR NOTEBOOK: This was the first meeting between the two teams … Tomlin finished his career with a school-record 9,027 passing yards … Hammarlund eclipsed over 3,000 career receiving yards … The Bears are 0-3 all-time in the postseason.