Fourth-ranked UW-La Crosse advances to DIII quarterfinals after shootout win over No. 12 Aurora, will host defending champs
The UW-La Crosse football team started slowly in Saturday’s second-round playoff matchup against Aurora, but an offensive explosion the last three quarters led to a 56-35 win and the program’s first quarterfinal appearance since 1996.
Keyser Helterbrand, a semifinalist for the Gagliardi trophy, accounted for seven UW-L (11-1) touchdowns on the day — five passing and two rushing — and 399 total yards.
It was the fourth-ranked Eagles’ 10th consecutive victory, which hasn’t been done since the 1995 National Championship season when the team went 14-0.
UW-L will host defending national champion North Central (12-0) at noon Saturday.
The Cardinals have been ranked No. 1 all season. They beat Trinity 71-28 last weekend, and Trinity defeated Hardin Simmons 20-6 in the playoff opener. That’s interesting, because Hardin Simmons is UW-L’s only loss, which came in Week 2, 28-21.
This is the sixth quarterfinals appearance for UW-L, which is three wins from getting another National Championship. Its only titles have come in 1992 and 1995.
In the win over previously unbeaten Aurora, which is coached by former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Don Beebe, the Eagles trailed 14-0 after the first quarter before coming to life behind Helterbrand.
The senior QB and teammate Ryan Bartol didn’t take long to tie the game. The two started things off early in the second quarter with a 55-yard touchdown connection, and 48 seconds later, they hooked up again from 15 yards out and the game was tied.
The teams exchanged touchdowns after that, but with 20 seconds left in the first half, Helterbrand put the Eagles up for good, capping off an 11-play, 76-yard, 5-minute-plus drive with a 1-yard score.
UW-L never looked back.
Gabe Lynch rushed for a playoff record 175 yards on 23 carries and added a touchdown, while Jack Studer continued his incredible junior season with 4 catches, 127 yards and a touchdown.
Helterbrand’s five touchdown passes gave him 33 on the season, a UW-L record, surpassing Evan Lewandowksi’s record of 28 back in 2019.