Fourth-ranked UW-La Crosse hosts No. 1, defending champion North Central NCAA quarterfinals
The scheduling of tough nonconference competition and going undefeated through the gauntlet of the WIAC slate has prepared the fourth-ranked UW-La Crosse football team for this week’s NCAA quarterfinal matchup against the No. 1-ranked team in the nation and defending national champions, North Central.
Solving the riddle of the Cardinals (12-0) has been an issue for Division III coaching staffs across the country this season — and the past three seasons.
North Central has been to the National Championship in each of the past three season, winning two titles, while going a combined 54-2 — including a current 27-game winning streak.
The Cardinals lead the nation in scoring at 62.5 points per game and total offense with 585.8 yards per game.
UW-La Crosse coach Matt Janus says he’s trying to simplify the objective and what he says should be a shootout, beginning at noon Saturday at Roger Harring Stadium — a game that will video stream live with WKTY.
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“Our offense needs to match their big plays,” Janus said. “We’re going to have to go score for score with them, and then get 3-5 stops on defense. If we go back and forth and get to the fourth quarter, I’m confident in our guys. We’ve played in those games.”
UW-L quarterbacks Keyser Helterbrand and his North Central counterpart, Luke Lehnen, are both DIII player of the year semifinalists.
Lehnen, a junior, has a similar game to Helterbrand.
Lehnen has thrown for 2,841 yards, 41 touchdowns with just one interception but it’s his legs, as Janus mentioned. He saw him have some of that success in person, two seasons ago in the playoffs, when North Central eliminated UW-L 34-20 in the second round of the playoffs.
“He’s super fast,” Janus said. “He extends plays remarkably. We’ve been working on scramble drills all week in and moving our defense to get spies on him.”
This season, Lehnen has rushed 75 times for 628 yards (8.4 avg.) with 10 touchdowns. In the playoff matchup, the freshman, Lehnen, rushed 10 times for 30 yards, to go along with 193 yards in the air and a touchdown.
Helterbrand finished last week’s Round 2 win with seven total touchdowns — five in the air and two rushing scores. Those five TDs led him to break the UW-L single-season passing TD record, which he now owns with 33.
Helterbrand now has 2,680 yards passing with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. On the ground, he’s rushed 149 times for 770 yards (5.2 avg.) with 11 touchdowns.