PLATTEVILLE, Wis. -- Wisconsin-Platteville showed no signs of postseason nerves, as the host Pioneers beat Concordia (Wis.) 54-20 in the first NCAA Division III playoff game in school history Saturday.
The Pioneers scored touchdowns on three of their first four possessions, and never let the Falcons closer than 14 the rest of the way. The 10-1 Pioneers built a 28-7 halftime lead and scored the first 10 points of the second half on their way for the opening-round victory.
John Kelly threw for 422 yards and three touchdowns, and Andy Puccini ran for 117 and two more to lead the Pioneers. Austin Damaschke threw for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Falcons, who finished 8-3.
The seventh-ranked Pioneers advance to play fourth-ranked North Central (11-0) next Saturday at noon with the location of the contest officially announced on Sunday.
"We're excited that there have been 119 teams at UW-Platteville that have competed for the university in football, and this one is the first to win a playoff game," said Pioneer Coach Mike Emendorfer. "I'm very proud of our 2013 team."
Kelly hit Trevor Whitehead with a 27-yard scoring play, capping off a 91-yard yard opening drive. Puccini added scoring runs of 2 and 7 yards for the 21-0 lead. After Concordia's LaCurt Evans finished a 43-yard drive with a three-yard run, Kelly connected with Paul Reit for touchdown passes to bookend halftime. A nine-yard scoring pass with 28 seconds left in the first half made the score 28-7, and a 39-yard strike opened the third-quarter scoring and made the count 35-7.
Reit finished with 118 yards receiving on eight catches, while Whitehead had 10 catches for 160 yards. The Pioneers out-gained the Falcons 679-380. The only blemishes for the Pioneers were four turnovers on Concordia's side of the field, including two fumbles inside the 10.
"I want to compliment our players and assistant coaches. On paper, everyone anticipated the Pioneers to win, and that's a tough game to go into, believe it or not," Emendorfer said. "Paper doesn't win games, players do. Our players still needed to show up and perform. I'm disappointed in the turnovers, but the end result was we won the football game. We can learn from those mistakes and get better next week."
Zach Litchfield kicked a 27-yard field in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Andrew Robinson and Alex Schaefer combined on a quarterback sack in the end zone for a safety; Ryan Fish broke off a 48-yard scoring run; and Bryce Corrigan hit Patrick Sheehan for a 17-yard screen pass that went for a score.
"We wanted it bad," Robinson said of the safety. "The coverage was very good, and that is why we got the safety."
"It's definitely special. It's nice team win," Kelly said. "You're just happy to be out there. Ever since you're little kid, you're out in the snow, out in the cold playing with your buddies. To have it mean something is kind of cool."
Damaschke threw for 6 yards to Garret Wenzelburger and 10 yards to James Saunders for the Falcons' second-half points.
"It was a definitely a new experience, a totally different atmosphere than playing just a regular conference game, Damaschke said. "When you get out here, it's all pedal to the metal. There's no messing around. The competition is going to be high. We fought as hard as we could. They're a great team, Platteville, and we put it all out there."
The Pioneers tied the school record with 10 wins and will alter their holiday and other plans for practice this week in preparation for the undefeated Cardinals.
"I'm a big deer hunter," Robinson joked, "but I'd rather be with this group right now."