Tigers Earn 16th NCAA Division III Tournament Berth

The Tigers get to play before the home crowd at least one more time in 2013. File Photo | Erin Pence
The Tigers get to play before the home crowd at least one more time in 2013. File Photo | Erin Pence

Springfield, Ohio – The Wittenberg University football team will compete in the NCAA Division III Tournament for the 16th time in school history following its fourth North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) championship in the last five years. The Tigers open their quest for the third national title since the start of the NCAA Division III Tournament in 1973 with a first round game against Lebanon Valley College at noon, Saturday, Nov. 23, at Wittenberg’s historic Edwards-Maurer Field.

The Tigers, ranked 11th nationally by the American Football Coaches Association and 12th by D3football.com, punched their ticket to the 2013 postseason by winning their 12th NCAC title. It was Wittenberg’s eighth outright title without a loss since joining the league in 1989. 

Wittenberg, which has an overall record of 9-1 in 2013, won the inaugural NCAA Division III Tournament in 1973, added a second title in 1975, and finished as national runner-up in 1978 and 1979. The NCAA Division III program with the most wins in history, Wittenberg sports a 20-13 overall record in NCAA Division III Tournament play, in addition to a victory in the 1969 Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, which served as a College Division West Regional championship game that season.

Prior to the creation of NCAA Division III and the start of national tournament play, Wittenberg laid claim to national titles in 1962, 1964 and 1969 based on polls. 

Wittenberg is led offensively by record-setting senior quarterback Reed Florence (South Charleston, Ohio/Southeastern), who leads the NCAC and ranks among the best in all of NCAA Division III in a variety of passing and total offense categories. In leading the Tigers to 46.5 points and 517.5 yards per game, Florence has moved to the top of several of Wittenberg’s career and season passing categories. 

Florence’s favorite target is senior wide receiver Brendon Cunningham (Kettering, Ohio/Fairmont), who finished his second straight regular season with 51 receptions. He is one of four receivers with at least 29 catches in 2013 as the Tigers have piled up 2,930 yards and 33 touchdowns through the air to go along with 2,245 rushing yards. Sophomore running backs Sean Gary (Indianapolis, Ind./Decatur Central) and Jimmy Dehnke (Canton, Ohio/Massillon Jackson) have combined for more than 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns, while Florence has added 329 yards and nine scores on the ground. 

Defensively, the Tigers are led by senior linebacker Spencer Leno (Massillon, Ohio/Washington), who has 96 tackles, including 6.5 for loss. Wittenberg ranks second in the NCAC and in the top 30 nationally in both total defense and scoring defense, allowing 17.6 points and 291.1 yards per game. 

Wittenberg has a 12-3 record in NCAA Division III Tournament first round games, and a perfect 7-0 at Edwards-Maurer Field. The Tigers will square off with Lebanon Valley for the first time ever on the gridiron after the Dutchmen qualified for their first-ever NCAA Division III Tournament by clinching the automatic bid as champion of the Middle Atlantic Conference with an 8-2 overall record. 

The winner of the first round game between Lebanon Valley and Wittenberg will advance to face the winner of a game between top-ranked defending national champion Mount Union and Washington & Jefferson at noon Saturday, Nov. 30. The game will be played at a site to be determined by the national selection committee on Sunday, Nov. 24. 

Ticket prices for the first-round game are $8 for adults and $4 for students who present identification from one of the two participating schools. All tickets will be sold at the gates on game day.

UPDATE: The first 100 Wittenberg University students to arrive at the game will receive free admission, courtesy of Student Senate.

Written By: Ryan Maurer