CRAWFORDSVILLE, Indiana—#9/#13 Wittenberg football knew what Saturday's matchup against the Little Giants of Wabash meant for both teams, as the last 12 NCAC titles have been won by either Wittenberg or Wabash. Saturday was a whale of a game, as the Tigers and Little Giants did battle for the 19th time as NCAC rivals. Wittenberg bested the Little Giants 21-14 on their home turf, as the game winning drive was orchestrated by Jake Kennedy in the fourth quarter with the Tiger down 13-14. Kennedy and Bryce Bailey hooked up for a huge pitch and catch, before the Tigers defense put the finishing touches on the game, holding Wabash on a fourth down conversion with two minutes remaining in the game.
HOW IT HAPPENED: Both teams exchanged punts early in the first quarter, but it was the Tigers who broke the ice first, as DeShawn Sarley barreled his way into the Little Giants end-zone with 3:29 remaining in the opening quarter. With a 7-0 lead, Wittenberg let Wabash right back in the game with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Weston Murphy to Ra'Shawn Jones, as the game was deadlocked at 7-7 with 14:54 remaining in the second quarter. Nearly ten minutes later, Wittenberg took a shot down field for Thaddeaus Snodgrass on the first offensive play of a drive that started after a Michael Fiessinger interception. The deep ball floated to the corner of the end-zone, as Snodgrass went up and made a play over two Wabash defenders, hauling in the touchdown pass over the pylon to give the Tigers a 13-7 lead, as the extra point was missed. Wabash came back to take a 14-13 lead late in the third quarter, as Ike James punched in a three-yard run to cap off a 10-play drive for the Little Giants. Late in the fourth quarter, Wittenberg was knocking on the door, still trailing 14-13 as Kennedy walked up to the line of scrimmage and called a timeout with 7:01 remaining. Kennedy's timeout paid off, as the junior signal caller saw something that he needed to address with his team, as the last second timeout turned into a 24-yard passing touchdown to Bailey on the next play. Leading 21-14, Wittenberg opted to go for a field goal with 5:11 left in the game, as the attempt was wide left. Wabash took over, and with a change to knot things up, the Tigers defense stood tall, holding off the Wabash offense one last time.
WHO STOOD OUT: Despite having to work around two early interceptions, Kennedy managed to coordinate the game winning touchdown drive on Saturday, as well as log 210 passing yards. Six different Tigers caught passes for Wittenberg as Bailey led the Tigers with 68 receiving yards and one huge touchdown. Jeff Tiffner caught all four of his passes in the second half, going for 59 yards for Wittenberg. On defense, the Tigers looked as strong up front as they have all season, with Chandler Ferko racking up three sacks on Saturday. Ferko totaled 10 total tackles and was a force to be reckoned with in Wabash's backfield all day. Wabash running back Ike James came into the game averaging 147.3 yards on the ground, but the Tigers defense kept James locked up all afternoon, as the Division II transfer was held to 41 yards on the ground. Alongside Ferko, Jonathan Seay also racked up 10 tackles, with Terrance Crowe chipping in nine. Josh Paul broke out for Wittenberg in a big way on Saturday, registering eight tackles and logging two tackles for a loss in key moments.
WHAT IT MEANS: Wittenberg now leads the NCAC series 10-9, with nine of the last 19 games having now been decided by seven points or fewer. The Tigers can clinch their 15th NCAC Championship with a win next week at home against Ohio Wesleyan. While the win will also hold great weight for head coach Joe Fincham as he looks to become the 87th head football coach in NCAA history to win 200 games. The Tigers look to clinch both honors next week at Edwards Maurer field with kickoff set for 1:00PM.