Wabash Quarterback Michael Pukkto’s 21st pass and the high drama of Saturday’s rivalry game reached their crescendos at the exact same time.
Wabash trailed by six, and had just 40 more seconds for their last ditch effort. Tiger senior Ryan Mauer leaped alongside the lank Wabash receiver and brought down — along with the ball — a 21-15 victory for the Tigers, and with it, a guarantee of at least a share of the NCAC title and automatic birth into the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers’ first score of the game was the result of inspired special teams play. After a three and out aided by a Wabash penalty (the first of 10, which cost the Little Giants 107 yards on the day), the Tigers broke through the line to block the punt. The Tiger offense was then able to convert the short field into a touchdown with a Zach Jenkins, ’16, pass snagged by Corey Strump, ’16.
Strump lead the Tiger passing game with five snags. Strump needed every inch of his six-foot frame to grab what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown for the Tigers. His full extension diving catch electrified both the Tiger sideline and the capacity of the home crowd. Strump’s flare for the dramatic reemerged later in the game as he drew a key pass interference call to extend the Tigers’ fourth quarter drive as the sought time off the clock.
Going into the game, Wabash was averaging 46 points a game, but the Tiger defense was able to control the Little Giant offense. The Tigers’ second half shutout was led by Nick Gibson, ’15. The linebacker totaled 16 tackles on the day. The Tiger pass rush gave the Little Giant passing game fits all day, amassing three sacks on the day, including one by Austin Towsey, ’17, who paired the sack with a tackle for a loss and a blocked pass on the day.
The Tiger defense also contributed to the scoring in the second quarter when Dustin Holmes, ’17, forced a fumble on a sack, and Dwight Hill, ’15, scooped the ball up and advanced it 56 yards to give the Tigers their second lead of the game. The senior’s touchdown was the first in his career.
Wabash would battle back to head to half time, leading 15-14, but the Tigers’ third quarter score and second half shutout were enough to propel the Tigers to victory. The Tigers’ celebration of their thrilling victory will have to be brief, as they travel to take on the Allegheny Alligators next Saturday, still needing a victory to secure the NCAC crown outright. The Gators are 1-7 on the year and are still seeking their first conference win. The 14th-ranked Tigers look to move up in the polls this week after victory over the ninth-place Wabash.