For the second year in a row, the Wittenberg football team found itself in a tough battle on Homecoming weekend. Last season the Tigers lost to Wabash 27-24 to spoil the Homecoming festivities. This season, the team welcomed a tough Denison squad that entered the game at (4-1) overall and (3-1) in North Coast Athletic Conference contests. Wittenberg came into the game with a (3-1) overall record and a (3-0) mark in NCAC play. The Tigers had outscored their first three conference opponents by a combined score of 153-9.
Edwards-Maurer Field was packed for the Homecoming tilt, with more than 4,000 fans in attendance. But, the mostly Wittenberg crowd was silenced for most of the first half as the Tigers trailed for a large part of the first half. Denison took the lead halfway through the first quarter on a 30 yard field goal. However, the Tigers’ offense wasted no time in answering, as they scored in a blistering 48 seconds. On their last Homecoming game as Tigers, two of the team’s leading seniors hooked up for the score. Quarterback Reed Florence threw a 73 yard touchdown to receiver Brendon Cunningham to give Wittenberg the lead, 7-3. After the two defenses traded stops, Wittenberg’s special teams had a break down and allowed a 52 yard punt return for a touchdown and a 10-7 Denison lead. Sophomore Evan Grissom then tied the game with a 30 yard field goal.
After the first 27 minutes were relatively tame by Wittenberg’s standards, the last three minutes of the first half didn’t disappoint. Wittenberg scored on a three yard pass from Florence to junior wideout Zac Wilson for a 17-10 advantage. Denison quickly answered with a 28 yard touchdown pass to tie the score with just over a minute to play in the half. But, Wittenberg responded with another lightning fast touchdown drive, with this drive only taking 27 seconds to reach the endzone. It was another Florence to Cunningham connection, this time on a 13 yard pass to give Wittenberg a lead just before halftime.
Denison took the opening kickoff of the second half and held onto the ball for over seven minutes, effectively keeping the quick strike Wittenberg offense off the field. But, the home team’s defense rose to the occasion at the end of the drive and forced Denison to settle for a 29 yard field goal. It looked like it would be another Homecoming nail biter for the Tigers, as Wittenberg started the fourth quarter with just a 24-20 lead. However, the fourth quarter was all Tigers, as the offense was able to reach the endzone twice to solidify the victory. Early in the quarter Cunningham snagged a nine yard touchdown from Florence. Then, sophomore Sean Gary plunged in from a yard away to give the Tigers a 38-20 lead that would be the final score.
Florence led the team in passing with 351 yards and four touchdowns, but also two interceptions that helped keep Denison in the game. Cunningham paced the receivers with six catches for 136 yards and three touchdowns. Wilson grabbed five passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, followed by junior Desi Kirkman with 92 yards receiving. Senior Jonathan Stoner also had 18 yards receiving on two catches. Wittenberg’s rushing attack was pretty balanced, with Gary and fellow sophomore Jimmy Dehnke each rushing 13 times for 57 and 54 yards, respectively. Senior defensive backs Heath Eby and Victor Banjo each snagged interceptions for the Wittenberg defense, along with making eight and six tackles, respectively. Senior Spencer Leno led the team with 13 total tackles, one sack, one and a half tackles for loss and two pass break ups. Junior Nick Gibson had 12 total tackles, one for loss, and a forced fumble. Senior Evan Killilea and sophomore Josh Bannick both also recorded ten or more tackles in the game.
Wittenberg moves to (4-1) overall and (4-0) in conference play with the victory. The Tigers next host arch-rival Wooster on Saturday, October 19 at 6:00 p.m. in a big game for the team. Wooster will enter the game with a (3-2) overall mark and a (3-1) record in the NCAC. Wittenberg is currently tied with Wabash for first place in the conference, and the season ending meeting between the two teams will undoubtedly decide the conference championship.