Wabash turns tide in NCAC with win at Wittenberg
Wabash snapped Wittenberg's streak of 30 consecutive North Coast Athletic Conference wins, handing them their first conference loss since 1997 in a 46-43 overtime thriller at Edwards-Maurer Field.
Two teams ranked in the top five in Division III in total defense gave up a total of for 1,003 yards of total offense and 89 points. The two senior-laden teams started out in a defensive struggle and wound up in a full-blown offensive shootout, won by Wabash in the first extra period on a 27-yard field goal by Mark Server. Wittenberg, winner of five straight NCAC titles, fell to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the conference with the loss. Wabash, ranked No. 21 in the preseason by D3football.com, improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the NCAC.
The scoring started with 5:24 left in the first quarter as Wittenberg sophomore defensive tackle Joey Binkley blocked a pass by Wabash's Jake Knott and senior defensive end Jim Lackmeyer caught the deflection and went 22 yards for the score. Then with 2:53 remaining in the opening stanza, senior tailback Daniel Grove went 80 yards on two carries to make the score 14-0.
Then it was Wabash's turn. Aided by a pair of Wittenberg turnovers and some timely penalties, the Little Giants rallied for three second-quarter scores, an 11-yard run by tailback Chris Morris and a pair of touchdown connections between All-American tight end Ryan Short and Knott. The score was 21-14 going into the locker room in favor of Wabash, the first time that Wittenberg had trailed at a regular season game's midpoint since the Tigers' last regular season loss at Alma on Sept. 15, 2001.
Knott, who owns nearly every passing record in the Wabash record book, found one he didn't have midway through the third quarter. The senior hit freshman receiver Eric Summers with a quick pass on the Wabash sidelines. Summers took care of the rest, racing 86 yards for the longest pass completion in Wabash history, giving the Little Giants a 28-14 advantage.
The Tigers came right back with a 15-yard scoring reception by junior wide receiver Skip Ivery from senior quarterback Greg Cornett, Morris went in from 2 yards out and then Ivery and Cornett again connected. The difference, however, was that Wabash made both extra points, while Wittenberg had the first attempt blocked and then had a two-point conversion attempt fail.
In the fourth quarter, Wabash again struck first with a 1-yard TD by Matt Piechocki and a two-point conversion hook-up between Short and Knott. Facing a 17-point deficit, the Tiger defense finally stiffened and the offense drove to a 19-yard field goal by sophomore Jacob Thoma, an 8-yard scoring reception for senior wide receiver Adrian Crane, and Grove tied it with a 2-yard run and two-point conversion with just 3:24 remaining.
Wittenberg had a late opportunity to win the game, but an interception stifled the rally with about a minute remaining.
Wabash won the toss and went on defense in the extra period. Wittenberg opened the overtime with a 7-yard rush, followed by an incomplete pass to set up a third down and three play. Cornett completed the pass to Jered Glover, but senior linebacker Nate Boulais smothered Glover short of the first down marker to force the Tigers to attempt the field goal on fourth down. Conrad Hindert's kick sailed wide right, giving the ball to Wabash for its overtime attempt.
Knott rushed for 11 yards on a quarterback draw on first down, one of 11 carries for 51 yards for the all-time leader in total offense in Wabash history. The Little Giants ran two more running plays to set the ball for Server, who blasted his only field goal attempt of the game through the uprights on third down to extend Wabash's winning streak to 12 games and avenge its last loss, a 14-3 defeat at the hands of Wittenberg in 2001.
Wabash finished with 506 yards of total offense, while the
Tigers had 497, including a 373-367 advantage through the air in a
matchup of the two best quarterbacks in the NCAC.
Cornett had his best statistical game as a starter, setting a school record with 33 completions for 367 yards, a total that ranks No. 2 in school history. Grove had 91 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and Ivery finished with eight receptions for 91 yards and two scores. In addition, Crane had seven catches for 101 yards and freshman Jered Glover added 10 receptions for 121 yards. On defense, the Tigers got 11 tackles from senior linebacker Ryan Gresham and 10 more from senior safety Andy Waddle.
The Wabash defense held Grove to under 100 rushing yards for the second consecutive season, the third meeting in a row between the two schools that the Little Giant defense has not allowed a Wittenberg rusher to carry for over 100 yards. Boulais led the Wabash defense with 16 tackles, including 10 solo stops.
For Wabash, Morris had 80 yards on 18 carries, Knott went 27-for-51 for 373 yards and three touchdowns and Short led the receivers with seven catches for 84 yards.