Wittenberg Outlasts Ohio Wesleyan

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Sophomore quarterback Mason Espinosa found sophomore tight end Erik Wall on a 23-yard touchdown pass that brought Ohio Wesleyan within 13-10 late in the first half, but Wittenberg answered with a score in the closing seconds of the half and pulled away with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to defeat the Bishops in the North Coast Athletic Conference opener for both teams on Saturday at Selby Stadium.

Wittenberg took the lead on its first possession of the game, taking over at midfield after a short punt and moving the chains with completions of 17 yards from Ben Zoeller to Michael Cooper and 13 yars from Zoeller to Josh McKee. The Tiger drive stalled inside the Bishop 5-yard line, however, and Sean Williams converted a 20-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Ohio Wesleyan answered later in the quarter, also taking over at midfield after a Wittenberg punt. Espinosa connected on a pair of third-down situations, finding senior tight end Pat Embleton for 8 yards on a third-and-5 call, then hitting freshman halfback Kevin Herman for 11 yards on third-and-9. With the Bishops facing a fourth-and-goal at the Wittenberg 2-yard line, the call went to senior kicker Nick Chilkov, who hit a 19-yard field goal to even the score at 3-3.

Big plays helped the Tigers take the lead midway through the second quarter. Facing a third-and-12 at their own 21, Zoeller hit Cooper for 37 yards and a first down to move the ball past midfield. Later in the same series of plays, Zoeller hit McKee for 6 yards on fourth-and-3 from the Ohio Wesleyan 35, and looking at fourth-and-9 from the Bishop 28, the Tigers went for it and got a connection from Zoeller to McKee for all 28 yards and a touchdown.

Wittenberg tacked on a field goal later in the quarter, extending the lead to 13-3 with 3:38 remaining in the half.

The Bishops marched down the field with the help of a pair of Espinosa completions, with freshman split end Steven Uhler hauling in a pass for 25 yards and a first down at the Wittenberg 27, and two plays later, Espinosa hit Wall up the middle for a 23-yard strike. Chilkov's conversion brought Ohio Wesleyan within 13-10 with 1:25 left in the half.

That would be more than enough time for the Tigers to counter with a score, however. Zoeller hit McKee for 18 yards and a first down at the Wittenberg 45, then found Cooper for 18 yards before connecting with Brendon Cunningham down the right sideline for 37 yards and a score with :27 to play in the half.

Late in the third quarter, Espinosa marched the Bishops down the field, connecting with Wall for 11 and 14 yards and with Embleton for 16 and 6 yards before a 5-yard toss to Herman gave the Bishops a first down at the Wittenberg 12. The drive ended there, and freshman kicker Miles MacKenzie booted a 34-yard field goal to narrow the deficit to 20-13 with 13:57 left in regulation time.

The Tigers answered on their ensuing possession, with Zoeller finding Cooper on the sideline for 35 yards and a score 2 minutes later, and Wittenberg put the game out of reach with the help of a 37-yard Zoeller-to-Cooper strike that set up Reed Florence's 5-yard scoring run with 8:38 to go.

Espinosa completed 28 of 58 throws for 258 yards and a score. The 58 pass attempts are the third-highest single game figure in the Bishop record book, while the 28 completions are tied for fourth place on the Ohio Wesleyan single-game list.

Herman caught 9 passes for 56 yards, and Embleton had 6 catches for 52 yards. Sophomore halfback Rayce Risser led the Bishops with 32 yards on 4 carries.

Defensive standouts for the Bishops included senior safety Keegan Varner, who collected a team-high 8 tackles; junior defensive end James Huddleston, whose 7 stops included a sack and 4 for loss; sophomore cornerback Leonard Gleaves, who made 7 tackles; and junior linebacker Tyler Sheetz, who contributed 7 tackles and a pass breakup.

Zoeller completed 20 of 33 passes for 317 yards and 3 touchdowns, with McKee catching 8 passes for 95 yards and a score and McKee adding 7 receptions for 157 yards and a TD.

Zach Hurtt led the Tiger defense with 15 tackles and 2 pass breakups, while Jon Daniels added 10 tackles, including 3 sacks.

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