A clutch fourth quarter scoring drive and a last minute fourth-down stop at the 14 yard-line Saturday gave Wabash a 22-16 win over Allegheny College.
The ninth-rated Little Giants improved to 8-0 and will host Wittenberg (7-1) Saturday for what often plays out to be the NCAC championship game.
"We fought hard obviously but we made a lot of mistakes," Coach Erik Raeburn said. "But we had great effort. This is always a tough trip to deal with coming this far. With a big game coming next week we'll take any win we can get here."
Allegheny put the Little Giants on edge opening the fourth quarter with a 13-play, 39-yard drive capped by Ryan Zipf's 38-yard field for a 16-14 Gator lead. But Wabash responded with a 49-yard drive of its own.
Chase Belton hit Wes Chamblee for a 23-yard gain then four plays later found Jonathan Horn from 19 yards to reclaim the lead 22-16 with just over three minutes to play.
The Wabash defense stopped Allegheny's next drive and then got a break when Gator punter Andy Dejong, one the top statistical punters in the nation, shanked a kick for 16 yards. Wabash took over with five minutes to play and a chance to run out the clock. Vann Hunt ran for 15 yards but then fumbled on his next carry.
Allegheny then went on a march downfield. The Gators ran off 10 plays to move the ball to the Wabash 13. Quarterback Jordan Fowler fired a low fourth-down pass at Matt Griffith that was broken up nicely by Little Giant safety Andrew Gibson.
"I guess this one was more of a nail biter than what we've had this year," Raeburn said. "You have to figure out a way to win those games. We came up with a big stop when we needed it after we turned the ball over."
Chamblee got the scoring started with a 28-yard catch and easy run into the end zone. After the first of three Zipf field goals and a Gheny TD catch from Dan Lubarda, Chase Belton scored just before halftime on a three-yard run for 14-10.
"They always play physical and they always have a good game plan," said Chamblee, who finished with six catches for 104 yards. "We always have to be sharp when we come to Allegheny."
Chamblee had modest numbers in the return game as Gheny went to great lengths to kick away from him the entire game. Wabash was starting drives at midfield throughout the contest.
"I'm not disturbed by it at all, they're giving up field position," Chamblee said. "I think this game is a wake-up call. I think we expected a hard fought game. But we were able to come out on top in this game and it gives us a little momentum for the next two weeks."
Allegheny was primed for the Little Giants arrival in Meadville with a bye week and extra preparation time. The Gators churned out 97 rushing yards to Wabash's 63. The hosts also had more passing yardage, 240-208.
The bye week is an advantage for a team, Raeburn believes. Wittenberg's bye fell this past weekend.
"Wittenberg will be the fourth game this year where a team had a bye the week before," Raeburn said. "So thank you conference scheduler. Most conferences have a rule that that doesn't happen. Obviously, our conference doesn't so this will be the fourth game like that.
"I've had years where I had a bye week and it came at times we were playing great. A week off helps those teams to have two weeks to prepare for us. They can make sure all their guys with little bumps and bruises are feeling good. But thanks to our conference scheduling this will be fourth time a team has had a bye before playing us."