GRANVILLE, Ohio - With two games remaining in the 2012 season, the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) has four teams atop the standings. Thanks largely to the work of a big-play offense, the Wittenberg Tigers are one of those teams after a 45-27 win at Denison.
Wittenberg improved to 7-1 overall with its third straight victory. More importantly, the Tigers are now 4-1 in the NCAC, tied with Ohio Wesleyan, Wabash and Kenyon for first place, one game ahead of Allegheny.
None of those four teams will play one another over the final two weeks, setting up the very real possibility that the NCAC will be forced to sort out a four-way tie for the conference championship. The Tigers close out the campaign with a home date opposite winless Hiram on Nov. 3, followed by a road trip to Oberlin, which is currently in sixth place, on Nov. 10.
The win over Denison was Wittenberg's 19th straight in a series that dates back to the turn of the 20th century. The Big Red have not defeated Wittenberg since 1989, the Tigers' first season in the NCAC.
For just the second time since 2002, however, the Big Red reached double figures offensively. In fact, after a terrible start that featured 14 Wittenberg points in the first 2:10, Denison nearly played the Tigers to a stand-off, controlling the ball for more than 38 minutes and piling up 346 yards of total offense.
Denison couldn't contain the Tiger offense, however, and that turned out to be the difference. Wittenberg completed six passes that covered 28 yards or more in the game to go along with a touchdown run from freshman tailback Jimmy Dehnke (Canton, Ohio/Massillon Jackson) that covered 47 yards. The longest play from scrimmage was actually nullified by penalty, as a 70-yard burst by junior quarterback Reed Florence (South Charleston, Ohio/Southeastern) was called back in the second quarter.
Dehnke continued to close in on Wittenberg's freshman rushing record, posting his third 100-yard rushing performance in the last four games to run his season total to 615 yards, despite missing a game due to injury. He rumbled for 137 yards and three touchdowns on an efficient 18 carries against Denison.
Florence added 271 yards through the air as he completed 15-of-21 passes. He connected with junior wide receiver Brendon Cunningham (Kettering, Ohio/Fairmont) five times for 123 yards and a touchdown, in addition to three receptions for 39 yards by junior wideout Desi Kirkman (Lima, Ohio/Central Catholic), two catches for 50 yards and a pair of scores by junior wideout Jonathan Stoner (Bowling Green, Ohio/Bowling Green) and two catches for 34 yards by junior tight end Stephen Zumdick (Erlanger, Ky./Dixie Heights).
The other key to the game was special teams, which directly led to 10 Wittenberg points. After the Tigers opened the game with a scoring drive, Denison fumbled the ensuing kick-off, as sophomore Will Stocker (Cincinnati, Ohio/Turpin) forced the miscue and sophomore linebacker Nick Gibson (Marysville, Ohio/Fairbanks) recovered it at the 18-yard-line to set up another score.
With Wittenberg leading 35-20 early in the fourth quarter, the Big Red followed a drive that netted -8 yards with a botched snap that handed the Tigers another three points on a 33-yard field goal by senior Sean Williams (Plainfield, Ind./Plainfield).
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers were sparked by another tremendous performance by junior linebacker Spencer Leno (Massillon, Ohio/Massillon), who piled up 17 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. Junior linebacker Kyle Sanning (Fairborn, Ohio/Tecumseh) added 12 tackles, junior safety Mark Swope (Fairborn, Ohio/Fairborn) chipped in with 11 stops, including two for loss, and senior defensive end Jon Daniels (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) finished with 10 tackles.