GENEVA, NY – The Wittenberg Tigers were held to a season-low 135 yards of offense in a 35-10 loss to Hobart College in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Wittenberg's previous low yardage total in 2012 was 254 yards in an Oct. 6 loss to Wabash. The offensive output was the lowest for the Tigers (10-2) since a 27-6 loss at Wooster in the 2008 season finale.
High winds, swirling snow showers and a wind chill in the low 20s hampered the Tigers (10-2), who a week earlier had thrown for 346 yards and five touchdowns in a thrilling come-from-behind first-round victory over Heidelberg. Junior quarterback Reed Florence (South Charleston, Ohio/Southeastern) completed 13-of-28 passes in the game for 109 yards, but just one covered more than 20 yards.
The Statesmen contained Wittenberg's passing attack primarily by bottling up Florence, who scrambled to great effect a week earlier. He was sacked three times and intercepted once as the Tigers managed just 26 yards rushing in the game. The Tigers were playing without the North Coast Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year, freshman tailback Jimmy Dehnke (Canton, Ohio/Massillon Jackson), due to injury.
Despite the obstacles, it wasn't until the fourth quarter that the seventh-ranked Statesmen (12-0) took control. Hobart piled up 286 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, but over the first 30 minutes of the game, those figures were just 74 yards, including a 30-yard scoring run by quarterback Nick Strang in the second quarter.
Hobart led 7-3 at halftime and then scored on the opening drive of the third quarter. Wittenberg answered with its best drive of the game, marching 60 yards in six plays as junior tailback JaVanh Sanders (Las Vegas, Nev./Centennial) scored from three yards out.
The Tiger defense stopped Hobart on its next drive, setting the stage for the key sequence of the game. It started with a mistake on the ensuing punt return that flipped the field position. After junior defensive tackle Josh Montgomery (Reynoldsburg, Ohio/Reynoldsburg) blocked a field goal, Florence fumbled and the Statesmen punched the ball in two plays later to take a 21-10 lead.
Wittenberg never got the momentum back as Hobart's rushing attack took over. The Statesmen completed just one pass in the second half – on a reverse option pass on the second play from scrimmage in the third period – but they wore the Tigers down with scoring drives of 56 and 62 yards in the fourth quarter.
"I thought our guys played hard," said Head Coach Joe Fincham. "There's no doubt that there were a handful of plays that made the game a lot different than what it could have been. We just didn't make the plays when we needed them."
For the game, Hobart had 362 yards of total offense. Fincham offered praise to his defense, which was led by a trio of players with nine tackles each – junior linebacker Spencer Leno (Massillon, Ohio/Massillon), junior linebacker Evan Killilea (Columbus, Ohio/DeSales) and junior safety Heath Eby (Medina, Ohio/Cloverleaf).
Sanders picked up 47 yards on 16 carries and 35 yards on four receptions to account for a majority of Wittenberg's offensive output. Junior wide receiver Desi Kirkman (Lima, Ohio/Central Catholic) added five catches for 33 yards.
Hobart advanced the national quarterfinals for the first time in program history. The Statesmen will take on St. Thomas (Minn.) on Saturday, Dec. 1.