ADA — No. 7-ranked Ohio Northern picked off a school-record seven interceptions and posted a 37-14 victory over Wittenberg in the first round of the NCAA Division III Football Playoffs Saturday afternoon at Dial-Roberson Stadium.
The Polar Bears (10-1) advance to the second round of the playoffs and will travel to No. 5-ranked North Central (Ill.) on Nov. 27.
The Tigers end their season with a 10-1 record.
Northern got a pair of interceptions from senior Marvin Mitchell and junior Chad Coward and one each from senior Eric Wenzler and juniors Chad Calloway and Jeff Butler, breaking the former school record of six interceptions set against Ferris State (Mich.) in 1962.
Senior Brent Donley rushed 28 times for 179 yards, including a career-long and ONU playoff record 89-yard run, to post his 16th career 100-yard rushing game for the Polar Bears.
Senior Kyle Simmons completed 19 of 28 passes for 176 yards and a TD and ran 14 times for 39 yards and two scores for Ohio Northern.
But it was the Polar Bear defense that was the difference, limiting WU to just 217 yards of total offense, including just 33 on the ground.
Northern led 24-0 at halftime on the back of an impressive defensive effort.
The Polar Bears scored first when sophomore Cody Kelly sacked WU quarterback Ben Zoeller for a safety with 6:32 gone in the first quarter for a quick 2-0 lead.
Wenzler's interception set ONU up at the Wittenberg 27-yard line and it took Northern three plays to get back on the board.
Simmons hit senior Brook Crawford on a diving 10-yard touchdown pass and Ohio Northern led 9-0 with 5:02 left in the opening period.
Three plays later, Mitchell grabbed his first interception and returned it to the Wittenberg 39-yard line.
Simmons ran in from one yard out and Northern's lead was 15-0 with 1:18 left in the first period.
Simmons kept the conversion try on a fake PAT attempt and scored to make it a 17-0 ONU lead.
Later in the second period, Butler's interception gave the Polar Bears another short field at the Tiger 41-yard line.
Simmons snuck in from a yard out six plays later and the Northern's lead was 24-0 with 4:22 left in the half. ONU out-gained WU 205-46 in total offense in the first half.
The Polar Bears took the second half kickoff and appeared to be ready to put the game away. On the 15th play of the drive on a third and goal at the WU 5-yard line, Northern looked ready to make it a five-score game.
But Simmons' pass was intercepted by Zach Hurtt in the end zone and Hurtt returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, trimming ONU's lead to 24-7 with 6:33 left in the third.
The ONU defense again gave the Polar Bears the ball in outstanding field position after Calloway's interception, 20-yard return and a 15-yard personal foul penalty on WU gave Northern the ball its own 48.
It took the Polar Bears five plays to score on a 6-yard run by Donley to make it a 30-7 contest with 10:00 left in the game.
Donley's 89-yard run up the middle put the game away and gave ONU a 37-7 lead with 7:27 left to play.
The Tigers scored with 19 seconds left when backup quarterback Bill French hit Reed Florence on a 5-yard TD pass to complete the scoring.
Senior Zack Click, Coward and junior Trygve Henrickson each had five tackles to lead ONU, whiel Brad McKinley had 13 tackles to lead the WU defense.
Ohio Northern dominated the time of possession, controlling the ball for 39:29 to just 20:31 for the Tigers. Zoeller was 14 of 34 passing for 111 yards to lead the WU offense.
The Polar Bears are now 3-0 in the first round of the NCAA III Playoffs, also winning 56-14 at Hanover (Ind.) in 1999, 46-21 over Millikin (Ill.) in 2000.
ONU is 4-2 all-time in the playoffs and is 2-0 against Wittenberg, also a 1999 second round contest 58-24 in Springfield.