For the first time since 2008, Wittenberg lost a North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) football game after host Wabash upended the Tigers 28-17.
The win moved the 10th-ranked Little Giants, who finished second in the NCAC each of the last two years, to 9-0 overall and 6-0 in the conference. It also earned Wabash its sixth NCAC championship, while 21st-ranked Wittenberg fell to 7-2 overall and 4-1 in the conference and saw its two-year run atop the standings come to an end.
The Tigers had won 17 straight NCAC games since a November 2008 loss to Wooster, but uncharacteristic mistakes on offense and special teams plagued Wittenberg against Wabash. Among the miscues were two blocked punts, a missed field goal, an interception, two lost fumbles and a bad snap that resulted in a 19-yard loss.
As a result, Wabash only had to put together three scoring drives, all in the first half and none covering more than 64 yards. The Little Giants led 21-0 by halftime on two short scoring runs by quarterback Chase Belton and a 21-yard touchdown pass before putting the game out of reach with a blocked punt in the Tigers' end zone with 7:07 left in the game.
Before the fourth quarter blocked punt, the Tigers had rallied in the third quarter on a five-yard run by senior tailback Corey Weber (Pataskala, Ohio/Watkins Memorial) and a career-long 42-yard field goal by junior Sean Williams (Plainfield, Ind./Plainfield). The latter was set up by a blocked punt recovered by senior safety Seth Parker (DeGraff, Ohio/Riverside), but the Tigers missed a golden opportunity to draw within one score when the offense was unable to gain a first down.
Trailing 28-10, the Tigers capitalized on a Wabash mistake as freshman safety Mike McKee (New Carlisle, Ohio/Tecumseh) scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 25-yard fumble recovery and return. However, the Little Giants successfully covered the ensuing onsides kick and ran the clock out.
Wabash finished with 369 yards of total offense, powered primarily by 243 yards on the ground. Two running backs and Belton piled up at least 79 yards in the game.
Wittenberg was held to a season-low 156 yards of total offense, including a net of 10 yards rushing thanks to four sacks and the aforementioned errant snap. On the bright side, senior wide receiver Josh McKee (New Carlisle, Ohio/Tecumseh) caught six passes to run his career total to 224. Already the Wittenberg school record-holder, McKee tied the NCAC career receptions record held by Wooster's Brandon Good.
The Tiger defense played valiantly, holding the Wabash offense scoreless in the second half. Sophomore linebacker Spencer Leno (Massillon, Ohio/Washington) piled up a career-high 17 tackles, while junior defensive end Jon Daniels (Springfield, Ohio/South) added 12 tackles, including a sack, to go along with a fumble recovery. Senior linebacker Zach Hurtt (Fort Thomas, Ky./Highlands) added 10 tackles and a pass broken up.
Wittenberg's hopes of making the NCAA Division III Tournament for a third straight year are now slim, but the Tigers can bolster their case with a win in the season finale against Wooster on Nov. 12. A win over the Scots would also secure sole possession of second place for the Tigers.