A game that started out as a defensive struggle ended with a masterful offensive performance. Unfortunately for the Wittenberg Tigers and the large Homecoming crowd that was assembled to cheer them on, the game-ending possession that spanned more than nine minutes was turned in by visiting Wabash to secure a 27-24 Little Giants victory.
Wabash held the ball for the final 9:32 of the game after Wittenberg had pulled to within three points on the third rushing touchdown of the game from freshman Jimmy Dehnke (Canton, Ohio/Massillon Jackson). The drive covered just 48 yards and it included just one passing attempt, but it spanned a whopping 17 plays, featuring a clutch fourth-down conversion on the Little Giants' side of the field that was followed by a pair of third-down conversions that sealed the game.
Wittenberg trailed throughout the game, thanks in part to a slow start for its offense. The Tigers managed less than 100 yards in the entire first half and headed into the locker room at halftime fortunate to be trailing just 13-3. That deficit grew quickly, however, as Wabash took advantage of a turnover on the opening kickoff of the second half to score a touchdown and take a commanding 20-3 lead.
The Tiger offense finally awoke at that point, however, and Wittenberg responded with a pair of touchdowns to close the third quarter. Dehnke scored on a nine-yard run to cap a drive that took just 1:20 off the clock, thanks in large part to a career-long 72-yard run by junior quarterback Reed Florence (South Charleston, Ohio/Southeastern). After the Wittenberg defense forced a Wabash three-and-out, Dehnke scored from two yards out after the junior Heath Eby (Medina, Ohio/Cloverleaf) blocked a punt.
The Little Giants scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown one minute into the fourth quarter as CP Porter capped an 86-yard drive with a two-yard scoring run. The aforementioned reply from Wittenberg came after senior cornerback Jamaal Everett (Kettering, Ohio/Fairmont) recovered a fumble at midfield.
Florence finished 10-of-19 through the air for 92 yards, and his rushing total wound up at 51 yards on seven attempts, thanks to a pair of costly sacks. Dehnke led both teams in rushing yardage with 111 on 24 carries.
Defensively, Everett led with a career-high 12 tackles to go along with his fumble recovery. Junior Spencer Leno (Massillon, Ohio/Massillon) added 11 tackles.
Despite the loss, the Tigers remain alive in one of the most balanced North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) title chases in years. Ohio Wesleyan, Allegheny and Kenyon are all unbeaten in the early going, followed closely by Wabash, Wittenberg and Denison with one loss apiece.
Wittenberg returns to action next with a non-conference match-up opposite the University of Chicago. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Edwards-Maurer Field.