OBERLIN, Ohio – For the 11th time since joining the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) and the third time in the last four years, the Wittenberg Tigers stand atop the league's final standings after a 47-20 victory over host Oberlin in the 2012 regular season finale.
The Tigers, who came into the day tied with Ohio Wesleyan and Kenyon for first place, finished the 2012 campaign with records of 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the NCAC, good for a first-place tie with Ohio Wesleyan. More importantly, Wittenberg earned the conference's automatic berth in the 2012 NCAA Division III Tournament by virtue of tiebreaker criteria that would have favored Kenyon if not for the Lords' loss to Denison.
The Tigers will learn their postseason fate during the NCAA's selection show at 6 p.m. Sunday. Wittenberg was ranked fifth in the latest Great Lakes Region rankings, which were released on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
The key against Oberlin, which had pulled off the upset of the NCAC season a week earlier at Wabash, was a fast start for the Tigers, who scored the game's first 35 points in a little more than 21 minutes of game time. That cushion allowed the Tigers to overcome some ragged play, including four fumbles (three lost), an interception and several dropped passes.
"We obviously feel very good about the way we played overall today, but there were some uncharacteristic mistakes," said Head Coach Joe Fincham, who has led Wittenberg to nine league titles in his 17 seasons at the helm. "The important thing is that we took care of what we could today, and I guess we'll need to send a thank-you note to Denison for their assistance."
The Tigers rolled up 580 yards of total offense, with most of the damage done over the first three quarters as junior quarterback Reed Florence (South Charleston, Ohio/Southeastern) passed for 286 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 completions and freshman tailback Jimmy Dehnke (Canton, Ohio/Massillon Jackson) carried 16 times for 127 yards, including a 55-yard burst that set up one of three second-quarter touchdowns for Wittenberg. Florence's scoring strikes went to three different receivers, highlighted by junior Desi Kirkman (Lima, Ohio/Central Catholic) with career-highs of six receptions for 125 yards to go along with scores both rushing and receiving.
Junior wideout Brendon Cunningham (Kettering, Ohio/Fairmont) added three catches for 80 yards and a score and junior wide receiver Jonathan Stoner (Bowling Green, Ohio/Bowling Green) made the most of his lone catch with a 50-yard touchdown. Also of note was the play of junior quarterback Noah Johanson (Medina, Ohio/Medina), who turned what appeared to be a short gain into a 52-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, Wittenberg held Oberlin in check, allowing 152 of the Yeomen's 381 total yards in the fourth quarter and forcing three turnovers, including a fumble in the first quarter that junior safety Heath Eby (Medina, Ohio/Cloverleaf) returned 30 yards for a score. Oberlin threw 70 passes in the game as the Tigers completely stifled the Yeomen's rushing attack, allowing just 13 yards on 17 attempts.
Junior cornerback Victor Banjo (Sugarland, Texas/Stephen F. Austin) and junior linebacker Evan Killilea (Columbus, Ohio/DeSales) led the Tigers with seven tackles apiece. Eby was one of three players to finish with five tackles in the game.