SPRINGFIELD, Ohio - The Wittenberg Tigers overcame a slow start to pull away from Denison for a 38-20 Homecoming Weekend victory.
Playing before a boisterous crowd numbering more than 4,000, the Tigers improved to 4-1 overall and 4-0 in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC). Denison, which was off to its best start since 1986 with four wins in its first five games, fell to 4-2 overall and 3-2 in the league. The Big Red have not beaten Wittenberg since 1989, the Tigers' first season in the NCAC.
Unlike many of the games between the two teams over the last two decades, this one was a back-and-forth struggle until the fourth quarter. Denison controlled the ball for more than 34 minutes in the game, utilizing a short passing game to effectively put together long drives - especially in the first half.
The Big Red capitalized on the first of three Wittenberg turnovers to jump on top with a field goal at 7:40 of the first quarter, but the Tigers responded with a 73-yard touchdown strike from senior quarterback Reed Florence (South Charleston, Ohio/Southeastern) to senior wide receiver Brendon Cunningham (Kettering, Ohio/Fairmont) less than a minute later.
In the second quarter, Denison again struck first, this time on a 52-yard punt return by Colin Morris, only to have the Tigers come up with a quick reply as sophomore Evan Grissom (Piqua, Ohio/Piqua) drilled a 30-yard field goal and senior cornerback Victor Banjo (Sugarland, Texas/Stephen F. Austin) blocked a punt to set up a touchdown pass from Florence to junior wideout Zac Wilson (Eaton, Ohio/Eaton) covering three yards.
A total of 31 points were scored over the final 7:32 of the second quarter, capped by Cunningham's second TD reception of the game that trailed Morris' second score.
Denison scored the only points of the third quarter on a field goal, but Cunningham and Florence hooked up again to finally give the Tigers some breathing at the 13:50 mark of the fourth quarter. Wittenberg put the finishing touches on the scoring with a one-yard touchdown run by sophomore tailback Sean Gary (Indianapolis, Ind./Decatur Central).
For the game, Wittenberg outgained Denison by a healthy margin of 480-301, but the Big Red actually held a 23-20 edge in first downs, in addition to their aforementioned advantage in time of possession. Denison also held a 3-1 edge in the turnover margin, as the Tigers fumbled once and had two passes intercepted in the end zone.
Wittenberg, which also was penalized a whopping 14 times for 118 yards, overcame the miscues with an outstanding second-half defensive performance and a passing attack that racked up 351 yards. Cunningham piled up six catches for 136 yards, Wilson added five receptions for 105 yards and senior Desi Kirkman (Lima, Ohio/Central Catholic) chipped in with three catches for 92 yards.
Florence finished 16-of-22 through the air for 351 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, four Tigers reached double figures in tackles, led by senior linebacker Spencer Leno (Massillon, Ohio/Washington) with 13 to go along with two passes broken up. Junior linebacker Nick Gibson (Marysville, Ohio/Fairbanks) added 12 stops and a forced fumble, while senior linebacker Evan Killilea (Columbus, Ohio/DeSales) finished with 11 and sophomore defensive tackle Josh Bannick (Enon, Ohio/Greenon) contributed 10.