Posted: 5:02 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016

Wittenberg’s Joe Fincham: ‘Same, old Wabash’ in Week 3

Little Giants have new coach, but they’re as good as always

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Wittenberg’s Joe Fincham: ‘Same, old Wabash’ in Week 3 photo
Wittenberg wide receiver Luke Landis makes a catch as he’s hit by Wabash defensive back Delon Pettiford on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Edwards-Maurer Field in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff
Wittenberg’s Joe Fincham: ‘Same, old Wabash’ in Week 3 photo
Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham talks to players, including Alec Nutting (65) and Zach Hoffman (69), during a game against Ohio Wesleyan on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, at Selby Stadium in Delaware. David Jablonski/Staff
Wittenberg’s Joe Fincham: ‘Same, old Wabash’ in Week 3 photo
Wabash wide receiver Drake Christen dives for Wabah’s first touchdown in the first quarter as Wittenberg cornerback Victor Banjo, right, defends on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Edwards-Maurer Field in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff

By David Jablonski

Staff Writer

SPRINGFIELD —

The 20th meeting between the Wittenberg Tigers and the Wabash Little Giants at 1 p.m. Saturday at Edwards-Maurer Field will feature a new head coach on the visiting sideline.

Don Morel took over Wabash’s program in March after four seasons as an assistant coach. He replaced Erik Raeburn, who left to become head coach at Savannah State. Raeburn coached Wabash for eight seasons and was 4-4 against the Tigers.

Morel might give Wabash a new look, but Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham expects to see what he has seen once in the playoffs and 16 times in the regular season in the last 16 years, and that means his team faces a big challenge. Wabash (2-0, 1-0) ranks 10th in the first American Football Coaches Association poll. Wittenberg (2-0, 1-0) is 20th.

“They haven’t changed a lick,” Fincham said Wednesday. “They still line up and try to bludgeon you on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they’re absolutely enormous. Their quarterback is a big kid who can run around and throw it. Defensively, they’re really fast and they don’t make mistakes and they try to kill your quarterback. Same old Wabash.”

This rivalry long ago turned into the best in the North Coast Athletic Conference. Wabash and Wittenberg played in 1964 and 1965 and didn’t meet again until Wabash joined the league in 2000.

Wabash leads the series 9-8 since then. That includes a 42-14 victory last season in Crawfordsville, Ind. The Little Giants turned that game into a rout with three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Connor Rice, who returns as the starter, threw three touchdowns in the first three quarters to stake Wabash to a 21-7 lead.

“I’ve tried to block last year’s game out of my memory as much as possible,” Fincham said. “We all have days in our life we would like to forget. That’s certainly one for me. The thing I remember most of about it is us giving up a bunch of big plays on defense and turning it over on offense and just how they were able to control the line of scrimmage.”

Either Wabash or Wittenberg has won or shared the NCAC championship 11 straight seasons. Ohio Wesleyan shared first place with Wittenberg in 2012. Wooster was the last team, other than Wabash or Wittenberg, to win the title outright in 2004.

Wabash opened the season with a 41-34 overtime victory against Albion. Rice threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Oliver Page with 12 seconds remaining to force overtime after Wabash had blown a 20-3 halftime lead. Last week, the Little Giants routed Allegheny 59-7.

Wabash has a strong tandem at running back. Matt Penola has carried 32 times for 216 yards. Tyler Downing has rushed 29 times for 200 yards. Each has four touchdowns.

“It enables them to keep a set of fresh legs on the field all the time,” Fincham said. “It depends, too, on the running backs. Some guys feel better after they’ve touched the ball 12 times. That’s when they start finding their groove. They certainly have some talented guys back there. They’re a handful with that offensive line.”