Wittenberg football coach Joe Fincham scheduled a home-and-away series with Butler four years ago. Now he’s six days away from leading his Tigers against a team considered to be one of the favorites in the Pioneer League.
It will be NCAA Division III versus NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision on Saturday in the season opener for both teams in Indianapolis.
“I look at it like this,” Fincham said. “You’ve got a credit card. You use your credit card. Then down the road, the bills come due and you think, ‘What the heck are you thinking?’ When I pulled the trigger on this thing, I figured we had played Dayton before, so what the heck. Now all of a sudden, you think, ‘Maybe I overspent outside my budget.’ It is what it is. We’ll go play. We’ll have our hands full.”
Wittenberg last stepped up in divisions in 2005 and 2006 against Dayton. The Tigers lost 41-23 and 35-28. The Flyers won the second game with a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Those Wittenberg teams more than held their own against Dayton, and it’s a good bet the 2013 Tigers will give Butler a challenge.
Wittenberg enters the 2013 season with the expectations that come with a No. 10 national ranking and being the preseason favorite in the North Coast Athletic Conference. The Tigers return their key skill players, four of their five starting offensive linemen and six starters on defense. The senior class, the largest in Fincham’s tenure with 32 players, has a record of 28-5 and has won one outright conference title and shared another.
Here’s a look at the Tigers position by position:
Quarterback: Senior Reed Florence, a Southeastern High School grad, threw 28 touchdown passes last season and ran for another seven in his first year as a starter. He threw for 2,819 yards, the second-best single-season mark in school history.
Senior Noah Johanson and sophomore Zack Jenkins are competing to be Florence’s backup.
Running back: Jimmy Dehnke was the NCAC Newcomer of the Year in 2013. He rushed for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman. Sean Gary, a sophomore like Dehnke, had a good preseason camp, Fincham said, and will also get carries. Senior JaVanh Sanders and junior Will Stocker add depth at the position.
Wide receiver: The team’s top two receivers last season, seniors Brendon Cunningham and Desi Kirkman, missed time in the spring with injuries but were healthy this summer.
Cunningham, a key player in each of his first three seasons, became the third receiver in school history to catch 60 or more passes in a season a year ago. Kirkman caught 46 passes for 575 yards.
With Cunningham and Kirkman, plus junior Zac Wilson (23 receptions) and senior Jonathan Stoner (17) , this is one of the team’s strongest position groups. Junior Beau Carson and sophomores Corey Stump and Armon Murray will also contribute.
Offensive line/tight end: The Tigers lost only one starter, left guard A.J. Owen. Seniors Matt Widemon, Adam Klever and Aaron Coeling and junior Tyler Compston, a Springfield graduate, make this group another strength for the team. Sophomore Alec Nutting will also start.
Senior Stephen Zumdick will start at tight end, and Fincham said junior Clay Mangen is a close second.
Defensive line: Senior tackle Josh Montgomery is the only returning starter. Sophomore Josh Bannick, a Greenon graduate, will start at the other tackle. Two other local grads, Tecumseh’s Kyle Sanning, a senior, and Kenton Ridge’s Jake Kelly, a junior, move from linebacker to the line and will start at the end positions.
Seniors Max Dehnke, Erick Collins, a Springfield grad, Wes Thompson, Tyler Visagie, junior Rex Carlo and freshman Brady Vanover will figure in the rotation.
Linebacker: Seniors Spencer Leno and Evan Killilea are the returning starters. Junior Nick Gibson will be the third starter.
Sophomore DeVonta Anderson and freshmen Austin Towsey and Scott Sholar will back up the starters.
Secondary: Safeties Heath Eby, whose interception return for a touchdown sealed the playoff win over Heidelberg last season, and Mark Swope will start again. They are both seniors.
The new starters at cornerback are senior Victor Banjo and sophomore Ryan Myers.
Special teams: Gibson will start at punter, as well as linebacker. The kicker situation is more complicated. The coaches were trying to decide between sophomore Evan Grissom, sophomore Taylor Gannon, a Catholic Central graduate, and freshman Nick Hernandez.