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Everything on the line in NCAC as Wittenberg, Wabash meet

Ask Wittenberg coach Joe Fincham any day how he’s doing, and his answer is almost always the same.

“Livin’ the dream,” he says.

There’s a little bit of Fincham’s sense of humor in that answer sometimes — he might tell you the same thing if he’d just lost to Hiram — but the coach really is living a dream these days. The Tigers are ranked 16th in the country. They’ve won seven straight games and would probably be 8-0 if they hadn’t opened the season against a higher-division opponent, Butler.

The only problem with the dream is that Wittenberg’s season is almost always — last season being the rare exception — defined by one game, and the Tigers have yet to play that game.

Wittenberg travels to Crawfordsville, Ind., for a 1 p.m. game today against Wabash. Everything is on the line: North Coast Athletic Conference championship, NCAA automatic berth, seniors’ legacies, you name it.

“I hope we’re ready,” Fincham said Tuesday. “I’m sure they’re ready, too. That’s the nature of big ballgames. It’s not like we’re strangers to each other.”

The all-time series between Wittenberg and Wabash is tied 8-8, but the Little Giants lead 8-6 since they joined the NCAC in 2000. They’ve won the last two: 28-17 in 2011 and 27-24 last season.

Neither team has won three straight regular-season games in the series since 2000, though Wabash won three straight against the Tigers in 2002-03 with the middle game being a playoff game.

Wittenberg rallied in the second half from a 20-3 deficit last season only to have Wabash run out the clock with a 9 minute, 32 second drive to end the game.

While Wabash averages 51.4 points per game this season, ranking fourth in the country, three spots ahead of the Tigers (46.8), its defense has been even better. It has 18 fumble recoveries and 18 interceptions. No one has scored more than 14 points against Wabash this season.

“They’re plus-26 in turnover ratio,” Fincham said. “Their defense and special teams have actually outscored their opponents. On that side of the ball, they look like the ‘85 Bears. They’re just all over people. Offensively, they have big, strong kids that line up and run the ball at you. It doesn’t really seem to matter who’s at running back. They just grind it out.”

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