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Wittenberg’s defense steps up in biggest game of season

Wittenberg’s last defensive coordinator, Andy Waddle, sent its new defensive coordinator, Sean Ross, a a text message Saturday morning wishing him good luck.

“Every couple weeks, he’s checking in,” Ross said. “He’s been nothing but supportive.”

Waddle, a Greenon graduate in his first season as Marietta College head coach, knows how important the Wabash game is. He coached the Tigers’ defense in 2009. Until Saturday, that was the last time Wittenberg had won in Crawfordsville, Ind.

Waddle and the Tigers had to sweat until the end of a 10-7 victory four years ago. Wittenberg had an easier time of it Saturday, winning 35-17 to clinch a share of the North Coast Athletic Conference championship and the league’s automatic playoff berth. The Tigers (8-1) jumped from 16th to 12th in the poll this week.

Wittenberg’s offense has often overshadowed the defense this season, but both sides shared equal credit Saturday. Wittenberg held Wabash to 57 rushing yards. The Little Giants average 239. Wabash scored 34 points below its season average.

“Our game plan is the same week in and week out,” Ross said. “Against those guys, we stressed a couple of things. We wanted to be physical. We wanted to own the line of scrimmage up front. We wanted to be disciplined across the board. We knew if we did those things we would have a chance to be successful.”

Wabash punted on six of its seven possessions in the first half and trailed 28-3 at halftime. Wabash had a brief glimmer of hope with a third-quarter touchdown to cut the deficit to 28-10, but it didn’t get on the board again until the final seconds.

Seven different Wittenberg defenders had tackles for a loss, and safety Mark Swope had two. Linebackers Nick Gibson and Spencer Leno led the team with 13 and 11 tackles, respectively. Leno leads the NCAC with 10.1 tackles per game.

“I was very happy with the way we played on Saturday,” Ross said. “Our assistant coaches did a great job of prepping and preparing their position players for the game plan and what to expect on Saturday. Our kids did a great job of working hard all week and executing the game plan. My hat’s off to the players and assistant coaches.”

The Tigers host Allegheny (0-9) at 1 p.m Saturday in the final game of the regular season. Assuming they win Saturday, Wittenberg looks to be in line to host a playoff game in the first round.

Wittenberg ranked fourth in the North Region in the first regional rankings released last week and will move past Wabash, which was ranked third.

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