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Wittenberg hopes to end Mount Union’s streak of dominance in Ohio

There was no Thanksgiving turkey for the Wittenberg football team Thursday — at least not a real, live turkey running around on the turf at Edwards-Maurer Field.

A year ago, to celebrate the fact that they all had to work on Thanskgiving, a good problem to have, the coaches brought a real turkey to practice. Some players reacted as if a velociraptor had been unleashed, one coach said, when they saw that turkey.

Wittenberg discussed entertaining the team again in that way, coach Joe Fincham said. In the end, the players and coaches stuck to a more traditional Thanksgiving that involved eating a turkey and not chasing it.

“We tell our guys every year just how special it is to practice on Thanksgiving morning and still be alive at this time of year,” Fincham said.

If the Tigers still have life next week, they will really have something to be thankful for. No. 12 Wittenberg (10-1) plays No. 1 Mount Union (11-0) at noon today in Alliance, in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

It’s the first meeting in D-III history between two programs with more than 700 wins. Wittenberg has 727. Mount Union has 725.

The 11-time national champion Purple Raiders have won 78 straight games against teams from Ohio. All but one of those, a playoff victory against Mount St. Joseph in 2005, have come against fellow Ohio Athletic Conference teams.

Fincham sent former Wittenberg defensive coordinator Andy Waddle, now the head coach at Marietta College, a text message early last week to get his thoughts on Mount Union. Waddle, who played for the Tigers in 2001, the last time they faced Mount Union, lost 84-14 to Mount Union in September.

“What he was able to do was reconfirm what I was seeing,” Fincham said. “I wrote, ‘Man, they’ve got great team speed.’ He said, ‘They sure do.’ ”

Junior quarterback Kevin Burke leads the Mount Union offense. He completes 63 percent of his passes and has thrown 35 touchdowns and six interceptions. He ranks third in the nation in pass-efficiency rating (192.3).

Wittenberg quarterback Reed Florence’s numbers are just a bit better: 36 touchdowns, six interceptions, 194.8 rating (second in the nation).

“I think the things that are going to be important to us are being able to limit big plays, taking care of the football and field position is always huge,” Fincham said. “If you can keep them on a longer field, you’ve got a better chance to force them to take snaps.”

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