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Wittenberg wants to build momentum for playoffs in final regular-season game

Senior hit day at Wittenberg is a throwback to the days when you could tackle an opposing football player without worrying about being penalized or ejected.

At practice on the Wednesday before the last regular-season game, all the Tiger seniors have a chance to get up in front of their teammates and give a speech. Then they pick a teammate to tackle — run over is more like it — in front of everybody. It looks worse than it is. The player on the receiving end knows the hit is coming, so it’s a fairly safe tradition.

The senior hit day this week lasted longer than normal. The Tigers have 32 seniors, the most in coach Joe Fincham’s 18 seasons.

“I’m telling you what, it took forever,” Fincham said. “We were freezing our tails off. I always love senior hits. I think it’s an awesome day.”

The theme of the speeches is always the same, no matter if the Tigers are 5-4 and know their season’s about to end or if they’re 8-1 like this year with all their dreams still alive.

“All of them when they get to the end, they all say it goes really fast,” Fincham said. “They say, ‘Don’t take things for granted while you’re here. While you’re a young player, don’t give up.’ For so many young people, not just in football, quitting is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and they end up regretting it.”

Fincham always hopes the speeches rub off on the young players. They must have three years ago when the current seniors listened to the 2010 seniors, one of the great classes in Wittenberg history and the last class before this one to win North Coast Athletic Conference titles as juniors and seniors.

The Tigers beat their big rival, Wabash, 35-17, last Saturday in Crawfordsville, Ind. It was their eighth straight win after a season-opening loss at Butler.

Wittenberg (8-1, 8-0 NCAC) leads Wabash (8-1, 7-1) with one game to play. All the Tigers have to do is beat Allegheny (0-9, 0-8) at 1 p.m. today to win the NCAC outright. The Gators, once the Tigers’ big rival in the league, have had only one close game all year. That was last week at home against Denison when they lost 24-21.

The Tigers don’t want to just win today. They’d like to play well to continue to build momentum for the playoffs. They’ll find out who they’re playing on Sunday and whether that game is at home.

“I think staying focused is obviously really important to us,” Fincham said. “You want to go into the tournament playing your best football. I’m not sure that we’re not right now. I don’t want to go backwards. I’d like to go into the thing excited and playing well with some flow to us.”

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